Sunday, April 11, 2010

SEA AND SARDINIA by D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence's Sea and Sardinia begins with what is surely one of the best first lines in all of travel literature: "Comes over one an absolute necessity to move." That's an absolutely perfect first line. The inverted syntax (a rhetorical device Lawrence proceeds to dilute by overuse over the course of the book) begins the narrative with an active verb, setting the story and reader immediately into motion. Syntax becomes semantics. The words travel out of their customary positions into unfamiliar territory. The very language hurries us along, grabbing the reader with a verb and thrusting him forward toward the nouns that will make sense of this strange linguistic place he has found himself in. Here reading is very like traveling. (It's probably also safe to assume that this beginning is Lawrence's writerly reaction to the opening paragraphs of Ishmael's narration in Moby Dick. An absolute necessity to move comes over Melville's protagonist too, from time to time.)

Sea and Sardinia is much better than Twilight in Italy, but it's not a great, surprising book. It is exactly the kind of travel book one would expect D.H. Lawrence to write, neither better nor worse. Passages of great beauty alternate with dubious generalizations; poetic descriptions give way to earnest invocations of 'maleness' that bring to mind early-1990s Robert Bly. The most significant improvements over Twilight are twofold. First, Lawrence keeps his sermonizing impulse in check much the time. Second, his prose keeps this book in constant motion. This is an account of a whirlwind trip from Sicily to Sardinia, across the island from south to north, and back to Sicily via the Italian mainland, and the narrative moves as steadily as its characters. This is a book that travels, and that's probably the most impressive thing about it. Anyone seeking reliable information about Sardinia should look elsewhere. DHL spent only a few days on the island, so his account is necessarily superficial. He's more tourist than traveler here.

1 comment:

driedchar said...

I love "Sea and Sardinia." Are you aware of any studies of it?