Lust and LutyensThe Architect and his Wife: A Life of Edwin LutyensJane RidleyChatto and Windus ?25, pp488Jane Ridley does not quite blame the sexual incompatibility of her great-grandparents, Edwin and Emily Lutyens, for the towerblocks of the 1960s, but it’s tempting to cut and paste her narrative a little to come up with a pretty startling new interpretation of the course of British architecture in the twentieth century.Is a Lutyens house, she asks at one point, ‘an architecture born of sexual longing and disappointment’? ‘No doubt about it’ seems to be her answer. After the youthful promise of all those dream houses in Kent, Lutyens gets married and, suddenly, starts to go all fruity and art nouveau in his work. Then the sex dries up and he turns into a classicist.’Something of the excitement and sexual energy of that first year of their marriage was transposed into his work at Les Bois des Moutiers,’ she says. But then Emily becomes a theosophist and falls under the spell of Krishnamurti. Disgusted at her husband’s ‘clumsy and inadequate lovemaking’, she terminates the physical side of their relationship with a letter that could hardly have been more painful for its recipient.’I have suffered intensely physically during all my married life. I have done my duty to you and my country as regards children and could never face another. With that incentive gone, your coming to me has been increasingly difficult for me to bear. I believe and hold firmly that a woman has the right over her own body. Where she gives it willingly, the relationship is beautiful. Where she gives it because she must, it becomes prostitution, in or out of marriage and is a degradation.’Evicted from the marriage bed, he promptly becomes a classicist. As Voysey once said: ‘If Lutyens had not defected to the classical camp, England might have developed a sound modern architecture of her own.’ Or, in other words, the greatest architect of his time embraces a stylistic dead-end, leaving the way open to the modernist barbarians massed at the gate all because he couldn’t satisfy his wife.Nor does Ridley, whose preoccupation with sex verges on the comic, stop there. ‘The Freudian significance of tunnels in Lutyens’s work is undeniable; and the entrance tunnel at Homewood was like a vagina; opening on to a womb-like house,’ she remarks at one point. Even when Lutyens finds solace in the arms of Lady Sackville, he is quickly reduced to architectural sublimation once again when she commissions him to design a house. All this is pretty tough on Lutyens, who was an extraordinarily gifted architect. He built magnificent, complex, subtle houses.Great-granddaughter or not, Ridley is a professional biographer and biographers need sex, almost as much as they need metaphors. The book is full of both and they have a sadly diminishing effect on Lutyens’s achievements. ‘A Lutyens house and a Jekyll garden became an Edwardian status symbol. Perhaps it was also a metaphor for Edwardian marriage,’ she hazards. The massive four-poster bed that Lutyens designed for himself is another. She conjures them reading a contemporary sex manual together. ‘It became a metaphor for their marriage, hard, uncomfortable unyielding. Not so much a marriage bed as an architectural monument, it was cold and painful.’Poor Lutyens is even revealed as having suffered an inflated scrotum ‘which somehow seems to symbolise the failure of his sex life’. Nothing symbolic about that, one might think.Ridley is perhaps more enlightening on money, class and racism than she is on sex. Lutyens’s father-in-law was the Viceroy of India, a connection that didn’t hurt when Lutyens came to design New Delhi. While he was affable enough with his servants in Delhi, Lutyens was shockingly racist about the country to which he owed so much. ‘The very low intellect of the natives spoils much. I do not think it possible for Indians and whites to mix freely; mixed marriage is filthy and beastly and they ought to get the sanitary office to interfere.’ This last, of course, may have as much to do with his marital difficulties as anything.