D.H. Lawrence and Language

Cecilia Kiely '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

Throughout his essays on Italy, D. H. Lawrence emphasizes the distinction between north and south, specifically the differences between Northern Europeans (the English) and Southern Europeans (the Italians). Lawrence makes vast generalizations, characterizing the Northerners as intellectuals and the Italians as more savage, concerned primarily with the body rather than the mind. In his chapter entitled "The Theatre," Lawrence again draws on this idea, using language to characterize the difference between what he sees as two different races:

It was the language which did it. It was the Italian passion for rhetoric, for the speech which appeals to the senses and makes no demand on the mind. When an Englishman listens to a speech he wants at least to imagine that he understands thoroughly and impersonally what is meant. But an Italian only cares about the emotion. It is the movement, the physical effect of teh language upon the blood which gives him supreme satisfaction. His mind is scarcely engaged at all. He is like a child, hearing and feeling without understanding. It is the sensuous gratification he asks for. Which is why D'Annunzio is a god in Italy. He can control the current of the blood with his words, and although much of what he says is bosh, yet the hearer is satisfied, fulfilled.

It is always interesting when an author explicitly discusses language. What is Lawrence's attitude towards language? What are the assumptions he makes about the value of different types of speech and how is this implied through his word choice and the structure of his argument? Is Lawrence's own use of language consistent with the views he outlines here?

In the passage, Lawrence sets up a dichotomy of intellect vs. passion, mind vs. blood -- one that he uses throughout his comparison of the two cultures. How is this problematic? Specifically, does his discussion of language imply an inferiority on the part of Italians?

The passage is written using short and simple sentences that generally follow the pattern of subject-verb-object (of the ten sentences that make up the passage, six begin with "it" or "he"). What effect does this style have on the argument he is making? Also, what techniques does Lawrence use to link physicality with passionate speech, and to what end does he do this?


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Last modified 26 October 2003