TWILIGHT IN ITALY is a small book of travel essays, worth reading both for their own sake and for the light they throw on the context of Lawrence’s work.
D. H. Lawrence was a prolific and versatile writer whose plays, poems, novels, novellas, and short stories—more than forty volumes produced in a writing life of twenty years—often need to be read in the context of his essays, pamphlets, and travel books. There are four of these last, excluding the passages of description in his letters recording his expatriation in Europe, America, and Australia. The first of these journeys is recorded in his first travel book, TWILIGHT IN ITALY.
Both journey and book came at an important time in his life. Thereafter the gift for natural description and for the “felt” characterization which distinguishes his fiction was so broadly used as to make him geographically the most universal English writer of this century.
In August, 1912, Lawrence and Frieda, then Mrs. Ernest Weekley, walked south from Icking, near Munich, to Riva on Lago di Garda, which was then in Austrian territory, and later, in September, to the Italian Gargnano, farther down the lake. They stayed there till April 1913, while Lawrence worked at his writing as he had not previously been able to do. There he completed the final draft of SONS AND LOVERS, wrote the German stories, collected in THE PRUSSIAN OFFICER, and began the poems published in LOOK, WE HAVE COME THROUGH. To this versatile performance he added the first versions of the travel essays published in first the English Review and in 1916 as TWILIGHT IN ITALY.
The first of the essays deals with a walking trip in the Tyrol before the journey south to Italy; it is entitled “The Crucifix Across the Mountains.” The key word “strange” is employed on the first page and thereafter frequently, for that was not only a strange country in its people and its language, but also in customs, such as wayside crucifixes, new to Lawrence’s Congregationalism. The different forms of these fixed objects allow Lawrence’s fancy to bring each to life; the essay becomes a portrait gallery of pitiable, terrifying, beautiful, violated, male Messiahs who suffered hideously for bringing their message. The significance of this gallery in Lawrence’s work need not be stressed.
The release of Lawrence’s fancy on strange objects stemmed from his decision not to return to teaching after his illness in 1911 and 1912, but to live by his pen. This courageous decision gave him three novel sensations in Gargnana. He was living with Frieda as a married man, his time was his own, and he was in a foreign country. He completed several old manuscripts which would be published in the next two or three years and he began new work. The completion of SONS AND LOVERS marked the first stage in his withdrawal from his Nottinghamshire material, a withdrawal continued in THE RAINBOW and effected in Aaron’s visit to Italy in AARON’S ROD. Placing his personal material in clearer artistic focus marked also the beginning of his major phase as a writer. He changed the style of his writing, as first seen in the poems in LOOK, WE HAVE COME THROUGH, and this change accorded with the growing resolution of his ideas into what is usually called his “philosophy.” The effect of these changes was to break the first draft of his next novel into two novels, THE RAINBOW and WOMEN IN LOVE, but the ideas behind these changes are apparent in TWILIGHT IN ITALY, the first groping statement of the Lawrencian mystique.
The essays in the book are four, of which the second, “On the Largo di Garda,” is divided into seven short sketches amounting to more than half the book. Lawrence records conversations with chance acquaintances on his hike across the Alps and his walks around Gargnano. More than a picture of foreign people, the essay records Lawrence’s reflections precipitated by...
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