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In Cold Comfort Farm, Flora encounters and has a trying conversation with Mr Mybug in a café. As she is leaving he gives her his card, which she puts into her purse unread:

It was not until she glanced at Mr Mybug's card in the candle-light of her own room that she discovered that his name was not Mybug but Meyerburg, and that he lived in Charlotte Street—two facts which were not calculated to raise her spirits.

Gibbons, Stella. Cold Comfort Farm. 1932. Longman Stories of Laughter 1. London: Longmans, 1936. Accessed at archive.org 18 March 2024. pp. 133–134.

Later, Flora refers to

those Bloomsbury-cum-Charlotte-Street lions which exchanged their husbands and wives every other weekend in the most broad-minded fashion.

p. 140

So it seems that part of her distaste for Charlotte Street is that she associates it with a messy Bohemian lifestyle at odds with her inclination for a tidy life. But that would be evident from "Bloomsbury" alone. I am therefore uncertain what specifically Charlotte Street adds to the characterization. Where is Charlotte Street? Is it near Bloomsbury?

Flora's reaction to the name Meyerburg is puzzling as well. Is she disappointed that his name turns out to be relatively ordinary, rather than the more unusual Mybug? Or is it because Meyerburg is a German-sounding name and Flora is insular? What specifically about Charlotte Street and the name Meyerburg does Flora find dispiriting, and why?

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  • At least one person thinks that Flora is disheartened because the name and address imply that he's a Jew. I'm not sure what Charlotte Street is, nor what the precise implications of "Meyerburg" are, but the theory feels somewhat plausible.
    – CDR
    Commented Mar 18 at 23:36
  • @CDR I had considered that possibility. Before I posted the question, I asked a Jewish friend, and he said "Meyerburg" sounded more generically German than Jewish to him.
    – verbose
    Commented Mar 18 at 23:45
  • Apparently it was the middle-class German quarter of London. Commented Mar 19 at 9:02

1 Answer 1

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Charlotte Street is indeed near Bloomsbury, but not actually in Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London, containing many educational and cultural institutions, and of course being famous as the location of the "Bloomsbury Set" - a group of intellectuals including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and E. M. Forster. The western boundary of Bloomsbury is generally taken to be Tottenham Court Road, and Charlotte Street lies slightly to the west of this. Although it doesn't have a precise geographic definition, Charlotte Street would usually said to be in Fitzrovia, a district taking its name from Fitzroy Square. Like Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia was thought of as being "a notable artistic and bohemian centre" (in Wikipedia's words).

So Flora's heart sank when she read that he resided in Charlotte Street, as it indicated that he was going to be a messy Bohemian, with an alternative lifestyle:

those Bloomsbury-cum-Charlotte-Street lions which exchanged their husbands and wives every other weekend in the most broad-minded fashion.

Indeed towards the end of the book, Mybug plans to take Rennett to live with him in his studio in Fitzroy Square, which is just up the road from Charlotte Street. Possibly Flora was using "Charlotte Street" as a synonym for "Fitzrovia".

The other cause for Flora's dismay was his name, "Meyerburg". While some see this as a sign of anti-semitism (see for example Race Riots: Comedy and Ethnicity in Modern British Fiction by Michael L. Ross, or this PhD thesis by Alexandra Trask which calls Gibbons' attitude "clearly anti-semitic") the argument does not seem very convincing to me. If Gibbons had intended to make a Jewish caricature, she would surely have provided a more typically Jewish name and character traits. While Mybug is mercilessly mocked as a character, the mockery centers on him being a pretentious intellectual obsessed with sex. Instead I would say that "Meyerburg" sounds more typically German *. An English girl like Flora might assume from his name that he would have stereotypical German character traits, such as humorlessness and taking himself far too seriously (which indeed turns out to be the case).

A further possible source of Flora's disquiet could be that the time the novel was written (the early 1930s), was just over a decade after the end of the First World War. Although I don't believe that Gibbons lost any close family member in the conflict, it is plausible that she, and by extension Flora, would have a generally poor view of Germans. In Gibbons' case this would be further heightened by the fact that she had recently broken up with her long-term lover, a German man named Walter Beck, in 1928. Gibbons' biographer, Reggie Oliver, writes in Out of the Woodshed: a Portrait of Stella Gibbons that the break up affected her deeply: "she never entirely got over Walter" and that "she found it difficult to trust any man for some years after it". It would certainly seem reasonable for Gibbons to have a negative view of Germans as a result, and to transfer that trait to Flora.

So if there is anti-semitism in Flora wincing at his name, it is very mild. I would rather take it as a lighthearted view of how Germans are often perceived.

* It is only fair to note, however, that others do regard the name "Meyerburg" as being Jewish. In his biography of Gibbons, Oliver further claims that Mybug was closely modelled on Herbert Marks, the first husband of Ida Graves (a close personal friend of Stella Gibbons) who was indeed Jewish.

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  • Thank you! This is convincing. I was wondering whether the relatively recent end of WWI might also play a part in how Germans were regarded at the time, and whether Flora's reaction can be linked to that?
    – verbose
    Commented Mar 20 at 1:46
  • 1
    Yes, that's possible. I also wonder if it might be connected to Gibbons' German lover having abandoned her a few years earlier. Commented Mar 20 at 7:31
  • Would you be willing to edit your answer to include those points, perhaps with some detail? For example, I didn't know about Gibbons's German lover. Thanks!
    – verbose
    Commented Mar 21 at 3:31
  • 1
    @verbose Leave it with me Commented Mar 21 at 6:46

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