Copyright Helen Croom 1996

Lawrence in Europe


At the end of 1911 Lawrence became critically ill with pneumonia. It was exactly ten years since he had suffered a similar episode. The first illness rescued him from the clerical work he hated. the second delivered him from the stifling clutches of teaching. He was told that to continue in the profession was to risk developing tuberculosis.

With no career and no ties - he had broken off his engagement, pleading lack of prospects - he determined to try to live by his pen. He had by February 1912 had one novel published (The White Peacock), had another in progress, (The Trespasser), had published serveral pieces of poetry and some essays and short stories. The enormity, however, of the decision to support himself by writing cannot be over-estimated. Most writers of the day had at least some private income, Lawrence, son of a coal-miner had nothing.

Frieda Weekley

An aunt had in-laws in Germany and a plan was suggested whereby Lawrence could go to stay with them and perhaps spend some time as a Lektor in a German college. Ernest Weekley, a professor of Modern Languages at Nottingham University College, where Lawrence had been a student, was consulted about the plan and invited the young man to lunch. Lawrence accepted the invitation and within two months was indeed in Germany. Not, however, as a Lektor but as lover of Frieda Weekley (nee von Richthofen), the thirty two year old mother of Weekley's three children.

Life was not easy for the couple. Frieda had high hopes of having her children with her, but when her husband discovered her infidelity he flatly refused her access and sent the couple letter after letter containing pleas, threats and abuse. This trauma caused fierce arguments between the couple (their fights were to become legendary amongst their friends). Frieda was distraught at the loss of her children; Lawrence was angry that he was powerless to do anything, that he was the cause of her misery and also bitter that she could not accept the loss of her children - as he had had to accept the loss of his beloved mother eighteen months before.


With little money they travelled, often on foot, through Germany (where Lawrence was accused of spying) and Switzerland finally renting a room at Riva in Austria, very near to the Italian border. Lawrence loved Italy - he felt that the Italian people really knew how to live - close to nature and unrestrainedly.

During the journey, and at Riva, Lawrence continued to write. He was revising what was to be ultimately regarded as one of his greatest books, Sons and Lovers, and that he managed, under the circumstances, to write at all is surprising.

Twenty-one year old, David Garnett, son of Lawrence's mentor of that time, joined Lawrence and Frieda for part of their journey. He recorded how little Lawrence's writing affected any of them. Lawrence would sit in the corner, pen flashing, while David and Frieda talked joked and worked around him. Frieda had never learned how to cook and so Lawrence would frequently jump up to look after the dinner, then return to his writing.

Lawrence was also a great mimic; he could impersonate many of the literary figures he had met in London and he would entertain Frieda by acting out parodies of services at the chapel he had attended in his youth. Frieda found all of this hilarious and fascinating because as the daughter of a Baron in Germany she had experienced a very different upbringing. David Garnett recalls that Lawrence not only mimicked others, he frequently mocked himself whilst describing meetings with literary "lion-hunters" and portraying events from his vaaried life.


Almost everyone who ever spent time with the Lawrences remembered him in charades; he had a passion for the amusement - even as a youth - and would inveigle everyone into the act. Indeed, in 1928, less than two years before his death from tuberculosis, he was still performing energetically, mimicking Navajo Indians complete with war-whoops; he delighted the visiting Americans but terrified his own party who feared that he would provoke another haemorrhage of the lungs.

"I hadn't lived before I lived with Lawrence" - Frieda Lawrence

Another quality which many of his friends and acquaintances remarked upon was the unusual vitality which radiated from Lawrence. Catherine Carswell, a close friend, remarked that Lawrence even radiated life whilst washing dishes; she added that that fact may seem irrelevant to others but that to those who knew him it was a striking quality . Another friend and writer, John Middleton Murry recalled that one of his most precious memories of Lawrence was of the two of them laying linoleum together!

In May 1913, Sons and Lovers was published in Great Britain. It did not sell spectacularly well, and Lawrence faced the possibility that he may have to return to teaching. He managed, however, to keep up a constant stream of short stories, articles, essays and poetry which enabled the pair to live the very simple life with which they were satisfied. The lovers returned to England briefly during this year for Frieda to try to make contact with her children. Access was denied her and the pair returned to Europe.




Lawrence and Frieda on their wedding day

In 1914, Frieda's divorce was granted and on 13th July Lawrence and Frieda were married in London. Their intention was to return to Italy in August but the outbreak of war prevented their departure. They were to be unable to leave Lawrence's home country, which was to antagonise and stifle him, for five years. They were bitter years for both Lawrence and Frieda (ironically, it was now she who was accused of spying); his latest book, The Rainbow, was banned and he had great difficulty in earning enough to live on - he was to never fully recover his spirits or gaiety again.

Mr Noon

A fictionalised account of Lawrence and Frieda's first months together can be read in part 2 of the unfinished novel by Lawrence, Mr Noon. It traces the fortunes of Johanna and Gilbert as they travel through Europe - their mishaps, triumphs and arguments.

It is written in a quite different style to that which we are accustomed to expect from Lawrence. There is a very self-conscious, frequently ironic narrator, for one thing (complete with references to the "Dear reader", "Gentle reader" and, on one occasion, "girning, snarl-voiced hell-bird of a detestable reader"!). The book is really very funny - but also touching and delightful. Do read it!

Look! We have come through!

The same period is covered in Lawrence's volume of poetry Look! We have come through!