***star-ratings, after SG

in the category cloud of the sidebar, I’m toying with a ***star-rating (now called *MUST READ!*)—not so much to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, but rather in homage to the great Stella Gibbons (1902–89), who wrote in her Foreword to Cold comfort farm:

And it is only because I have in mind all those thousands of persons not unlike myself, who work in the vulgar and meaningless bustle of offices, shops, and homes, and who are not always sure whether a sentence is Literature or whether it is just sheer flapdoodle, that I have adopted the method perfected by the late Herr Baedeker, and firmly marked what I consider the finer passages with one, two or three stars. In such a manner did the good man deal with cathedrals, hotels, and paintings by men of genius. There seems no reason why it should not be applied to passages in novels.

The “Loam-and-lovechild” style that Gibbons parodied is perhaps a cousin of what Elisabeth Lutyens—there, another fine female composer—christened the “cowpat school” of English music (“folky-wolky melodies on the cor anglais”, and so on). Here’s a *** passage from Cold comfort farm:

***His huge body, rude as a wind-tortured thorn, was printed darkly against the thin mild flame of the declining winter sun that throbbed like a sallow lemon on the westering lip of Mockuncle Hill, and sent its pale, sharp rays into the kitchen through the open door. The brittle air, on which the fans of the trees were etched like ageing skeletons, seemed thronged by the invisible ghosts of a million dead summers. The cold beat in glassy waves against the eyelids of anyone who happened to be out in it. High up, a few chalky clouds doubtfully wavered in the pale sky that curved over against the rim of the Downs like a vast inverted pot-de-chambre. Huddled in the hollow like an exhausted brute, the frosted roofs of Howling, crisp and purple as broccoli leaves, were like beasts about to spring.

Miss Stella Gibbons published Cold comfort farm in 1932. What a genius. The sequel is also brilliant, not least for her opera parody.

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