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Frieda: The Original Lady Chatterley - Book Review

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by Gillian Ching (subscribe)
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Published March 9th 2020
An Extraordinary Literary Muse and Free Thinking Woman
When it comes to literary classics, the infamously racy Lady Chatterley's Lover, by English author DH Lawrence, always falls somewhere (often near the top) of the all-time classic books lists. The book, once banned for its sexually explicit content even featured on David Bowie's top 100 reads, which provided the most creative influence for him.

Photo courtesy Photoliondh

But have you ever wondered who inspired the character Lady Chatterley, what made her so compelling to DH Lawrence and why the book has withstood the test of time?

The Story
In Frieda, Annabelle Abbs introduces us to Frieda Von Richthofen, the real wife of DH Lawrence, who is believed to be the real Lady Chatterley. I discovered that Frieda's story is just as intriguing as the character he wrote about.

Frieda von Richthofen, one of three daughters of a German baron, was born into an aristocratic family in Metz on 11th August 1879. Not considered to be strikingly attractive, she married the teacher of English and French, Professor Ernest Weekley, with whom she shared three children.

Prof Earnest Weekley Photo courtey wikipaedia

Sadly, it was not an enriching union for Frieda with limited affection and emotion shown to her or her children.

Wanting to explore her own sexual freedom and the pursuit of desire and social non conformity, Frieda shockingly left her husband and three young children, Monty, Elsey and Barby, on May 13, 1912, to live with the British writer and poet DH Lawrence, once a pupil of Weekley.

Lawrence lacked any social standing or wealth, being the poorly son of a miner, which only added to the shock of her family, who encouraged Frieda to return to Weekly and her children.

Photo courtesy Woman of Taos

However, her emotional, creative and physical bond with DH Lawrence was too strong. He considered Frieda to be his literary muse and inspiration to write, without whom, he believed could not create.

Their relationship was driven by passion and sexual freedom. However, Frieda also suffered emotional and physical abuse at the hand of Lawrence, who was jealous of her love and enduring longing for her children, and she even came close to attempting suicide.

While the book's story concludes at the point of Lawrence becoming inceasingly ill, Abbs includes a final chapter where she summarises what became of each of the people she references, like philosopher Max Weber, psychoanalyst Otto Gross, and of course, Frieda, her children and DH Lawrence.

This is a wonderful and welcome finale to give additional reality to the book and to help the reader close the book with a comfort.

Photo courtesy Booktopia

My Takeaway
Abbs walks us through this historical piece in a fictional style with sensitivity to the emotional challenges of all of the characters. She is kind to the history of even the emotionally harsh and distant ones like Weekley and his sister and mother, the controlling and demanding Lawrence and the avant garde perspectives of Frieda.

While DH Lawrence is well remembered for his works, the story ideas, input and contribution of Frieda are often overlooked. I am thankful that Annabelle Abbs' book helps to shine a light on this intriguing woman and how she helped to make the books and poems as individual as they are.

The books help us understand the conservative nature of English and the more liberal German society at that time and the brave new way of being which Frieda was seeking.

In this way, I found it a social history piece, with interesting characters, to show an artist's need to create and where inspiration for life can come from. But even more than this, ultimately all of the characters are searching for the same thing we all do love.

Photo courtesy Nottingham City of Literature

About the Author
Annabel Abbs lives in London with her husband and four children. Her bestselling debut novel, The Joyce Girl, won the Impress Prize for New Writers and was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, the Waverton Good Read Award and the Caledonia Novel Award.
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Why? Discover the real Lady Chatterley
Cost: $17.00 depending on booksellers
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