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| BIRSTALL - BRIARMAINS
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A wonderful read, a clever mix of love, tragedy and class. The characters are rich and well developed. The plot explores the crossing of class boundaries, with the two main characters as we follow their love story. I really felt Woodis's loneliness throughout the book as he tells his story. A recommended read!
What You Did Awesomely:
The characters: you did a great job bringing them to life. They aren't boring at all and seem so real.
The dialogue: I am a stickler about dialogue. To me, it can make or break a story. Dialogue has to read like the people are actually talking. I want to see them conversing in my head and hear their distinct voices, too. The plot is one that still kept me interested. I was curious about Woodiss and his life back from the war and what he might do next.
I did enjoy your book. I'm sure I will go back to it out of curiosity for what will happen next.
Woodiss is Willing, edited by George Dalrymple, is a fictionalized account of the life of Henry Woodiss, who gained notoriety in the 1920s in England due to his high-profile affair with the wife of Sir Coningsby Coningsby-Clarke, Lady Edith. Penned by Woodiss himself in a manuscript supposedly finished in the 1960s, he presents his story as comical fiction at the expense of both himself and the myriad figures involved in the debacle.
Despite the comic bent the book takes on the incident, Woodiss writes with sincerity, with glimpses into his genuine feelings. If not for the highly satirical tone and sobering honesty, the book might border on a real-life Lolita as his life is presented as a series of mishaps, albeit at the behest of predatory women. In reality, it becomes clear that the character of Woodiss is merely a vent for his frustrations, with a witless protagonist bearing his likeness to bear the cross. The absurdity reflects what he truly wishes to express: everyone was at fault, and he’ll admit his own, as much as the whole circumstance was overblown.
Woodiss is Willing is a fascinating look into the mind of a man made charlatan by the presses of old, and his thoughts and feelings in retrospect.
Lady C seduces her husband’s gamekeeper
Edith - I didn’t call her that then, she was Lady Coningsby-Clarke, somebody I tipped my cap to - used to come into the woods in her big hat and long, billowing-sleeved frocks, usually carrying her art-making equipment, every so often stopping and staring. She’d find a suitable spot – a clearing with a view along one of the rides or by the pond – and set up in business. If I passed her I saluted and said ‘Good day, m’lady,’ and marched on. One spring day she was wandering round and I guessed she was looking at me as if she wanted something. ‘There are so many trees here,’ she said in a peevish way, which surprised me because she’d always seemed so placid, never ruffled, and it didn’t seem a reasonable complaint anyway, since she was in her husband’s woods. Sir Con had told her there was a spot up the hillside where you could see over the trees and across the valley. ‘He said he and you used to play there when you were children,’ she said.
I explained that it would be hard walking as it was a poor sort of path, steep and rocky, and she looked me up and down and said firmly she wanted to go there. So I took her equipment and led the way, stopping occasionally to make sure she could keep up with me, reaching out to help her up some of the hardest parts. As I had her equipment under one arm and my shotgun under the other, it wasn’t easy. In fact I regard it as a considerable feat of justifiable legerdemain to have found a spare hand. Bugler ran to and fro, enjoying new territory, looking pleased with hisself. He and Lady Clarke seemed to have taken a liking to one another. At the top of the hill she thanked me and said it was a tip-top spot, just what she’d been looking for. As I touched my cap and was taking my leave, she called out, ‘Woodiss. Stand there. Turn your head.’
I did as I was told. The upper classes know that the lower orders appreciate a clear directive, like a dog appreciates a simple word of command and gets confused if you try and explain why it’s in everybody’s interest that it sits when you tell it to, but I did wonder what I was letting myself in for, because I knew that sometimes she drew the same scene a dozen times in a row. But being her husband’s servant, I did as I was told. I stood there with Bugler at my feet, I adjusted my pose according to her directions and she got to work, and when she’d finished I carried her gubbins back down the hillside. At the edge of the park she took her stuff off me. ‘Thank you, Woodiss,’ she said. ‘Shall you be available to-morrow? Same time, then.’
Day after day, weather permitting, she’d arrive, I’d take her artist’s things off her, she’d give Bugler a biscuit and off we’d trot, side by side till we got to the turning, then in file as we climbed the hill, Lady C holding onto my hand at the difficultest parts, Bugler skipping ahead, then stopping and waiting. He’d become very fond of her ladyship - his tail went into top gear whenever he saw her - and him a hard dog to please.
When she’d got her clobber sorted out and was ready for action, she’d set me in the pose she wanted and bend her head in concentration, but with a frequent stare in my direction, and sketch. When she’d finished she’d say, ‘Thank you, Woodiss, that will do for to-day.’ Day after day we’d scramble back down the hill and in silence I’d escort her to the edge of the park. She must have done a dozen drawings of me.
After two or three weeks of posing fully dressed she said quite casually she wanted to draw me ‘from life’ and would I mind taking my clothes off?
‘What? Everything, my lady?’
‘Yes, nude. Imagine we’re in art school.’
I was figged up in my keeper’s uniform: three-piece knickerbocker suit, heavy boots and socks, not to mention my unmentionables, so it took me a while to strip, then I folded everything neatly, having been taught to treat my clothes with respect. When I was naked Bugler got exited and was snapping his head up and down and barking as if he disapproved of this sort of carry on.
‘Take your cap off,’ she said.
She sketched me in the buff a few times, working in her slow, deliberate way, every so often lifting her head for a long and thoughtful stare. The third or fourth time it was a cool, damp day, which wasn’t comfortable for me and I grew rather huffy. She didn’t seem to notice and I thought my bit of rebelliousness hadn’t registered, but the next time she got on with the drawing and finished quickly. ‘We can stop there if you like,’ she said. ‘Come over here.’ I bent down to find something to cover me for I was very proud, but then I thought, what the Hell! I’d been naked and erect so often, why bother now? – she wasn’t seeing nothing new - so I strolled over and stood in front of her.
Squatting on her stool she was on eye level with my little boy’s parts which she faced fair and square, full on, best seat in the house, and without a flicker of emotion conducted a very thorough short-arm inspection. They didn’t get close-up like that in art school.
‘Very beautiful,’ she said, in the sort of voice you hear when people see York Minster for the first time, or look up in awe at Ben Nevis or similar wonder of nature. Reaching forward she grasped my cock firmly between finger and thumb. Her touch was confident but cautious, a bit like the way my father used to touch the cucumbers in the frames at Coningsby Hall, checking if they were ready. ‘Excuse me a moment,’ she said - to my disappointment letting go of me - and she bent down and fished out a small sketchbook. ‘Would you mind? I do think it’s important to get the details right.’ She was still speaking in her calm, clear voice. She had a very pleasing manner of speech: a sweet natural voice with every word clearly pronounced, and none of that loud hee-hawing that many upper class people affected - like the toffs who attended Con’s shooting parties. I could have fallen in love with Edith for her voice alone, although her actions had already made me feel very well disposed towards her.
‘Try and keep still,’ she said and executed a very deft drawing, which, I must say, did me justice. She studied it critically, however, and after a minute rummaged in her valise and brought out a steel six-inch ruler and a pair of calipers. Bugler gave a short, low growl, showing he was again concerned at the turn of events – as was I: I didn’t like the look of the calipers. After a moment’s further reflection she put the steel thing back in her valise and brought out a joiner’s folding rule. ‘I like to make sure the measurements are correct,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to exaggerate. People are so ready to accuse one of distortion.’ She made a note of the dimensions and put everything away. ‘Are you naturally gifted or do you do special exercises?’ she said.
‘It just comes natural, m’lady,’ I said. ‘My father thinks size is important. He produces prodigious vegetables.’
‘His cucumbers are very impressive.’
‘That’s what I had in mind, m’lady. He takes great pride in his cucumbers.’
‘A very special variety,’ she said, still studying my anatomy.
‘His preferred variety is Victory Of England. It’s best for forcing. It can grow up to twenty inches.’
‘Duncan’s Victoria can manage twenty-eight but you have to give it plenty of farmyard manure and cover it with mats on a cold night. A really choice specimen he puts in a glass bottle to keep it straight.’
I apologize for the horticultural references, but in literary circles it’s considered best practice to mention suitable vegetables in such scenes as this.
‘I’m very impressed that it can stay – er-fresh, as you might say, for so long,’ she said.
‘That’s just the nature of the beast, m’ldy.’
‘And because it wants to go into me. perhaps?’
Taken aback I made the best response I could in the circumstances.
She nodded, very understanding. ‘I’d like you to,’ she said, ‘but the grass is quite damp and I fear it may be going to rain. Shall you be in your cottage this afternoon? I’ll come at four o’clock.’ She had another peek at me. ‘Shall you be able to wait that long?’
True to her word she came prompt on four. She was carrying her artist’s equipment, which she put down just inside the door. Bugler greeted her affectionately; the other dogs set up a racket and I shooed them outside. Once I’d pushed the door to she tilted her head and pressed her mouth up and I kissed her. She rubbed against me and I slowly drew her skirt up and put my hand inside. There were no drawers nor stays to get in the way and she was well ready; I could have gone straight in, but she asked if there was a bedroom and I took her upstairs. She didn’t bring her sketchbook. She jumped onto the bed and lay down with her legs wide open, wide enough for me to lie down comfortably between them. No false modesty, no take your time, no pretending that with being a lady she needed to be roused – she could do that for herself.
I’m sure you’re anxious to know what happened next – and I promise, I won’t disappoint you – but I want to say this: I can’t in all honesty claim I was already in love with Edith - it would have been presumptuous for a man in my position even to think he was - and I can’t say for certain that I fell in love with her that afternoon, but I did conceive a great admiration for her and that admiration never left me. In those days, I believe, not many women, whatever their station, would have had the courage to lie down with their legs open and say, this is what I want, get on with it.
Anyway, I did, and the cottage filled with noise. That glorious afternoon has given me my most cherished memories. Edith, so calm and considered in everyday speech and movement, became a very noisy and active young woman. And talkative. She gave me a regular progress report. ‘I’m coming, I’m coming,’ she yelled and when she did you’d have thought I was murdering her, but I kept going which produced more noise, and between screams she managed to say ‘Don’t stop.’ Eventually I had to, for even a man of my talent can’t hold back forever. ‘Stay inside,’ she said, ‘till you’re ready again.’
Such activity did not go unnoticed. Not only was the cottage filled with noise, it had begun to shudder and there was a dreadful racket that Edith and me weren’t responsible for. Then the penny dropped: Bugler didn’t like anybody messing with me. He’d got his shoulder to the door, trying to break it down, the Jack Russell was on her hind legs trying to scratch her way through, and the spaniels were running round in circles, egging the others on. I couldn’t understand why Bugler, who was such a smart dog, far cleverer than me, hadn’t worked out how to lift the sneck.
If Edith noticed the noise it didn’t upset her, she didn’t lose her aristocratic poise, and without much delay I did my best to continue to occupy her attention.
In the course of the next hectic passage, when Edith was coming up to another big finish, the rattling and scratching became a rushing and pounding and as she exploded again, a panting, fur-coated demon landed beside me.
I think it’s what’s referred to as aristocratic sangfroid. Even then, even before the humiliation that I’m going to tell you about, I wasn’t a supporter of the upper class, but I’m bound to admit they had the knack of keeping cool when things were hot. During the war I saw youngsters, just out of school, who in every respect were gold-plated short-tongued twerps of the first order, point theirselves towards the guns and step out into the hottest and thickest shot and shell without the slightest tremor of their hairless upper lips. How they’d have responded if they’d been lying on their backs, content and satisfied, dreamily surveying the ceiling, and ninety pounds of drooling dog flesh landed beside them is another matter, of course.
Edith said, ‘Hello Bugler,’ and put her hand out and stroked him. ‘I’m sorry, darling, I haven’t got a Spratt’s on me.’
When I told him sharpish to get back downstairs she said, ‘Don’t scold him, he was missing his daddy,’ but he went. She patted me instead. She said, ‘All that exercise must have tired you. Have a little sleep.’ And she jumped out of bed, full of the joys of spring.
‘No m'lady,’ I said, following her, ‘I’m worried about the pigs m'lady. They’re sensitive to noise.’
‘Oh golly, was that me?’
‘No, it was these lunatics - Bugler and his gang.’
‘Oh, poor Bugler,’ she said. He heard her and was back again, slavering round her and gazing up at her adoringly. The poor beast was lovesick and in danger of making a right fool of hisself.