Science of History on Holiday

Nathan Deuel, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

A white man traveling in the "South" triggers some automatic assumptions. When D. H. Lawrence documents his travels to Italy, one will, of course, hold the product accountable for a certain amount of cultural imperialism. But Etruscan Places records also a quasi-historical exploration of an ancient culture. Early in the essay, DH Lawrence parses the Etruscan from the Roman in his Italy:

Because a fool kills a nightingale, is he therefore greater than the nightingale? Because the Roman took the life out of the Etruscan, was he therefore greater than the Etruscan? Not he! Rome fell, and the Roman phenomenon with it. Italy to-day is far more Etruscan in its pulse than Roman; and will always be so. The Etruscan element is like the grass of the field and the sprouting of corn, in Italy; it will always be so (29).

Later in the essay, Lawrence confronts the so-called "science of history":

But, naturally enough, historians seized on these essentially non-Etruscan evidences, in the Etruscan late tombs, to build up a picture of a gloomy, hellish, serpent-writhing, vicious Etruscan people who were quite rightly stamped out by the noble Romans. This myth is still not dead. Men never want to believe the evidence of their senses. They would far rather go on elaborating some "classic" author. The whole science of history seems to be the picking of old fables and old lies into fine threads, and weaving them up again. Theopompus collected some scandalous tales, and that is quite enough for historians. It is written down, so that’s enough. The evidence of fifty million gay little tombs wouldn’t weigh a straw. In the beginning was the Word, indeed! Even the word of Theopompus! (77).

Comparing the two passages, how can we discuss DH Lawrence as travel writer versus historian? How do two images -- a field of sprouting corn and fifty million gay tombs -- work differently? How significant are references to perception, writing, and cultural authority?


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Last modified 26 October 2003