Title: Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley
Author: Annabel Abbs
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 11th September 2011
Synopsis: The moving story of Frieda von Richthofen, wife of D.H. Lawrence – and the real-life inspiration for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel banned for more than 30 years
Germany, 1907. Frieda, daughter of aristocrat Baron von Richthofen, has rashly married English professor Ernest Weekley. Visiting her family in Munich, a city alive with new ideas of revolution and free love, and goaded by a toxic sibling rivalry with her sisters, Frieda embarks on a passionate affair that is her sensual and intellectual awakening.
England, 1912. Trapped in her marriage to Ernest, Frieda meets the penniless but ambitious young writer D.H. Lawrence, a man whose creative energy answers her own needs. Their scandalous affair and tempestuous relationship unleashes a creative outpouring that will change the course of literature – and society – forever. But for Frieda, this fulfilment comes at a terrible personal cost.
A stunning novel of emotional intensity, Frieda tells the story of an extraordinary woman – and a notorious love affair that became synonymous with ideas of sexual freedom.
‘Annabel Abbs’s poignant Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley captures the Lawrence s’ shifting emotions’ The Australian
‘I loved this novel so very much. Abbs’s writing is glorious’ MELISSA ASHLEY, The Birdman’s Wife
Frieda Weekley, nee von Richthofen, is married to Ernest Weekley, and is living with him and their three children in 1907, in Nottingham. Born into German aristocracy, Frieda has in their eyes, and she has married well, and has three young children: Monty, Elsa and Barby. Yet Frieda yearns for more, and when she is exposed to ideas of free love and great intellect, she begins a series of affairs, starting with a doctor, Otto Gross, and culminating in an affair that saw her forever separated from her family wit author, D.H. Lawrence an affair that inspired the novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, banned for more than thirty years after it was published.
Set in pre-World War One London and Germany, between 1907 and 1913, Frieda explores a very different world, where familial and societal expectations based on gender, class and for some people as war grew closer, nationality. Caught between wanting to please herself, please her family and stay with her children, Frieda finds decisions will be made for her, at times without her knowledge, and she is driven to desperate lengths to see her children, enlisting friends to try and maintain a connection to them after she is cut off from them by the Weekley family.
As a work of historical fiction, Frieda uses a woman’s voice – one who fought against oppression in favour of desire – is intriguing and gives a new voice to the world, and one I had not heard of, and a story I had not heard of, despite hearing about the novel that was based on Frieda and Lawrence’s scandalous relationship. It explores the perspectives of Frieda, her husband, Ernest, and their three children – Barby, Monty and Elsa, but particularly the eldest – Monty and the youngest – Barby, as Frieda weaves in and out of their lives and between Nottingham and Metz in Germany, where her family tries to convince her to remain with Ernest and leave Lawrence. These are some of the scenes where she feels the restraint of what her aristocratic family and society expects of her, and the hinted at war to come, where there already feel like there are tensions between some people in England and Germany, even though the war is several years away from beginning.
Filled with a strong female voice, caught between love for a man she truly desires, love for her children and respect for her family, Friedaexplores the changing attitudes towards relationships, and how these changes started to occur during the early decades of the twentieth century, and the consequences that a woman like Frieda faced for having an affair and turning her back on her husband, rather than staying in a socially acceptable position to keep the peace, and maintain the order that society so desperately sought to cling to. But by following her heart, though the initial decision appeared to have been made without Frieda’s knowledge, with Lawrence taking it upon himself to inform Ernest, there was still an element of Frieda not having the freedom to make her own choices, when ironically, this is what she was aiming to do, even though it left her with some regrets about not being able to see her children until they turned twenty-one.
Frieda’s story has a happier ending than Abbs’ previous book – The Joyce Girl – in what would become known as inter-war Europe, where Frieda is reunited with her children, and is able to live her life with D.H. Lawrence and provided him with inspiration for his oft- banned book, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This was an intriguing story that dealt with various aspects of society, the individual, the arts, love and family, and concluded with a hopeful ending where everything felt as though it had concluded nicely, and showed that Frieda had found the freedom she longed for, even if it had come with a price.