Stark morning names

Yesterday. First name up: Charley “Mad Dog” Starkweather (the spree killer from the ’50s). And that led me immediately to the Starkadder family from Stella Gibbons’s comic novel Cold Comfort Farm.

Starkweather. From Wikipedia:

Charles Raymond “Charlie” Starkweather (November 24, 1938 – June 25, 1959) was an American teenaged spree killer who murdered eleven people in the states of Nebraska and Wyoming in a two-month murder spree between December 1957 and January 1958. All but one of Starkweather’s victims were killed between January 21 and January 29, 1958, the date of his arrest. During the murders committed in 1958, Starkweather was accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.

Starkweather was originally driven by rage at being bullied in school, but eventually came to kill people — mostly by shotgun blasts, occasionally by strangulation and knifing — just because he disliked them or because they got in his way. He also shot two dogs to death.


Fugate and Starkweather looking happy and cute


A cigarette dangles from the mouth of handcuffed killer Charles Starkweather as he is led into the Nebraska penitentiary by Sheriff Merle Karnopp, right, of Lincoln on February 1, 1958. Bloodstains on the shirt are from minor wounds suffered during his Wyoming capture.

Starkweather was executed 17 months later, and Fugate served 17 years in prison before her release in 1976.

… [Some movie and tv The Starkweather–Fugate case inspired the films The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), Kalifornia (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Starkweather (2004). “A Case Study of Two Savages,” a 1962 episode of the TV series Naked City was also inspired by the Starkweather killings. The made-for-TV movie Murder in the Heartland (1993) is a biographical depiction of Starkweather with Tim Roth in the starring role, while Stark Raving Mad (1983), a film starring Russell Fast and Marcie Severson, provides a fictionalized account of the Starkweather–Fugate murder spree.

Gun-wielding couples are often romanticized in the public imagination. Compare Fugate and Starkweather to an earlier pair in Texas during the Depression, Bonnie Barrow and Clyde Barrow. But Bonnie and Clyde had a goal — like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the 1890s, they robbed banks, for the money — and they worked with a gang, also like Butch and Sundance. In any case, Fugate and Starkweather seem to have been caught up in a folie à deux, like some other homicidal pairs, for instance, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith (responsible for the Clutter murders in 1959 Kansas that were dissected in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood) or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (responsible for the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado). Two sorts of couples are especially inclined to be romanticized: opposite-sex couples, where there’s a sex angle; and defiant outlaw couples — so Bonnie and Clyde are a double winner.

Starkadder. From Wikipedia:

Cold Comfort Farm is a comic novel by English author Stella Gibbons, published in 1932. It parodies the romanticised, sometimes doom-laden accounts of rural life popular at the time, by writers such as Mary Webb. Gibbons was working for the Evening Standard in 1928 when they decided to serialise Webb’s first novel, The Golden Arrow, and Gibbons was given the job of summarising the plot of earlier instalments. Other novelists in the tradition parodied by Cold Comfort Farm are D. H. Lawrence, Sheila Kaye-Smith and Thomas Hardy; and going further back, Mary E Mann and the Brontë sisters.

Following the death of her parents, the book’s heroine, Flora Poste, finds she is possessed “of every art and grace save that of earning her own living.” She decides to take advantage of the fact that “no limits are set, either by society or one’s own conscience, to the amount one may impose on one’s relatives”, and settles on visiting her distant relatives at the isolated Cold Comfort Farm in the fictional village of Howling in Sussex. The inhabitants of the farm — Aunt Ada Doom, the Starkadders, and their extended family and workers — feel obliged to take her in to atone for an unspecified wrong once done to her father.

As is typical in a certain genre of romantic 19th-century and early 20th-century literature, each of the farm’s inhabitants has some long-festering emotional problem caused by ignorance, hatred, or fear, and the farm is badly run. Flora, being a level-headed, urban woman, determines that she must apply modern common sense to their problems and help them adapt to the 20th century.

… The speech of the Sussex characters is a parody of rural dialects (in particular Sussex and West Country accents – another parody of novelists who use phonics to portray various accents and dialects) and is sprinkled with fake but authentic-sounding local vocabulary such as mollocking (Seth’s favourite activity, undefined but invariably resulting in the pregnancy of a local maid), sukebind (a weed whose flowering in the Spring symbolises the quickening of sexual urges in man and beast; the word is presumably formed by analogy to ‘woodbine’ (honeysuckle) and bindweed) and clettering (an impractical method used by Adam for washing dishes, which involves scraping them with a dry twig or clettering stick).

And the names! Wonderful names. Take the farm’s cattle:

Graceless, Aimless, Feckless, and Pointless: the farm’s cows, and Adam Lambsbreath’s chief charge. Occasionally given to losing extremities. [Adam is a 90-year-old farm hand, obsessed with his cows and with Elfine]

Big Business: the bull, spends most of his time inside the barn.

And of course the Starkadder family:

Judith Starkadder: Flora’s cousin, wife of Amos. She has an unhealthy passion for her own son Seth.

Seth Starkadder: younger son of Amos and Judith. Handsome and over-sexed. Has a passion for the movies.

Amos Starkadder: Judith’s husband, and hellfire preacher at the Church of the Quivering Brethren. (“Ye’re all damned!”)

Amos’s half-cousins: Micah, married to Susan; Urk, a bachelor who wants to marry Elfine and adores water-voles; Ezra, married to Jane; Caraway, married to Lettie; Harkaway. [Micah, Urk, Ezra, Caraway, and Harkaway]

Amos’s half-brothers: Luke, married to Prue; Mark, divorced from Susan and married to Phoebe. [Luke and Mark, with final /k/, but no Matthew or John]

Reuben Starkadder: Amos’s heir, jealous of anyone who stands between him and his inheritance of the farm.

Elfine: an intellectual, outdoor-loving girl of the Starkadder family, who is besotted with the local squire, Richard Hawk-Monitor of Hautcouture (pronounced “Howchiker”) Hall.

[I misremembered that there was another member of the family, Jonas Starkadder]

The book has been adapted a number of times, including more than once for British tv. Probably the best of these is a 1995 BBC production:

In 1995 a television film was produced which was generally well-received, with critics like the New York Times‘ Janet Maslin writing that this screen version “gets it exactly right.” The film starred Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Joanna Lumley as her friend and mentor Mary Smiling, Rufus Sewell as Seth, Ian McKellen as Amos Starkadder, Eileen Atkins as Judith, Stephen Fry as Mybug, Miriam Margolyes as Mrs. Beetle, and Angela Thorne as Mrs Hawk-Monitor. The 1995 version was produced by BBC Films and Thames International, and was helmed by Academy Award-winning director John Schlesinger, from a script by novelist and scholar Sir Malcolm Bradbury. It was filmed on location at Brightling, East Sussex.

A still from it, with an intense, highly sexualized Seth Starkadder and our heroine Flora Poste, and between them Big Business, finally out in the light:


The trailer for the movie is available here. (You’ll probably need to up the volume.)

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