D.H. Lawrence: D.H. Lawrence and Italy

A double entry in my books-I-wouldn’t-expect-myself-to-read endeavor: a Lawrence (whom I’ve never read, more or less deliberately) and a travel book. Three travel books, sort of — this omnibus edition comprises “Twilight in Italy,” “Sea and Sardinia,” and “Etruscan Places.”

I’ve always suspected I would find Lawrence an annoying writer, and I do. He’s fiercely judgmental, and many of his judgments are precisely the sort that raise my dander: like ugly generalizations about gender relations, professing admiration for simple rustic lifestyles while presuming that a lack of social or technological sophistication is synonymous with a lack of intelligence, and broad-stroke condemnations of contemporaneous art. Worse, he gripes about the frustration he feels when he is swept up in the same sort of generalizations he so freely dispenses. I believe I would have found Lawrence even more annoying as a travel companion: complaining about the price of accommodation and transport, the quality of the food, insisting we trudge through late afternoon rain to another town because he can’t bear the thought of passing the night where he is.

Lawrence’s prose breaks many of the rules I learned about good writing. He will seize on a word, often a prosaic adjective like “flat,” “grey,” or “naked,” and worry it to death in several consecutive sentences. I think he may have meant his work to be read aloud, or at least voiced within the head, rather than read, so his many repetitions falling into a sort of sing-song rhythm. In the earliest of these works, “Twilight in Italy,” and in the last, “Etruscan Places,” (which, to be fair to Lawrence, was published posthumously, and might have been edited further if the author had the opportunity to prepare it for publication) Lawrence launches from time to time into wide-ranging pontifications in which many nouns must be capitalized: “I am consummate when my Self, the resistant solid, is reduced into all that which is Not-Me: my neighbor, my enemy, the great Otherness.” I was uncomfortably reminded of Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or, more generally, being young and drunk and terribly certain of my own profundity.

But I found this book almost as delightful as it was infuriating. If Lawrence’s prose sometimes seems self-conscious and overwrought, it also sometimes is simultaneously beautiful and lucid. When Lawrence griped about an inn where the room is not to his liking, the memory of the first night I spent in Buenos Aires came flooding back to me with uncommon vividness (I swear, if I described that room accurately, you would be sure I was exaggerating for comic effect). And if often made me want to read — or write — fiction that uses some of its memorable elements, like the village where the high steeple is visible throughout, but impossible to find in the twisty streets.

needs more demons? not exactly.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

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