Sermonizing in Italy

Jeffrey Fronza, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

The chapter of Lawrence's book Twilight in Italy entitled "The Lemon Gardens" seems to be a religious meditation rather than a work of travel literature. The beauty of the Italian countryside and the uniqueness of its inhabitants are not the subjects of the chapter, even though description and narrated conversation can be found throughout. Instead Lawrence's spiritual concerns are superimposed onto both countryside and inhabitants until both become merely a useful excuse for Lawrence to moralize. This shift from description to religious abstraction is illustrated clearly in the following passage.

The woman also was uncomfortable. I could see she wanted to go away with the child, to enjoy him alone, with palpitating, pained enjoyment. It was her brother's boy. And the old padrone was as if nullified by her ecstasy over the baby. He held his chin, gloomy, fretful, unimportant...I was startled. This, then, is the secret of Italy's attraction for us [northern europeans], this phallic worship. To the Italian the phallus is the symbol of individual creative immortality, to each man his own Godhead. The child is but the evidence of the Godhead. And this is why the Italian is attractive, supple, and beautiful, because he worships the Godhead in the flesh. We envy him, we feel pale and insignificant beside him. Yet at the same time we feel superior to him, as if he were a child and we adult

I think that this leap to abstraction provides insights into Lawrence's consciousness rather than insights concerning the "Italian Race". How then does Lawrence's travel literature function? Is he a traveler chronicling new experiences for his reader's sake, or is he a romantic egotist chronicling his interior life for his own sake? Does Lawrence provide a convincing picture of Italian life in his chapter "The Lemon Gardens" or does he provide a convincing argument for his watered-down Christian-Hegelian metaphysics?


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Last modified 26 October 2003