Stella Gibbons invented the sukebind for Cold Comfort Farm, and she wields it with metaphorical deftness as if it had its own long floriographic history to draw on.

I'd assumed that the sukebind and its blooming were indicative of animal urges, especially un-premeditated sex. But then it's also associated with Ada Doom, as a wreath of sukebind buds on Fig Starkadder's portrait is an explicit herald of her impending emergence--and of all the Starkadders I'd say Aunt Doom is the least in touch with their earthy sense of "what comes naturally." There are also references to harvesting sukebind which I can't decipher thematically at all.

What theme might the sukebind invoke which would explain its disparate representations throughout the text?

3 Answers 3


The key to understanding the sukebind is not how the Starkadders and their neighbours comment on its effects in the beginning of the novel, but in when it is removed or destroyed in the end of the novel.

When Elfie returned from Dick's birthday dance, and Aunt Ada finally saw that her family was defying her power over them,

...the heat of the fire had caused the long, pink buds of the sukebind to burst; the wreath which hung round the portrait of Fig Starkadder was covered with large flowers whose petals sprang back, like snarling fangs, to show the shameless heart that sent out full gusts of sweetness. (Chapter XVI)

Ada Doom then threw a tantrum screeching "from her heart-roots" as the sukebind withered. She called Flora names and "struck at [Flora] with the ‘Milk Producers’ Weekly Bulletin and Cowkeepers’ Guide’",

a withered flower fell from the sukebind wreath into the coals. (Chapter XVI)

And the conflict was over.

The next we hear of the sukebind, Reuben tells Flora that his grandmother chose to have "all the pictures wreathed with that smelly sukebind," but Flora may take it down as he "niver wants to see a sprig of it again." (Chapter XX) And so Flora gets rid of it, and the wedding is entirely sukebindless.

The wedding guests are greeted by Aunt Ada Doom rising "from a chair wreathed in peonies" and then literally flies away, finding her own freedom just like the rest of her family did.

The sukebind is not sex, or animalistic urges. It is the oppression which hung over the Starkadder Farm preventing its inhabitants from finding their own joy. Instead each person sought sullen distractions from their predicament according to their character at the expense of others. As each person became able to seek their own joy, the sukebind burned, withered, and was thrown out. It is most directly associated with Aunt Doom, because her choice of distractions were the most harmful to those around her, and she clung to them the longest of all the Starkadders--seeking cold comfort in her familiar misery.


The sukebind is a curse, a magic spell that hangs upon Cold Comfort Farm. The Anglo-Saxons who lived there once left behind a word, 'súcan', meaning STRONG. The farm is under a strong BIND, a binding condition the settles on the place, metaphorically referred to when it is said to settle on the wains, i.e. the spidery dew that forms on the haystacks and rots the hay before it can be dried for feed. The flora withers, the fauna expires. There is another old word, 'sike', from Old English, Old Norse, and Proto-German, that might be referred to also (in that Stella Gibbons authored this thing in many ways); one sense of it means 'water well'. The digging of the Stackadder's well is never done (at least 1/3 of the way in, which is where I am), and various and sundry characters keep falling into it. For some reason, it cannot be completed, and THAT is also a metaphor, and maybe even a pun: the site can never be well. The entire place is under a curse, a sukebind. There is something that must be satisfied before this can be lifted...something of which we are made aware of, however tangentially, early on, something the Stackadders feel they owe to the late Robert Poste. Until then, the sun will never really shine on Cold Comfort Farm.


Sukebind is only one of over fifty invented words in CCFarm, all of them carrying the same absurd conviction as the ridiculous contents of the romantic pastoral fiction Gibbons is satirising, most notably Webb's Shropshire novel, Precious Bane. The sukebind is a multi-symbol or polysymbol as practised most notably by DH Lawrence, whose novels are also satirised through the pretentious contributions of Mr Mybug. Sexual release and death are intertwined in Lawrence's novels and the sukebind, too, suggests this.Seth Starkadder also voices the same idea somewhat inelegantly.

  • Hi and welcome to Literature SE. This answer would be stronger if it provided evidence to back up its claims. Absent references to passages from the novel and explanations for how they illustrate your points, it seems very abstract and generalized, like something that could be generated by ChatGPT. Could you please edit your answer to be more specific? Thanks!
    – verbose
    Mar 9 at 23:14

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