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Sea and Sardinia is chronologically the second of D.H. Lawrence’s Italian travel books, after Twilight in Italy (1916) and before Etruscan Places (1932), which was written two years before Lawrence’s death and published posthumously. In most respects, Sea and Sardinia is not like a travel book at all, at least not as one normally understands that genre, for there is little in the way of specific guidebook commentary or romantic reflections. Though written almost as a journal of the brief trip to and through Sardinia which he and his wife, Frieda von Richthofen Lawrence, took from their home on Sicily, Sea and Sardinia is actually a highly subjective collection of Lawrence’s impressions. The Lawrences made their excursion in order to investigate the possibility of living on Sardinia, but the normal considerations of those seeking a new home appear only obliquely behind the motifs of inertia and mobility, freedom and bondage, masculinity and femininity which are important elements in other Lawrence works.

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Lawrence, predisposed to melancholy in most of his first-person writings, is predictably irascible throughout much of the trip. His mood contrasts markedly with Frieda’s determined amiability. Lawrence grumbles about everything, from the cold weather they face upon setting out to the general filth of the port of Palermo, the arrogance of peasants they meet, and the low rate of currency exchange. At times, he appears even to resent Frieda’s ability to accept it all with good grace. Nevertheless, in the midst of one of these tirades, he will burst out in extravagant praise of some detail of scene which he considers worthwhile or beautiful. His Palermo steamer is crowded and unbearably small, but its maple panels and ebony fittings are wonderful, old-fashioned, and splendid. The Sardinian peasantry is either uncommunicative or rude, but their universal black-and-white costume is magnificent because it allows them to stand as individuals.

The contradictions in these observations do not concern Lawrence. He notes the individuality of the Sardinian peasantry even as he observes its unvarying clothing. He generalizes repeatedly about what he calls “the races” but objects when Italians consider him typically English. He inveighs often against local discourtesy yet enthusiastically shakes the hand of the fat peasant who sits beside him at the play he attends. He admires their generosity and spontaneity, and he is sorry to leave them.

Above all, Lawrence is candid in these sketches, often embarrassingly so; though he is inconsistent at nearly every turn, it is the honest inconsistency which troubled him throughout his life. The working title of Sea and Sardinia, which Lawrence abandoned before its publication, was “A Diary of a Trip to Sardinia.” Though neither a diary nor a conventional travel book, it nevertheless retains a naive intimacy which tells as much about Lawrence’s personality as a revealing biography.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 92

Ellis, David. “Reading Lawrence: The Case of Sea and Sardinia,” in D.H. Lawrence Review. X (1977), pp. 52-63.

Gersh, Gabriel. “In Search of D.H. Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia,” in Queens Quarterly. LXXX (1973), pp. 581-588.

Janik, Del Ivan. The Curve of Return: D.H. Lawrence’s Travel Books, 1981.

Meyers, Jeffrey. D.H. Lawrence and the Experience of Italy, 1982.

Tracy, Billy T., Jr. D.H. Lawrence and the Literature of Travel, 1983.

Weiner, S. Ronald. “The Rhetoric of Travel: The Example of Sea and Sardinia,” in D.H. Lawrence Review. II (1969), pp. 230-243.

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