Study Guide

D. H. Lawrence

by Brenda Maddox

D. H. Lawrence Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Brenda Maddox’s D. H. Lawrence: The Story of a Marriage was published simultaneously in England as The Married Man: A Life of D. H. Lawrence. The latter is a more appropriate title for the work Maddox has produced. Although Maddox (the author of a biography of James Joyce’s wife, Nora) has chosen to play down the “prophet of sex” approach taken by other Lawrence biographers, opting instead to concentrate on the writer’s primary relationship, her book is by no means a dual biography. Frieda Lawrence is a vivid and compelling presence in D. H. Lawrence, which takes care to note her influence on her husband’s life and works, but Lawrence himself takes up the bulk of Maddox’s attention. Frieda, who lived on for twenty-six years after Lawrence’s death, is the subject of only two of the biography’s twenty-one chapters.

Nevertheless, Lawrence defined himself primarily as “a married man,” and Maddox’s focus on his years with Frieda is not misguided. The biography opens in 1908, just as Lawrence leaves his boyhood home in the English Midlands to take up a teaching post in a London suburb. Lawrence was apparently a dedicated and successful schoolmaster, but by this time he had already embarked on a literary career, producing in quick succession The White Peacock (1911) and The Trespasser (1912), as well as a succession of poems and stories. By the time he met Frieda, he had also had a brush with another defining aspect of his life, serious lung disease. Yet it was the meeting with Frieda in March, 1912, that would unalterably change his life’s course.

At twenty-six, Lawrence had a reputation as a promising author of sexually oriented material drawing on modern German metaphysics. He was also desperately searching for a wife. When he met Frieda, she seemed a perfect partner for him—a notion she fostered by seducing him within twenty minutes of their first encounter. Frieda, a member of the aristocratic German von Richthofen family, was married to Nottingham University College professor Ernest Weekley and the mother of three young children. She was also a discreet libertine dedicated to the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, which she had absorbed largely through a previous lover. Lawrence apparently made as great an impression on her as she did on him: Less than two months later, the two ran off together to the Continent.

It seems that initially there were no definite plans for a permanent union, at least in Frieda’s mind. Lawrence, however, was determined to marry, pushing through a punitive divorce that robbed Frieda of the right even to see her children. Having secured his heart’s desire, however, Lawrence proceeded to attack it. Not only did he repeatedly—even publicly—abuse Frieda verbally and physically, but he longed for a homosexual union as well. Although Maddox speculates that Lawrence may have had sex with a man only once in his life, he repeatedly addressed the subject of homosexual love in his fiction. The nude wrestling scene between the male protagonists in Women in Love (1920) is only one example. His writing also exhibited an increasingly strident misogyny, culminating with the story “The Woman Who Rode Away” (1925), in which the main character is ritually sacrificed to save the world’s virility.

Nevertheless, Frieda, although not Lawrence’s equal, was certainly a good match for him. At least as demonstrative as her husband, she usually held her own in their disputes, on one occasion even breaking a plate over his head. Blithely unfaithful, she continued to pursue sexual adventures of her own, unmindful of Lawrence’s jealousy and the constancy he exhibited, if not espoused.

What Lawrence did espouse was a liberty of sexual expression in service of the eternal union between man and woman, an ideology he articulated most fully in his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover,...

(The entire section is 1596 words.)