Sunday, December 18, 2011
ESCAPING WITH THEIR MUSE
Joyce lived in exile from Dublin, in France, Italy and Switzerland, from 1904 until his death 36 years later, with very few return trips. Lawrence also lived much of his shorter life in exile. He left England in 1912. He did visit England again after some very bitter experiences during the war, but most of his life was spent, during his so-called ‘savage pilgrimage’, taking in long and short stays in countries like Australia, New Mexico, Italy and France. It’s interesting to compare the departure of the two great writers. Joyce eloped with Nora Barnacle, after meeting in Dublin in early 1904. They left on the 8th of October of that year in somewhat secret circumstances. Leaving for Europe, unmarried, from such a Catholic country, was highly controversial. To prevent Joyce’s father from finding out what they were doing, Nora boarded the ferry to London (and eventually Zurich, via Paris) separately. She sent her mother a postcard with her latest fairly substantial news. She was just 20 years old.
Frieda Weekley shared with Nora the fact that she also barely knew the man she was about to elope with, in equally controversial circumstances. Lawrence came to visit Ernest Weekley, his German languages tutor, in a well-heeled part of Nottingham to ask advice about finding work as a languages teacher in Germany. This is where he met Weekley’s 33 year old wife Frieda for the first time, and if we are to believe all accounts, there was an immediate mutual fascination. A clandestine affair began until Lawrence insisted that they elope and go to Germany together. Within two months of meeting, on the 3rd of May 1912, Lawrence and Frieda travelled to London separately (Frieda to drop off two of her children with relatives), met at Charing Cross Railway Station, and braved a boat train to Dover, and then on to Ostend, on to Metz. ‘Elopement’ may have been the word that was on Lawrence’s lips, however it is true to say that, despite the romantic alternative, this trip was considered more as a holiday for Frieda. She had every intention of returning home to her middle class existence with her professor husband and children. Lawrence must have been persuasive. It never happened, and as a consequence her life with her young children was seriously compromised.
So here we have two remarkably unconventional women throwing their lot in with more or less penniless would be writers. A huge step into the unknown, and as in Frieda’s case in particular, much to potentially lose.