Great House Therapy: Connie and Clifford’s War-Ravaged Family Seat -The Toast

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Home: The Toast

Susan Harlan’s previous work for The Toast, including past installments of Great House Therapy, can be found here.

Name: Constance Chatterley, a bonny Scotch trout of a lady, and Clifford Chatterley, baronet and member of the intelligentsia
Location: In the soulless ugliness of the coal-and-iron Midlands
Size: Massive enough for Connie to conduct an affair in her third-floor parlour without much trouble
Years lived in together: Since the autumn of 1920, after the end of all the death and horror (the pity of war, etc.); owned

Ours is essentially a tragic decorating age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes of reorganizing our closets and drawers.

This is more or less Connie’s position.

“The war really brought the roof down over my head,” she said. “So we had to have it repaired, and it’s so effing expensive to repair a roof.”

Roofing is only one of the many challenges that Connie has faced at Wragby Hall, but she’s more than prepared to handle the ins and outs of domestic life at her husband’s family seat. This long low old house in brown stone was begun about the middle of the eighteenth century, and added on to, till it was a warren of a place without much distinction. But the property boasts a number of sheep, which is super pastoral.

Sir Clifford hadn’t expected to inherit Wragby, but his older brother Herbert was killed in 1916, and his pale and tense father Sir Geoffrey had the decency to die of chagrin shortly thereafter. The home is filled with carefully curated antiques, dusty old books, and a pervasive sense of post-war doom regarding the future of England’s landed aristocracy that readers will recognize from Downton Abbey.

Wragby also benefits from the charming artisanal culture of the region: sooty, underpaid men who are lowered into dangerous mines. Connie isn’t a fan of the pit or the rows of wretched, small, begrimed brick houses in the nearby Tevershall Village.

lady“I don’t like to go into town because it’s gross,” she said. “Sometimes Sir Clifford has to go for business, but mostly he just sits in the breakfast nook we added, reading his newspapers and trying not to think about severed body parts.”

Sir Clifford came back from the war a “changed man,” which is to say that he is paralyzed and unable to bone. (This is totally a thing in war novels.) But Connie and Sir Clifford keep their spirits up by attending Clarissa Dalloway’s parties in London and by hosting Sir Clifford’s cronies regularly.

“Sometimes I string fairy lights up in the backyard, and we throw a couple of pheasants on the grill,” said Connie. “But my god, those flannel-trousers Cambridge men do go on and on about Racine and Bolshevism.”

The property also includes a charming gamekeeper’s hut surrounded by a pervy landscape of dandelions, daisies, and the lush, dark green of hyacinths.

“I can tell you about the hut, too,” she said. “Few people will be able to get their hands on the unexpurgated version of the novel until after the obscenity trial anyway. Ah, I do love those orange and white Penguin covers. Ours will have a phoenix on it, which is fabulous.”


A chat with Connie:

Their Style: I enjoy blazing fires, fluffy beds, paintings of the Scottish countryside, and anything with a sturdy, energetic, country-girl vibe that pushes against what Lionel Trilling referred to as “the messy sterility of modern life.” Sir Clifford’s taste runs to etched crystal decanters, German reproductions of Cezanne and Renoir, and an heir to the estate produced by me boning another man.

Important Influences: Sir Clifford is influenced by the quirky and offbeat design features of the trenches, such as rotting corpses, rats, lice, and overflowing latrines. Not that he wants those things! – He’d just like to be sure that such an approach doesn’t figure into our redecorating choices. And I get it: trenches are narrow and icky, and they flood all the time.

Favorite Element: For Sir Clifford, probably our housekeeper, who is a dried-up, elderly, superlatively correct female I tend to avoid. For myself, I love Wragby’s woods, which are a remnant of the great forest where Robin Hood hunted – I mean, Merrie Olde England is such a brilliant idea. Sometimes when I feel restless, I rush off across the park and lie prone in the bracken. Bracken is a vascular plant from the genus of large, coarse ferns in the family Dennstaedtiaceae, and that shit is all over the property.


Unique Elements to the Grounds: Definitely the gamekeeper’s hut, which is like a backyard retreat, but without a gazing globe or garden gnomes. Mellors keeps it awfully nice, and it has been an escape from the evil electric lights and diabolical rattlings of engines, as well as a place of ridiculous postures and acts, or so the narrator says, but he also says a lot about my haunches.

Best Features of the Hut: Mellors has the nicest way of arranging blankets on the floor for when we bone, and he always hangs his gun up on the wall so it’s not liable to just, you know, go off. And he has a chicken coop, where once he felt among an old hen’s feathers and drew out a faintly-peeping chick for me to hold. I tried to convince him to order a new chicken coop from Williams-Sonoma that was built in Washington state from solid red cedar custom milled by a local, family-run sawmill, but he just said something about wanting to stroke my breasts and loins and to stop talking about Williams-Sonoma.

Future Plans for the Gamekeeper’s Hut: The hut has shown me that it’s great to have a place to really tune out the world – and to enjoy marvelous swoon-like caresses of my soft warm buttocks, coming nearer and nearer to the very quick of me. Maybe one day, I’ll also add an Airstream trailer to the property or even convert some shipping containers into a space of simplicity and virtue. Sir Clifford suggested a yurt in the style of Marie Antoinette’s peasant village.

What Friends Say: Mellors says, “Tha’s got such a nice tail on thee. Tha’s got the nicest arse of anybody. It’s the nicest, nicest woman’s arse as is! An’ ivery bit of it is woman, woman sure as nuts. Tha’rt not one o’ them button-arsed lasses as should be lads, are ter! Tha’s got a real soft sloping bottom on thee, as a man loves in ‘is guts. It’s a bottom as could hold the world up, it is!” But you probably mean about the estate! – I don’t know. I haven’t really asked. Who cares. 

Biggest Embarrassment: Probably the sensual flame of passion pressing through my bowels, but not anymore! It’s also quite embarrassing that you can see the chimney of Tevershall pit from our property, with its clouds of steam and smoke; as well as the raw struggle of the village, which begins at the gates and trails in utter hopeless ugliness for a long and gruesome mile. I think we may have to plant some tall ornamental shrubberies. 

Proudest DIY: I find the portraits of Sir Clifford’s ancestors a bit dreary, so I have been gradually replacing them with my own paintings of perky owls.

Biggest Indulgence: I would say the belief that the landed aristocracy could possibly endure as a class, particularly in this absurd post-war wasteland. Otherwise, probably the new thirteen thousand-dollar Chihuly anemone chandelier for the dining room. 

Best Advice: Get a small, kid-friendly farm somewhere, as Mellors and I plan to do. But for heaven’s sake, don’t let your kid’s stuff take over the place, even if he’s not in fact going to be the heir to a great estate. You need to designate adult spaces for adult activities such as running around naked in the rain with a dog. And nickname your genitals. That’s always quite fun.

Susan Harlan is an English professor at Wake Forest University, where she specializes in Shakespeare. Her essays have appeared in venues such as The Guardian US, The Morning News, Roads & Kingdoms, Nowhere, The Awl, Public Books, and Curbed.

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