Judging A Book By Its Cover

Caroline Ang '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In his book, Twilight in Italy, D. H. Lawrence writes of his experiences while traveling through the scenic cities and countrysides of Italy. His prose, while lyrical and rhythmic, makes the assumptions that he understands every person whom he comes across during his travels. Although I appreciate the beauty of his writing, I find it rather presumptuous of him to believe that by just watching people he can understand the inner workings of their souls -- the old spinning woman at San Tommaso, the Signore and Signora Gemma, Italians in general)

However, on some level these presumptions may be necessary to Lawrence's style and organization of his thoughts. Often he seems to follow a pattern of sorts. He opens with a detailed description, usually of nature or specific persons and their interactions with him. Then, he relates a specific image or word phrase that strikes him in a peculiar way. This image or phrase leads him off into a lengthy aside, during which he speculates about the meaning of life, the nature of humanity and other Deep Thoughts. His personal musings resolved by a pithy conclusion or sweeping generalization, he returns to the scene and ends with an image loaded with greater significance.

Reading Questions:

In this passage from "The Theatre," Lawrence records his observations of the men and women who frequent the theater.

"They are strangely isolated in their own atmosphere, and as if revealed. It is as if their vulnerable being was exposed and they have not the wit to cover it. There is a pathos of physical sensibility and mental inadequacy. Their mind is not sufficiently alert to run with their quick, warm senses.

The men keep together, as if to support each other, the women also are together, in a hard, strong herd. It is as if the power, the hardness, the triumph, even in this Italian village, were with the women in their relentless, vindictive unity.

That which drives men and women together, the indomitable necessity, is like a bondage upon the people. They submit as under compulsion, under constraint. They come together mostly in anger and in violence of destructive passion. There is no comradeship between men and women, none whatsoever, but rather a condition of battle, reserve, hostility." (57)

1. Does Lawrence just see what he wants to see? Is he biased in his reporting of the facts preceding these judgments?

2. Are his judgments warranted? Can we, after considering the scene that he presents, draw the same conclusions as he does?

3. Lawrence does qualify his sweeping statements three times, using "as if...". Does this strengthen his credibility enough for us to accept his opinions?

4. Why does Lawrence fill his prose with so many loaded words? Does his use of language help or hinder his arguments, or do they serve as mainly aesthetic devices?

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Last modified 26 October 2003