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A GENIUS FOR LIVING by Janet Byrne

A GENIUS FOR LIVING

The Life of Frieda Lawrence

By Janet Byrne

Pub Date: May 10th, 1995
ISBN: 0-06-019001-9
Publisher: HarperCollins

 Freelance writer Byrne captures little of Frieda von Richthofen Lawrence's unconventional vitality, her independent mind, or her tempestuous marriage with D.H. Frieda, equally careless of her reputations as Lawrence's muse, earth goddess, and obtuse nymphomaniac, never inspired tepid opinions, whether in Lawrence's portraits of her in his novels or in the recent spate of Lawrenciana. The second of three sisters in a minor Junker family, Frieda (18791956) grew up in the militarized Alsace-Lorraine, but after a hasty marriage to an older English professor of etymology, she showed a restlessness and curiosity that led to her involvement in Germany's turn-of-the- century cultural turmoil. Her first important affair--the intellectual aspect of which Byrne neglects--was with a cocaine-addicted psychoanalyst. Her second, which ended her marriage and separated her from her children, was with one of her husband's former students: the then-unknown Lawrence. Byrne skims the early period of the couple's intellectual and passionate attraction during Lawrence's first successes, which Frieda greatly influenced, and her depiction of their fraught later years (punctuated by regular, crockery-shattering fights) dismisses Lawrence's works as though Byrne is aping Frieda's anti-intellectualism. Despite Frieda's frequent disagreements with his ideas of love, sex, and femininity (and her casual infidelities), the spouses remained mutually attracted over 16 years and three continents. Byrne relies superficially on Frieda's compassion and Lawrence's emotional dependency to explain their marital endurance; her simultaneously simplistic and paradoxical portrait of Lawrence as a repressed but outright homosexual only confuses the issue. Compared to Brenda Maddox's insightful D.H. Lawrence: The Story of a Marriage (1994), Byrne's biography treats Frieda as a lumpen aristocrat stuck obstinately in a mismatch made in Purgatory. A portrait of Frieda that comprehends all of her life's events and none of her spirit. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)