Frieda: A Novel of the Real Lady Chatterley

Written by Annabel Abbs
Review by Marina Maxwell

In her first novel, The Joyce Girl, Annabel Abbs explored life in the shadows of literary fame. In her second, we are again in the sphere of early 20th-century literature, but with a very different protagonist who left her echoes in the often controversial works of D. H. Lawrence.

She is Baroness Frieda von Richthofen who, for reasons that seem baffling in the light of what transpires, marries the dull Englishman, Ernest Weekley. For thirteen years Frieda is content with the duties of respectable wife and mother in humdrum Nottingham. Then, while on a visit to her sister Elizabeth, her eyes are opened by the social revolution erupting in Germany. Frieda takes a lover, Otto Gross, a creative psychoanalyst whose radical ideas change her completely. She returns to England and horrifies Ernest with her “distinct disdain for decent behaviour.” She abandons her corsets, refuses to go to church and even allows herself to be seen about with single men. When Frieda meets the struggling young author, D. H. Lawrence, there is an immediate connection between them of both mind and body, but the price she will pay for her desire and liberation is forced separation from her children and years of heartbreak.

Frieda is an extraordinary woman who incites remarkable passions in the men who love her. One has some sympathy for Ernest as he teeters on the edge of insanity, and Lawrence’s ambivalent behaviour and questionable sexual orientation add layers of complexity. And then there are her children, who inevitably suffer from their parents’ fractured relationship.

For anyone dubious as to whether the text will mirror Lady Chatterley’s Lover, while there are some frank passages, there is nothing tawdry or salacious here, and the narrative is both skilful and restrained throughout. Another absolutely superb novel from Annabel Abbs.