When Frieda Weekley, the 32-year-old wife of a British linguistics professor, took D.H. Lawrence to bed within 20 minutes of their first meeting, she introduced him to a torrent of sexual politics and possibilities that infused his writings and rattled the world for years to come. Maddox, author of an award-winning 1989 biography of Nora Joyce, wife of James, focuses on the intimacies of their affair and eventual marriage to show how the son of a coal miner became one of the most important and controversial writers of the century.
Free-speaking and worldly, Frieda enjoyed the intellectual and bohemian lifestyle that flourished in Europe in the early 1900s, and soon became more than Lawrence's wife. She became his muse, but the relationship was not without problems. Skillfully interpreting biographical references in his writings and drawing upon diaries, personal accounts and previously unpublished letters, Maddox portrays Lawrence in all his complexity. The self-proclaimed "priest of love," who wrote Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley's Lover, craved more from life than could ever be delivered. The longing racked his soul and brought bitter jealousy and viciousness into his marriage. Maddox wisely balances these moments with images of the couple's happiness—traveling, reading Italian, even comparing needlework—to reveal their deep, if sometimes uneasy, need for one another.
If Lawrence is sometimes dismissed nowadays as a flagrant misogynist, a pornographer, a racist, even a repressed homosexual, Maddox offers a compelling perspective that should earn him a new generation of readers. Her sympathetic portrait shows Lawrence as a man struggling with the angels and demons of his psyche, a conflict that was both eased and exacerbated by his wife. (Simon & Schuster, $30)