A Genius for Living: The Life of Frieda Lawrence

Janet Byrne, Author
Janet Byrne, Author HarperCollins Publishers $27.5 (504p) ISBN 978-0-06-019001-9
Reviewed on: 04/03/1995
Release date: 04/01/1995
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-7475-2738-1
Paperback - 978-0-06-099500-3
Hardcover - 480 pages - 978-0-7475-1284-4
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One wonders whether this lively, accessible biography of the aristocratic Prussian best known as the wife of English novelist D.H. Lawrence might better have been titled A Genius for Survival. Byrne, who has contributed essays and criticism to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, chronicles the tumultuous life of a headstrong woman married first to Ernest Weekley, an aloof, condescending English professor who was to cut her off from their three children; then to Lawrence; and finally to Angelino Ravagli, a blithely adulterous Italian soldier. Frieda also survived a liaison with psychoanalyst Otto Rank--a cocaine addict and the father of her sister's child. But it is the second marriage, to Lawrence, that is the focus of Byrne's analysis. She details the couple's ties to the English literati, such as imperious Lady Ottoline Morrell, Lawrence's patron, later his lover; and Ford Madox Ford, like Frieda enduring the discomfort of being German in wartime England. She reveals the potent mix of dependence, desire and rage that fueled the relationship of the novelist and his wife. Hardly the earthy, shallow libertine she was often taken to be, Frieda was D.H.'s careful critic and unflappable defender. To the irascible, tubercular novelist, she was torment, lover and muse. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
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