D.H. Lawrence's Erotics of The Dance

Jon Segal, Graduate Student in American Civilization at Brown University, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Late in D.H. Lawrence's Twilight in Italy, the author takes the reader to an Italian peasant dance. It is, for the two English ladies in the audience, a simply orgasmic experience. Yet, aside from the obvious allegorical qualities of the passage (the dance as love-act), Lawrence could also be using the device of the dance to construct something about the savage masculinity/sexuality of the Italian man.

In the following passages, Lawrence seems to be constructing conflicting messages about the sexuality of the other (southern Italian).

There were only two English women: so men danced with men, as the Italians love to do. The love even better to dance with men, with a dear blood-friend, than with women

"It's better like this, two men?" Giovanni says to me, his blue eyes hot, his face curiously tender.

and, later...

"Yes-Yes--you've only to let them take you."

Then the glasses are put down, the guitars give their strange, vibrant almost painful summons, and the dance begins again.

It is a strange dance, strange and lilting, and changing as the music changed. But it had a kind of leisurely dignity, a trailing kind of polka-waltz, intimate, passionate, yet never hurried, never violent in its passion, always becoming more intense. The women's faces changed to a kind of transported wonder, they were in the very rhythm of delight. From the soft bricks of the floor red ochre rose in a thin cloud of dust, making hazy the shadowy dancers; the three musicians, in their black hats and their cloaks, sat obscurely in the corner, making a music that came quicker and quicker, making a dance that grew swifter and more intense, more subtle, the men seeming to fly and implicate another strange inter-rhythmic dance into the women, the women drifting and palpitating as if their souls shook and resounded to a breeze that was subtly rushing upon them, through them; the men worked their feet their thighs swifter, more vividly, the music came to an almost int! olerable climax, there was a moment when the dance passed into a possession, the men caught up the women and swung them from the earth, leapt with them for a second, and then the next phase of the dance slower again, more subtly interwoven, taking perfect, oh, exquisite delight in every interrelated movement, a rhythm within a rhythm, a subtle approaching and drawing nearer to a climax, nearer till, oh, there was the surpassing lift and swing of the women, when the woman's body seemed like a boat lifted over the powerful, exquisite wave of the man's body, perfect for a moment, and then once more the slow, intense, nearer movement if the dance began, always nearer, nearer, always to a more perfect climax.

Is it hot in here? Okay, now after we all get back from taking a cold shower, let's answer some questions.

In the main portion of the passage above, Lawrence writes a long, run-on sentence, joining his descriptions of the dance, fragmented, with commas and semi-colons. How does his writing mimic the rhythm of the dance, and maybe of the sex-act itself? Is his purpose to make his description more vivid?

Contrast the first quote with the second. Are the constructions of the Italian (savage/other) man contradictory between the two passages? Can a man be both homoeroticized(feminized?) and virile(masculine) with women, according to Lawrence? How does this dichotomy of less-than-English-man/more potent than English-man, play with the colonialist crisis in the discourse of masculinity that occurred at the turn of the century in England and America? (rudolph valentino, Tarzan?)


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Last modified 26 October 2003