Sunday, April 11, 2010


The Italian travels of three great writers have all failed to satisfy me. Goethe's Italian Journey is a desultory hodgepodge which even its translator/editors admit could've used a better original editor. Henry James's Italian Hours is as intoxicatingly beautiful as one would expect a volume of the Master's travel writings to be, and therein lies the problem: the collected pieces read more like transcriptions from the exquisite, oh so exquisite, Jamesian sensorium than accounts of Venice, Rome, etc. It is often difficult to 'see' Italy clearly through the shimmering beauty of James's prose. And now Lawrence's Twilight in Italy likewise fails to ignite. There are flashes of brilliance in Lawrence's book (the great image that ends the opening chapter, for example: a roadside crucifix high in the Alps with the body broken off and the severed arms still nailed to the crossbar and swinging in the wind), but this wheat is buried under far too much chaff. Lawrence's sermonizing tendency gets completely out of control here. Lawrence as narrator becomes the sort of character who might have been satirized by Dickens or Trollope: a pedantic Midlands know-it-all who will never miss an opportunity to preach a sermon at you. Twilight in Italy suffers fatally from Old Herb's half-baked primitivism, dubious anti-modernism (in the broadest and most Catholic sense of the term), and his ubiquitous Tiresome Transcendental Tangents. That said, I'm not giving up on Lawrence. Sea and Sardinia is the next book in my Penguin D.H. Lawrence and Italy, and it looks a bit livelier (and brighter) than the disappointing Twilight.

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