Frieda Lawrence

Frieda Lawrence

Frieda von Richthofen was born into an an aristocratic family in Metz on 11th August 1879. Her father was Baron Friedrich Ernst Emil Ludwig von Richthofen (1844-1916) and her mother was Anna Elise Lydia Marquier (1852-1930).

In 1899 she moved to England after marrying the much older, Ernest Weekly, professor of French at the University College of Nottingham. After giving birth to three children, Frieda met the author D. H. Lawrence on 3rd March, 1912. Lawrence fell in love with Frieda and in May 1912 managed to persuade her to leave her husband and children. However, as John Worthen has pointed out: "Frieda's desire to be free of her marriage was not consistent with Lawrence's insistence that she become his partner, and she suffered agonies from the loss of her children (Weekley was determined to keep them away from her).

Lawrence set-up home with Frieda in Icking, near Munich. Lawrence claimed "the one possible woman for me, for I must have opposition - something to fight". The author of D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider has argued: "He cooked, cleaned, wrote, argued; Frieda attended little to house keeping (though washing became her specialty), but she could always hold her own against his theorizing, and maintained her independence of outlook as well as of sexual inclination (she slept with a number of other men during her time with Lawrence)." While living in Germany he finished his autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers. His publisher, Heinemann turned down the novel on grounds of indecency. He sent it to his friend, Edward Garnett, who read manuscripts for Gerald Duckworth and Company. The novel was accepted and published in May 1913. It received some good reviews but sold poorly.

In 1914 the couple returned to England. Lawrence's novel brought him to the attention of Edward Marsh. He introduced Lawrence to Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry. They were witnesses to Lawrence's marriage to Frieda. Claire Tomalin has pointed out: "The men put on formal three-piece suits, Frieda enveloped herself in flowing silks and Katherine wore a sombre suit." Lawrence wrote to a friend: "I don't feel a changed man, but I suppose I am one."

The two couples established themselves in two cottages near Chesham in Buckinghamshire. Later, Mansfield and Murry joined the Lawrences at Higher Tregerthen, near Zennor, in an attempt at communal living. It was a failure and within weeks she and Murry moved on.On the outbreak of the First World War the authorities became concerned that Frieda was a spy. Local people reported that the Lawrences were using the clothes hanging on their washing line to send coded messages to German U-boats. After searching their cottage, the authorities forced the Lawrences to leave the area.

The Rainbow was published in September 1915. According to Claire Tomalin: "Katherine Mansfield's reminiscences of New Zealand probably inspired Lawrence with the lesbian episode in The Rainbow, and she was certainly the model for Gudrun in Women in Love." It received hostile reviews that concentrated on the way Lawrence dealt with sexual themes. Robert Wilson Lynd in The Daily News said the book was "windy, tedious, boring and nauseating". Lynd, and another critic, Clement King Shorter, condemned the lesbian episode in the book. Another reviewer argued that the book "betrayed the young men" fighting on the Western Front.

At Bow Street Magistrates' Court on 13th November the novel was banned as obscene. As John Worthen has pointed out: "Its religious language, emotional and sexual explorations of experience, and sheer length had given its readers problems, but it was Ursula's lesbian encounter with a schoolteacher in the chapter Shame which had finally condemned it in the eyes of the law and of a country now focused on conflict."

Ottoline Morrell helped D. H. Lawrence with his writing by supporting him emotionally and financially. In December 1916 he showed her his unpublished novel, Women in Love. On reading it she was extremely upset at the unflattering portrayal of herself that was thinly disguised in the character of Hermione Roddice. Philip Morrell went to Lawrence's agent and threatened to bring legal action against any publisher who brought out the book.

Lawrence, who was opposed to the war, was twice called up for military service but was rejected on health grounds. The couple went to live in a cottage at Pulborough. Later they were joined by John Middleton Murry when Katherine Mansfield suffering from tuberculosis, had moved to Bandol on the south coast of France.

Lawrence caught influenza during the pandemic in November 1918, and once again he nearly died. It was not until a year later that he was fit enough to leave England. At first he lived in Florence but after Frieda joined him after her visit to her family in Germany, they settled temporarily in Picinisco, in the Abruzzi Mountains, before moving on to Capri, where the English writing colony, including Compton Mackenzie and Francis Brett Young. In February 1920, they moved to Sicily, where they stayed for the next two years.

In 1920 Martin Secker agreed to publish Women in Love, a sequel to his earlier novel The Rainbow, and follows the continuing loves and lives of the Brangwen sisters, Gudrun and Ursula. Once again the sexual content of the book caused controversy. over its sexual subject matter. W. Charles Pilley in the John Bull Magazine, said: "I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps - festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven." Even his friend, John Middleton Murry, wrote in the The Athenaeum that Lawrence was "far gone in the maelstrom of his sexual obsession" and that the novel was "sub-human and bestial."

In January 1921 Lawrence and Frieda visited Sardinia and he wrote the travel book, Sea and Sardinia. He also completed his next book Aaron's Rod, a novel in which Aaron Sisson, is a union official in the coal mines, decides to leave his wife and family, and move to Florence, where he attempts to make a living as a musician. In order for it to be published, Martin Secker, heavily censored the passages describing Aaron's sexual experiences. This time John Middleton Murry liked the book describing it as "the most important thing that has happened to English literature since the war". The author of D. H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider argues that "to most reviewers, however, it was simply another interesting book made rather unpleasant by Lawrence's obsession with sex."

In February 1922 Frieda and Lawrence decided to travel to Ceylon. He found the country too hot for writing and moved onto Australia. Settling at Thirroul, 69 km south of Sydney, Lawrence wrote his novel Kangaroo, in six weeks. The book tells the story of an English writer, Richard Lovat Somers, and his German wife Harriet. This appears to be semi-autobiographical and is based on the time he spent in New South Wales. "Kangaroo" is the nickname of one of Lawrence's characters, Benjamin Cooley, the leader of a secretive, fascist paramilitary organisation. It has been argued that Cooley was based on Major General Charles Rosenthal, a notable right wing activist in the early 1920s.

Lawrence and Frieda visited North America and while in Santa Fe, developed a close friendship with the poet, Witter Bynner and his lover, Willard Johnson. Bynner took the Lawrences to Taos in New Mexico to see a local Apache reservation. Lawrence also met Mabel Dodge Luhan and later these characters are portrayed in his novel The Plumed Serpent (1926).

D. H. Lawrence returned to England for a brief holiday and having invited his London friends to dinner at the Café Royal, he encouraged them to come back to New Mexico with him and Frieda where he was "committed to... establishing a new life on earth". Only John Middleton Murry and Dorothy Brett were the only ones to accept the offer. However, Middleton Murry changed his mind at the last moment. In March, 1924, the three left for North America and with the help of Mabel Dodge Luhan they established a small community at Taos.

In March 1925, D. H. Lawrence went down with a combination of typhoid and pneumonia, and nearly died. The doctor also diagnosed tuberculosis. Lawrence and Frieda had planned to return to England, but the doctor advised altitude, and they made their way back up to the ranch. Lawrence recorded that "New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had." However, for the sake of his health it was decided to move back to Italy. This time they stayed in Spotorno with Angelo Ravagli. Frieda's daughters also lived with them for a while. He used these experiences to write his short novel The Virgin and the Gipsy. Frieda began an affair with Ravagli, who later claimed that Lawrence discovered them "flagrante delicto". Lawrence's biographer argued that he responded by having an affair with Dorothy Brett while she was on holiday in Italy.

In 1926 Lawrence visited Nottingham. This inspired him to begin a new novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Lawrence's biographer, John Worthen, has argued: "His sympathy was now far more with his father (who had died in 1924) than with his mother, and the novel's central character was thoroughly working-class. The second version, started in November 1926, made the novel sexually explicit; it became a hymn to the love-making of the couple, to the body of the man and the woman, for sexuality as it could potentially be between an independent working-class man and an independent upper-class woman. It was a final fictional reworking of a theme which he had always written about for the chance it gave him to concentrate on sexual attraction (and to some extent had enacted in his own life and relationships), but which he now returned to both polemically and nostalgically."

The highly explicit sex passages in the book meant that Lawrence was unable to find a publisher for the novel. With the help of the Italian bookseller Pino Orioli, Lady Chatterley's Lover was printed in and distributed from Florence. The book made him so much money that he could now afford to live in expensive hotels. Later he moved to Bandol on the south coast of France.

In February 1930, D. H. Lawrence went into the Ad Astra Sanatorium in Vence, where he was visited by friends from England, including H. G. Wells and Aldous Huxley. He discharged himself from the sanatorium on 1st March, and Frieda helped him move into the Villa Robermond, a rented house in the town. He died the following day and was buried in the local cemetery on 4th March.

After Lawrence's death, Angelo Ravagli, wrote to Frieda: "I am waiting for you." She returned to Spotorno and Ravagli abandoned his wife and three children for her. Later the couple moved to Taos. This did not surprise her friends. Aldous Huxley who pointed out Frieda's "extreme helplessness when left alone to cope with a practical situation."

Frieda Lawrence wrote an account of Lawrence, Not I But the Wind (1935) but her autobiography was unfinished at her death on 11th August 1956 in New Mexico. Her memoirs were edited by New Mexico. W. Tedlock and published as Frieda Lawrence: the Memoirs and Correspondence in 1961.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Katherine Mansfield, letter to Solomon Koteliansky (11th May 1916)

Let me tell you what happened on Friday. I went across to them for tea. Frieda said Shelley's Ode to a Skylark was false. Lawrence said: "You are showing off; you don't know anything about it." Then she began. "Now I have had enough. Out of my house - you little God Almighty you. I've had enough of you. Are you going to keep your mouth shut or aren't you." Said Lawrence: "I'll give you a dab on the cheek to quiet you, you dirty hussy." Etc. Etc. So I left the house. At dinner time Frieda appeared. "I have finally done with him. It is all over for ever." She then went out of the kitchen & began to walk round and round the house in the dark. Suddenly Lawrence appeared and made a kind of horrible blind rush at her and they began to scream and scuffle. He beat her - he beat her to death - her head and face and breast and pulled out her hair. All the while she screamed for Murry to help her. Finally they dashed into the kitchen and round and round the table. I shall never forget how Lawrence looked. He was so white - almost green and he just hit - thumped the big soft woman. Then he fell into one chair and she into another. No one said a word. A silence fell except for Frieda's sobs and sniffs. In a way I felt almost glad that the tension between them was over for ever - and that they had made an end of the "intimacy". Lawrence sat staring at the floor, biting his nails. Frieda sobbed. Suddenly, after a long time - about quarter of an hour - Lawrence looked up and asked Murry a question about French literature. Murry replied. Little by little, the three drew up to the table. Then Frieda poured herself out some coffee. Then she and Lawrence glided into talk, began to discuss some "very rich but very good macaroni cheese." And next day, whipped himself, and far more thoroughly than he had ever beaten Frieda, he was running about taking her up her breakfast to her bed and trimming her a hat.

(2) Time Magazine (18th December, 1964)

As an early prophet of the century's sexual revolution, in prose and by example, D. H. Lawrence attracted swarms of intense female admirers, several of whom rushed into print right after his death with memoirs whose burden was that only the author understood "Lorenzo's" real self, and only his cloddish wife Frieda stood in the way of some blazing fusion that would make sexual, if not literary, history.

Lawrence died in 1930, leaving generations of teen-agers to pore over his lyrical celebrations of sex (Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Plumed Serpent) as a mystical force that was its own imperative, displacing petty considerations of established custom, narrow morality or Christian ethic. For 26 years, until her own death in 1956, Frieda loyally supported the image of Lawrence as the ultimate male. But all the while she was writing an extensive fictionalized memoir. In this book, Professor E. W. Tedlock Jr. of the University of New Mexico has tried to patch together her fragmentary memoir into a coherent whole, and has also assembled a collection of hitherto unpublished correspondence by and to Frieda. The result is to transform Frieda from an offstage presence into a compelling personality in her own right.

The memoir itself is lesser Lawrence in philosophy ("Sex is almost the essence of living"), and the style is the still lesser English that might be expected of a Prussian baron's daughter. But the letters are delightful and perceptive. Most startlingly, they reveal that Frieda was at least as sexually uninhibited as Lawrence himself professed to be (which was a good deal more than he was in reality).

In the first year that she left her professor-husband and three children to live with Lawrence, Frieda was admitting that she could be attracted to other men. She and Lawrence, not yet married, set off on a walking trip with David Garnett and his friend Harold Hobson. Before the trek across the Alps was over, Frieda had confessed to Lawrence that she had felt a strong physical attraction to young Hobson, and he to her. Frieda discussed it freely in letters to Garnett, and Lawrence furiously scribbled comments across her letters-"Stinker! Bitch!"

There are many letters reflecting the affair she had several years later with John Middleton Murry, husband of Katherine Mansfield. "Why, I ask myself, was it you who should have revealed to me the richness of physical love?" Jack wrote to Frieda many years later, lamenting that he had lacked the courage to steal her from Lawrence. "And the loveliness there was between us came out of the generosity of your soul as much as the generosity of your body."

The primary value of the collection, however, is in its illumination of the stormy relationship between Frieda, the German aristocrat, and Lawrence, the coal miner's son. Lawrence emerges as much prig as immoralist. But he also amply demonstrates his doctrine that the most lasting relationship between man and woman is "love-hate." She concedes that some inner torment sometimes hurled him "over the edge of sanity. Once, I remember he had his hands on my throat, and he was pressing me against the wall and ground out: "I am the master, I am the master!" Her response: "Is that all? You can be master as much as you like, I don't care."

(3) Time Magazine (9th February, 1976)

Died. Angelo Ravagli, 84, self-proclaimed catalyst of D.H. Lawrence's novel of infidelity Lady Chatterley's Lover; in Spotorno, Italy. Ravagli made the claim, supported by at least one biographer, that Lawrence's wife Frieda could not resist his graceful good looks and finally yielded to him while the Lawrences vacationed in Spotorno - at which point Lawrence discovered them flagrante delicto. Lawrence took literary revenge by writing Lady Chatterley. In 1930, after Lawrence succumbed to tuberculosis, Ravagli wrote to Frieda: "I am waiting for you." She came. Ravagli abandoned his wife and three children for Frieda and lived with her for nearly 20 years before they were married in 1950. When Frieda died in 1956, Ravagli inherited one-fourth of her estate, which included accumulating royalties from Lady Chatterley. In 1959 the bans on Lady Chatterley were lifted, and for a time the novel's sales skyrocketed, making Ravagli rich from the book about his adultery.