"I look to Italy"

LawrenceFriday 29th March 2013 - by Kyl Chhatwal

So wrote the English novelist D.H. Lawrence in a letter to a friend, while in Germany in 1912. Lawrence was a prolific writer and a prolific traveller. How he managed both— writing so prodigiously while constantly on the move—is a mystery of 20th century literature, one often explained using that ill-defined word “genius.”

But even genius had its bad days. In Germany, Lawrence complained, “I’ve begun a novel [and] it’s like working in a dream…as if you can’t get a solid hold of yourself. ‘Hello my lad, are you there!’ I say to myself when I see the sentences stalking by.”

The great artist was stuck, and in his mind he looked to Italy, where he was soon to move with his fiancée, Frieda, as the antidote to his writer’s block. His instincts proved right. After crossing the Alps by foot—a pilgrimage recounted in his travel memoir, Twilight in Italy—he settled into his new surroundings and rapidly

produced the final draft of one of his most famous novels, Sons and Lovers. In September 1913 he returned to Italy with the same effect, settling in a secluded cottage in the Gulf of Spezia and pounding out what would become his next major book, Women in Love.

Finally, in the 1920s, after wandering the globe for over a decade, Italy beckoned once more, this time bringing the writer to Florence. And Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence’s most enduring work, was the happy (and controversial) result. Italy was always a powerful symbol for Lawrence—a place to renew his artistic energies.

But it was also the antithesis of turn-of-the-century England, which for Lawrence had become increasingly industrialized, prudish, and dead. The Italians themselves were everything the English were not, and Lawrence came close to worshipping them for it, as well their ancestors, the Etruscans. These pre-Roman peoples, he wrote, were “sensitive, diffident, craving for symbols and mysteries, [and] able to find true delight in small things.”

Equally important to Lawrence, however, was the landscape of Italy, and the possibility of living simply there, and always surrounded by beauty.

“I love a little house,” he wrote of his Gulf of Spezia cabin in the autumn of 1913. “The bay is shut in, nearly, by black rocks and rocklets. The Mediterranean is very blue. I think of sitting in my kitchen, a little fire of olive-wood burning in the wide open chimney, a bottle of wine in its rush singlet, and hearing the waves wash at night, softly; —then of getting up in the morning and going out to bathe and run back through the garden.”

Here is Hollywood’s take on Lawrence the artist and iconoclast: a trailer from the 1981 biopic starring a young Ian McKellen as Lawrence himself.

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