Divided into five parts, D. H. Lawrence’s story of initiation into rites of the healing, vital process of connection with the universe begins with the doctor’s command: “Take her away, into the sun.” Juliet, a middle-class young matron, leaves behind her tepid-souled husband Maurice as she travels by ocean passage with her son, a nurse, and her mother to the south, to Sicily. There, in a landscape known to ancient Greek colonists of the Italian isle, she strips off her clothes—symbolic of her former prudish conventions—to be naked in the sun. In part 1, by the roots of a cypress tree, she feels the sun warm her into renewed physical consciousness; revitalized, she invites her young son, Johnny, to play in the sun.
In part 2, mother and son make a ritual of sunbathing by the cypress tree. Marinina, a wise old Sicilian woman in whose veins probably flows the Greek blood of her ancestors, acts as priestess of the sun cult, encouraging Juliet to appreciate the beauty of her nude body. Part 3 treats Johnny’s encounter with a golden-brown snake, which slithers to escape into the rocks, unharmed by Juliet. In part 4, Maurice visits his wife and son; his pale, unhealthy appearance contrasts with the sun-brown vitality of his wife and son. Ashamed to cast aside the clothes that represent his civilized constraints, he is an awkward presence, and Juliet senses an estrangement between themselves. In part 5, Juliet fantasizes of an affair with a healthy, “rather fat, very broad fellow of about thirty-five,” a married Sicilian peasant, but she rejects her fantasy to have the peasant father her next child. Instead, she will—with regret—return to Maurice, who will give her a pallid child. “The fatal chain of continuity would cause it.”