This effervescent novel follows the early life of the beloved muse of DH Lawrence. Frieda, the daughter of a penniless German aristocrat, has married a dry academic. Although she is the mother of three adored children, she longs for a life of wild passion. She travels to Germany where she learns about free love outside the confines of marriage; this new way of living is violently at odds with life as a housewife in suburban Nottingham. Then David Herbert Lawrence appears and thus begins a tumultuous love affair. Annabel Abbs has written a wonderful portrait of an extraordinary woman.
Annabel Abbs’s excellent debut, The Joyce Girl, examined James Joyce’s daughter’s mental health. Her second novel, Frieda, takes a similarly insightful approach to Frieda Lawrence, the German aristocrat who became wife and muse to DH Lawrence. Abbs has a healthy disregard for the “great man” theory of literary history, and this clever and deeply humane book enables Frieda to emerge from her husband’s shadow as she becomes fascinated by ideas of self-fulfilment and empowerment. With a fine eye for period detail, Abbs confirms her standing as one of the best historical novelists today.
In animating a vital (in all senses) figure plucked from the footnotes of literary history, Abbs hasn’t offered any of the details that make Frieda difficult to applaud a century on. And why should she? Nothing was easy for her, after all. Frieda emerges as a woman at once scandalously out of step with the #MeToo moment and wholly herself and it is this contradiction that gives Abbs’s exuberant novel its compelling charge.