Stella Gibbon's first novel, and her best and most popular, was published in 1932 and hasn't been out of print since. It's a parody of the then popular genre of the lurid rustic novel.
It's also one of the most perfect '30's novels around.
How can one summarize this delightful and hilarious novel?
I suppose the best way is to provide the first sentence: "The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to posses every art and grace save that of earning her own living.", and to tell you that the names of the cows are: Feckless, Graceless, Aimless, Pointless, and the bull is called Big Business.
If I were to tell you the gist of the story then it would be this: rather than take the advice of her friend Mrs. Smiling (who has the largest collection of bras in the world) and learn how type or something else where she could get a proper job, Flora decides to go and live with whichever one of her relatives will take her. And so she accept the offer of her cousin Judith Starkadder and goes to live on Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex and discovers that the Starkadders are very broad parodies of the characters that populate rural novels. Since Flora is like Alice and cannot abide nonsense, she sees her relatives like how the reader sees them, as characters and works to turn them into persons through her suggestions. I hope that makes sense or it will once you read the novel (it really is a scream!).
The transformation of the characters into people is fantastic! Particularly of Aunt Ada Doom, who is brought out of her lifetime of self-imposed misery by a copy of Vogue.
There have been two adaptations of the novel, though everyone agrees that neither correctly shows the philosophy that Gibbons made her novel about, nor do they convey the humour of the novel.
The 1995 version had some terrific costumes and great performances, except for Kate Beckinsale as Flora, only because she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. But it does have the fabulous Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry as Mr. Mybug (a fanatic of D.H. Lawrence) and Sir Ian McKellen as Amos Starkadder ("There'll be no butter in Hell!").
It was also adapted into 3 episodes by the BBC in 1968 with Alastair Sim as Amos Starkadder, which I rented from the library on VHS (it's not available on DVD) but haven't watched yet. I've heard that it's closer to the book and has more sex in it, but the costumes aren't as good.
Here's the trailer for the 1995 version (which is currently up on YouTube in 10 parts):
Aunt Ada Doom, do you have anything to add?
"I saw something nasty in the woodshed."
Thank you Aunt Ada.