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
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.
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,
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.
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
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!