Sea and Sardinia, though written quickly, contains several motifs which lend it coherence. The first of these, which appears at its very beginning and which readers of Lawrence’s Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922) will probably recognize, is the antithesis of movement and inertia. Lawrence is determined that the time has come to go somewhere and he questions only what the destination will be. He enumerates various possibilities (Girgenti in southern Sicily, Syracuse on the southeastern coast, Tunis in North Africa) but eliminates them all. The surrounding scenery is exquisite, but Lawrence feels impelled to go—anywhere, but obviously not anywhere, since he eliminates all possibilities save for the comparatively primitive and difficult-to-reach island of Sardinia. Movement, so Lawrence contends in Fantasia of the Unconscious, is identifiable with the male and that which is masculine. Conversely, immutability, permanence, and inertia are feminine. Lawrence believes that since the Renaissance, man has largely entered the female mode; thus, Sea and Sardinia, in its first pages at least, is filled with an almost manic passion for movement.
Paradoxically, on the morning scheduled for their journey to begin, it is Frieda, referred to only as the queen-bee and subsequently as the q-b, who provides all the impetus and enthusiasm the trip requires. It is she who prepares the tea, sandwiches, and apples to pack in the satchel (called the “kitchenino”) which she will carry. All the while, Lawrence laments about his stopped American watch, the darkness, the threatening weather, and almost everything else. It seems a major effort to get beyond his own garden wall, and once outside the single feature of landscape clearly visible in the morning darkness is Mount Etna. Lawrence perceives even the volcano as a symbol of inertia, and he believes that he must escape. Etna, for him, is a “mistress,” a Circe-like witch who drives men mad. These details portray the trip as a masculine assertion, though only in its conception, a spontaneous Homeric adventure with Lawrence as a modern Odysseus.
It is clear by the start of the trip, however, that Lawrence is no Odysseus. Immediately upon arriving at the railroad station, he starts noting, inevitably in unflattering ways, the types of Sicilians with whom he is traveling. Either they are enormously fat or (less often) grotesquely thin; they are loud, and those men who are commuting to office jobs in Messina are vainly proud of the clothes which distinguish them from their fellow travelers who are laborers or factory workers. Repeatedly in Etruscan Places, Lawrence admires the Italian willingness to touch and be touched, seeing it as the naturalness which distinguishes them from northern Europeans, but here he finds it merely a distasteful and typical affectation.
Lawrence is equally repelled by the greasy, narrow sidewalks and filthy streets of Palermo. Again, he finds these, as well as the delays encountered on the relatively brief railroad trip to the steamer, intolerable and typically Italian. Lawrence’s preoccupation with social classes and ethnic characteristics does not, however, allow him to see the inconsistency of his anger at being deprecatingly identified as English. In the midst of it all, he asserts his individuality, declaring that he is himself above all, that he owes nothing of his behavior to any class or group.
Lawrence particularly admires ritual wherever he sees or believes he sees it. In Twilight in Italy he is enamored of church architecture because he believes this preserves a living link with the past. In Etruscan Places, fanciful and often-inaccurate descriptions of tomb paintings at Tarquinia and Cerveteri sketch the Lawrentian positions on love, life, death, and resurrection. Sea and Sardinia contains similar motifs in Lawrence’s enthusiastic descriptions of a religious procession in the Sardinian village of Tonara and of an old man roasting a goat on an open fire in the inn at Sorgono. He most enjoys the antique detail and beauty of the costumes worn by those participating in the...
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In early 1912, Lawrence, not yet twenty-seven and already a writer of great promise, went to the home of Ernest Weekly, his former languages tutor at Nottingham University. He was hoping for Weekly’s advice about his career but while there met the professor’s wife, Frieda, the daughter of Baron von Richthofen, the German aristocrat and soldier. In what became a cause celebre, Frieda left her husband and three children for Lawrence, journeyed with him to the Continent, and was married to him after receiving her divorce in July, 1914. Edwardian sensibilities were offended by their conduct, and many who probably never would have read Lawrence’s works took it as a sacred mission to forestall their publication and rigorously enforce censorship laws in order to modify them.
Critics have discerned elements of this affair in Lawrence’s novels The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), and it is certain that the restless existence of his life from 1912 to its end in 1930, not to mention the equivocal feeling he had for England, stemmed from this experience. Victorians and Edwardians perceived a freer moral climate in what they called “the South,” referring generally to the Mediterranean basin but specifically to Italy; by journeying to Italy, Lawrence added his name to a long list of talented but discontented artists who sought relief there.
Still, Lawrence found no peace in Italy, as anyone who reads his Italian travel...
(The entire section is 435 words.)