Critical Context

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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 books can see. If anything, he becomes more restless and ill at ease during the years between Twilight in Italy and Sea and Sardinia; the series of small unhappy experiences which fill his trip to Sardinia are but one indication of the psychological and physical malaise he felt at the time. Readers who come to his third travel book, Etruscan Places, without first reading Mornings in Mexico might well have the impression that Lawrence had limited his search for happiness to Italy, but such was not the case. He and Frieda never moved to Sardinia, but they did spend two years after the final publication of Sea and Sardinia in both Mexico and New Mexico. For a time, Lawrence was seriously considering a kind of utopian community near the town of Taos, New Mexico; indeed, a modern artists’ colony continues to thrive there.

Sea and Sardinia is not important as a romantic travel book, and it is certainly not a tourist’s guide to the island. It does, often with disarming candor, describe the pathetic and tragic condition of Lawrence in his final years. It also sets forth his philosophical perspective, frankly and with all the inconsistencies which characterized the man himself.

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