Manuscripts and Special Collections

Chapter 3: Frieda and the escape abroad: 1912-1914

Part I

Emma Maria Frieda Johanna Weekley (1879-1956) was the thirty-three-year-old wife of Ernest Weekley (1865-1959), Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Nottingham. Daughter of Anna (1851-1930) and Baron Friedrich von Richthofen (1845- 1915), minor German aristocrats, she had grown up in Metz, where her father had a desk job in the Prussian army of occupation; at the age of nineteen she had married Weekley, and since 1899 had lived the life of a professor's wife in a sequence of superior Nottingham suburbs. It seems possible that Lawrence had seen her before, either when he was going to his brother George's Nottingham house for lunch while a student at the High School (George lived in the street opposite the Weekleys at that time) or while at University College, when he was taught French by Weekley: the professor's handsome young wife may well have been pointed out to him. The Weekleys had three children, Monty (1900-82), aged almost twelve, Elsa (1902-85) aged nine and Barby (b.1904) aged seven.

But now in March 1912 (probably on the 3rd: Worthen 1991: 562-3) Lawrence went to lunch at the Weekleys; he wanted advice from Weekley about the chance of getting a teaching job abroad; he had cousins in Germany and was contemplating a visit to them later in the spring. He and Frieda talked briefly before lunch, however, and found themselves strongly attracted to each other. Extramarital relationships were something Frieda specialized in; we know of at least three men in Germany and one in England she had had affairs with, over the previous six years (she had the habit of making lengthy visits to Germany most summers to see her family). She probably thought of Lawrence simply as another man she very much liked and wanted, and imagined that an affair with him would (as usual) do nothing to upset her life as a wife and mother. Lawrence was struck rather differently. "You are the most wonderful woman in all England," he wrote to her within a few days (Letters I: 376). Over the next eight weeks they saw each other fairly often; they went to the theatre in Nottingham, and Frieda had the excuse of taking her children out; they visited the farm run by Jessie Chambers' sister May (1883-1955) and her husband Will Holbrook (b.1884), for example. The differences between Lawrence and Frieda also became very obvious; Lawrence was shocked when he arrived at the Weekley house for an afternoon with Frieda when the maid had been given the afternoon off, and found that she didn't even know how to light the gas to make tea. But her beauty, her directness, her foreignness, her spontaneity and carelessness fascinated him. For her part, she quickly became a reader of Paul Morel; she was deeply impressed by Lawrence's background and the way it fed into his work as a writer - and by his insistence that she was throwing away her life in her comfortable Nottingham surroundings.

As a consequence of meeting her, Lawrence broke off from his affair with Alice Dax, and devoted himself to creating as much of a relationship with Frieda as he could manage. He went to London in April and she was able to go with him; Edward Garnett was happy to take the illicit couple into his house in Kent for a couple of days. By now even Frieda was getting disturbingly involved with Lawrence; but she still failed to do the one thing Lawrence was urging her to do, which was tell Weekley that she was leaving him. What was possible, however, was Frieda was going to see her family. Again Lawrence insisted that Frieda tell Weekley about him; again Frieda failed to do so, though she did tell Weekley about two earlier affairs just before she left, leaving him in a state of great alarm about her. She left her children with her parents-in-law in London, as usual when she went away; and on Friday 3rd May 1912 Frieda and Lawrence met in London to catch the boat train; they arrived in Metz just after 6 o'clock on the Saturday morning.

But what might have looked like their best chance yet of enjoying their affair turned out very differently. Over the next three days they hardly saw each other. Lawrence was briefly introduced to Frieda's mother and her sisters, but could not be allowed to meet her father, who - in spite of having an illegitimate son of his own - believed strongly in morality and respectability. Lawrence found lodgings in a strict, religious hotel which cost more than he could afford, while Frieda was staying with her parents about a mile away. They saw each other briefly on the Sunday, and then not at all on the Monday apart from a glimpse in a crowded fair: Frieda's father had enjoyed fifty years service in the Prussian army, and celebrations public and private dominated the day. Lawrence spent his time exploring Metz and its environs: and growing angry with Frieda for continuing to pretend that he was just an English visitor whom she knew slightly. By the Tuesday he was desperate: "Now I can't stand it any longer, I cant ... I've tried so hard to work - but I cant ... But no, I won't utter or act or willingly let you utter or act, another single lie in the business." (Letters I: 392-3) Weekley had sent a telegram saying that he suspected Frieda of having a man with her; he also apparently wrote wildly to her father about her. Frieda, on the advice of her mother and sisters, temporized with Weekley, saying that she would write. She was obviously trying to retain her chances of going back to him, and of keeping her children; her family was totally opposed to her abandoning her marriage and her children for the love of a penniless writer.

But Lawrence loved her and was determined not to let her take the compromizing way out. On Tuesday 7th he drafted a letter for her to send to Weekley, explaining what was happening. She failed to send it, so on the Wednesday he himself wrote to Weekley: "I love your wife and she loves me ... " (Letters I: 392). Weekley got the letter on Friday 10th, and immediately wrote to Frieda asking her to agree to a divorce; there was no doubt in his mind that she should never be allowed to see her children again. In Metz, meanwhile, events had taken a comic turn; on the Wednesday, at last spending a few hours together and carelessly wandering into a military area, Lawrence and Frieda had got themselves questioned by a military policeman, and their names taken: Lawrence was suspected of spying. Frieda's father was able to get Lawrence out of trouble, but demanded to meet him; that afternoon they saw each other for the first and only time. The Baron clearly had his suspicions, and it was suggested to Lawrence that he had better leave Metz; he took the train to Trier, eighty miles away and further from Frieda than ever. But this time, he knew that his letter was winging its way to Weekley and that Frieda would no longer be able to back away from commitment to him. And, anyway, Trier was far more attractive than the garrison town of Metz, where there had been soldiers on every street corner. Frieda came to visit him in Trier on the Friday. albeit for only half a day (her father demanded her return to Metz that night), bringing with her a telegram from Weekley. Lawrence ensured that she sent a direct answer. On the Saturday, he had to go on to his cousins in the Rhineland; but at last he felt secure of Frieda, and on the journey wrote one of his most beautiful love poems to her, "Bei Hennef": "At last I know my love for you is here ... " (Comp Poems 203).

His relations lived in what was then a remote village, and he spent the next fortnight peacefully going on trips around Waldbröl, his cousin Hannah Krenkow (b. 1881) apparently starting to fall in love with him, while he applied himself to learning German and doing a final revision of Paul Morel: he would in future have to support himself and Frieda with what he could earn. But all the time he was hearing from Frieda how wretched her life in Metz now was, as her parents accused her of behaving stupidly and as they tried to repair the damage with Weekley. Frieda appealed to Lawrence to come and rescue her, but he insisted that they must only come together again when they were really ready for each other; he wanted to leave behind the emotional crevasses of Metz, and now saw their relationship as, in effect, a marriage. In desperation, she fled to Munich, to her sister Else Jaffe (1874-1973), who knew exactly what it was to have escaped from a marriage but to have kept her children: for some years, although remaining married to a University Professor, Edgar Jaffe (1866- 1921), she had been having an affair with the economist Alfred Weber (1868-1958). The marriages of all three von Richthofen daughters, including that of Johanna (1882-1971) with Max von Schreibershofen (1864-1944), had proved failures; Frieda's was only the most recent to do so.

And it was to Munich that Lawrence at last travelled, at the end of May; he and Frieda had a marvellous week together in an old inn in Beuerberg, and then took up the flat in Icking which Weber rented; they could have this until August, rent-free, important to them now that they were living on Lawrence's meagre literary earnings. It was in the Icking flat that the final revisions to Paul Morel were done, and Lawrence triumphantly posted it off to Heinemann on 8th June. It was that novel - begun as his mother was dying, linked with the unhappy engagement to Louie, marked by the final break with Jessie Chambers - which he now hoped would support Frieda and him.

To his distress, the novel came back from Heinemann almost immediately: it was too overtly sexual, the degradation of Mrs Morel through living in the working-class was impossible, it was badly structured: Heinemann were turning it down flat. Lawrence was only lucky in having Edward Garnett and the firm of Duckworth waiting in the wings; Garnett read the manuscript, recommended its acceptance, and made many suggestions for one final revision. Lawrence does not seem to have been too upset: he may have recognized that he now really wanted to include in it something of his new experience with Frieda.

At the start of August, they had to give Weber his flat back. Else had suggested that - while England was effectively barred to them - they go to Italy, where living was cheap. They set off, with all their belongings sent ahead in trunks, before dawn on Monday 5th August, on what turned out to be one of the great memorable adventures of their lives. A combination of walking and train took them through the rain and past the wayside crucifixes to Bad Tölz on the first evening; the second day saw them walking all day and getting high up into the border country between Bavaria and Austria; a short cut went both disastrously wrong and marvellously right, as they ended up at nightfall with a choice to make between a hay-hut and a tiny wooden chapel to sleep in. Lawrence fancied the chapel, with its candles and its dry wooden floor; but Frieda had always wanted to sleep in a hay-hut. So they did: and tossed and turned all night; and in the morning found that the snow had almost come down to their level. A tiny breakfast of a single roll and another five miles walking and scrambling brought them down to a main road and a house where they took a room, dried their clothes, and got some sleep until mid afternoon (and Lawrence apparently began to write his account of the journey). Pouring rain persuaded them to take a horse-drawn post-omnibus across the Austrian border and on to the Achensee, under dark mountains, where their tramp- like appearance barred them from the hotel but not from a farmhouse. On the Thursday, they set out to recover their trunks from the customs at Kufstein, fifteen miles up the Inn valley; here, again, a train journey helped. They slept a night in Kufstein, having raided their trunks for fresh clothes, and sent on the trunks again to Mayrhofen, where a further day's walk and train got them by the Friday night. Here they took a room for a fortnight, and spent their time walking and exploring. Lawrence wrote, they recovered.

After a week, they were joined by English friends, Garnett's son David (1892-1981) and a friend of his, Harold Hobson (1891-1974). Trunks were eventually again despatched, to Bozen, and the group of four set out over the Pfitscherjoch pass. One night in a hayhut (now under the tutelage of the outdoor expert Garnett) and a night at the Dominicushütte mountain hut brought them on the third day over the pass and down the far side into the Pfitscher valley to an inn. These days of walking had been especially exhausting, and on the fourth day Lawrence and Frieda ambled down to Sterzing, while Garnett and Hobson hurried on to catch a train back to the north.

Things never recovered their joy after this. Their days in Sterzing were boring; and Lawrence miscalculated how long it would take them to walk up to the next pass, the Jaufen. They ended up exhausted, with night falling, a bitter wind, and with great steep slopes still to climb - and then Frieda told Lawrence that she had slept with Hobson two days ago, at the Dominicushütte. It was the first time Frieda had been unfaithful to Lawrence, and doubtless had something to do with her assertion to him (and to herself) that she was not giving up her independence even if she had decided to cross the Alps with him and thus give up her marriage and her children for him. But it would not be the last time she had an affair; and if Lawrence wanted her to stay with him, then he would simply have to accept that she would by no means always stay faithful as well.

They struggled on up, at last found the mountain hut; and spent the whole of the next day walking, believing that they were finally on the road down to Meran. In fact they were taking the direct road back to Sterzing; and only realized it at four in the afternoon. For all their shortness of money, they took a train that night to Bozen. But they didn't much like it, and went on to Trento; where attempts to find a place to stay led to filthy rooms and doors slammed in their faces. Near despair was overcome by taking a final train down to Riva on the shores of Lake Garda (they had seen a poster at the station).

And this was the warm south they had been looking for. In spite of their even more bedraggled appearance, they got a room, and waited for their trunks to arrive, so that they could appear presentable; they remained desperately short of money until £50 for - of all novels - The Trespasser arrived. Lawrence started to work again, on Paul Morel: always a sign of settled living. They only stayed in Riva a fortnight - it was a little expensive - but further down the lake they found a room in Villa, next to Gargnano, just over the Italian border. And there they would stay until the spring: the money would carry them that far. And now, with Frieda criticizing and making suggestions, in two months Lawrence rewrote Paul Morel into the Sons and Lovers we know, in one of those great bursts of creative energy typical of him. He only took one break - and in those three days contrived to write a play about Frieda's marital status called The Fight for Barbara. The novel was finished in mid- November and sent off to Garnett; and another part of their joint future seemed thus financed, as Lawrence's own past was symbolically put behind him. Garnett's insistence that the book was still far too long and that he would cut it - he did, by one tenth - made Lawrence (he told Garnett) "wither up" (Letters I: 481): but the important thing was that the novel was done.

Lawrence now cast around for his next subject; experience of the money for The Trespasser suggested that novels were by far his best bet for financing his career. He started at least two (getting 200 pages into one before breaking off) - and dashed off another play, The Daughter-in-Law, his best, wholly in the dialect he had left so far behind him - before settling to write a novel he called The Sisters. This really would incorporate his experience of Frieda in it; it began as a light, easy-to-write book but over the next three years it turned into both The Rainbow and Women in Love. He was starting to write about marriage: his main subject for the immediate future. After writing a first draft of the novel, he and Frieda set out for a visit first to Germany (where Lawrence wrote the marvellous story which became known as "The Prussian Officer") and then back to England; Frieda was desperate to see her children, one way or another, and Lawrence wanted to attend his sister Ada's wedding in August. They arrived three weeks after Sons and Lovers had been published, and in the glory of the excellent reviews it got: but were, of course, homeless. Lawrence could not introduce the not-even-divorced, let alone unmarried, Frieda to his family. Garnett - responsible for so much that sustained them at this time - again came to their rescue and put them up until they could find lodgings in Kingsgate, on the Kent coast. Lawrence was able to revise and get typed some of the short stories he had been compiling over the past two years - Garnett was still advising him on his career, on what to try and publish and where. Here, too, for the first time they could see friends. Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) and John Middleton Murry(1889-1957), both leading the literary life in London and also unmarried, whom they had got to know the previous month, came down on a visit; a friendship grew between the four of them. Frieda enlisted Katherine's help in trying to waylay and see her children on their way to school, and (alone) she also attempted an entry into the house in Chiswick where the children now lived with Weekley's parents Charles (1834-1918) and Agnes (1840-1926); a court order was threatened in consequence, and Frieda did not get to see her children legally for another 2« years. The literary patron Edward Marsh (1872-1953) had got to know them, via Murry, and introduced them to the Asquith family (also on holiday in Kent): Cynthia Asquith (1887-1960), daughter-in-law to the prime minister, was the first genuine aristocrat Lawrence had ever met and he and Frieda both got on well with her. Lawrence went to see his sister married at the start of August - without Frieda, of course - and then, after a reasonably productive seven weeks, they returned to Germany, on the way back to Italy, and here Lawrence wrote the first hundred pages of a revised second version of The Sisters before they set off for Italy. This time they went where Else's husband Edgar Jaffe (1866-1921) used to go with a mistress, the north west coast, on the gulf of Spezia. A cottage in the fishing hamlet of Fiascherino was quickly found; and they settled to their second year abroad.

Part II

Lawrence's first job before going on with The Sisters was to prepare for publication his play The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd: Garnett had got it accepted by the American publisher Mitchell Kennerley (1878-1950). Lawrence revised it heavily, in accord with his new thinking about marriage. "It seems to me that the chief thing about a woman - who is much of a woman - is that in the long run she is not to be had" (Letters II: 94), he remarked in a letter he wrote in October; that idea of independence probably also suggests the direction of The Sisters, which in the autumn 1913 writing grew long and complex as it charted the emotional and sexual relationships of Ella and Gudrun Brangwen; he only finished its first half (now called The Wedding Ring, which suggests that the point of marriage was being reached) in January 1914 and sent it to Garnett. Garnett was however severely critical, finding some episodes badly handled and the central character incoherent; he also apparently remarked that the artistic side was "in the background." A second letter was even more critical. Lawrence tended to agree with the criticisms though not with Garnett's (to him) rather patronizing attitude and his apparently fundamental objection to the book's method. Shortly afterwards Lawrence embarked on yet another rewriting, which went far faster and this time (to him) more satisfactorily.

But the novel's future at this point starts to be affected by the fact that Lawrence, in the aftermath of Sons and Lovers, was for the first time in his life being wooed by publishers and (in particular) by the agent J. B. Pinker (1863-1922), who was signing up novelists for lucrative three volume contracts with the publisher Methuen. Lawrence was strongly attracted by the thought of financial security: and Garnett's attitude to his recent work did not help. He had the new draft of The Wedding Ring typed in two copies while he was still writing it; a sign of his confidence with it before Garnett read it, and probably suggesting that he thought of placing it in the hands of publishers other than Duckworth for their consideration.

And, crucially, Garnett turned out to object strongly to this new version, too, saying that it was "shaky" and that the "psychology was wrong" (Letters II: 182-3). Lawrence must have felt he had got to the end of the road of Garnett's helpfulness; when he arrived back in England at the end of June, he was determined to try and get the novel away from Duckworth, unless the latter was prepared to make an offer as high as Methuen's. And it turned out that Duckworth either would not or could not match Methuen's £300; so on 30th June 1914 Lawrence (in his own words) "went to Pinker, and signed his agreement, and took his cheque, and opened an acc. with the London County and Westminster Bank - et me voil…" (Letters II: 189): he acquired £135 just for signing the contract (Letters II: 211). For the moment he seemed set up as a promising young author, living in London and making acquaintances among the intelligentsia; they were sharing a house with Murry and Katherine Mansfield, and Lawrence shortly afterwards made the acquaintance of the writer and reviewer Catherine Jackson, later Carswell (1879-1946), and a whole group of intellectuals (including Freudians) in Hampstead, while at the end of July he would meet for the first time the Russian translator S. S. Koteliansky (1882-1955), who remained his friend all his life.

Also in July came a symbolic moment for the author of The Wedding Ring. Frieda's divorce had been completed at the end of April, and Lawrence - "with neuralgia in my left eye and my heart in my boots" (Letters II: 196) - married her in a south London registry office on 14th July 1914. The two year exile was at an end and they could live where and how they wanted to - but that probably meant back in Italy, which they both loved.

The summer's changes had effectively marked the end of Lawrence's working relationship with Edward Garnett, though Duckworth would bring out one more book of his - a volume of short stories - which he revised during July but which would, much to his annoyance, be called (by Garnett) The Prussian Officer when it came out. However, that - only five months later - would be another world away: a world at war, with Lawrence and Frieda's life irrevocably changed once more.

© "Biography of D.H. Lawrence" John Worthen, 1997

Next page: Chapter 4: War: 1914-1919


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