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Archive for the ‘2022 Books’ Category

“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move.”

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I spent a few hours reading Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence.

There’s a “copy” on Gutenburg here which reproduces the illustrations from the original edition, and they are marvelous. I’d pay good money for those, I’ll tell you what.

Summary:

Sea and Sardinia is a travel book by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It describes a brief excursion undertaken in January 1921 by Lawrence and his wife Frieda, a. k. a. Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. His visit to Nuoro was a kind of homage to Grazia Deledda but involved no personal encounter. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distils an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today. Extracts were originally printed in The Dial during October and November 1921 and the book was first published in New York, USA in 1921 by Thomas Seltzer, with illustrations by Jan Juta.

“Brief” is right – I could go back and count, but it seems to me they spent about four days – most of them in transit, either by boat, train or bus.

If you want a wonderfully-written take on the book, go to this NYTimes piece by Richard Cohen, in which he describes his and his wife’s attempt to retrace the Lawrence’s steps.

After a few days, there being “little to see” in Cagliari, the Lawrences moved north to Mandas on the interior railway, the Trenino Verde, a toylike affair that “pelts up hill and down dale … like a panting, small dog.” Alas, that train no longer operates in the off-season, so we rented a car, a betrayal of Lawrentian values — namely hunger, bad light, and sharing space with people who annoy you.

As I said, most of the Lawrence’s time on this trip is spent traveling. And yes, annoyed. They spend all day on a train or a bus, arrive at nightfall to a new place that seems, from afar, to be enticing and picturesque, but which they (at least DHL) find to be dreary with only horrendous food on the offer. (I was entertained by the fact that Lawrence describes each dreadful meal in detail, but the one good meal he has, he doesn’t tell us about, except to say it was excellent. It seems to me there’s a personality trait embedded there.)

Get up the next morning, find the next train.

So in that sense, it’s an odd travel book.  But because it’s Lawrence, it’s also quite fine. No, he won’t be telling me about the history and specifics of various sites, but he will have keenly observed every person on the train or in the dim dining room, and he scorns seeing the sites anyway. He is riding about, experiencing things, watching people, absorbing the landscape, and in the context of the crowded bus or raucous Epiphany celebration, working out other ideas, mostly here, about England, masculinity and modernity.

A hundred years ago, Lawrence was ill at ease with the homogenization of modernity. What he would say about the contemporary homogeneity-masquerading-as-diversity of the present day, I couldn’t imagine. And yes, it’s romanticized, even as he comes up against the harshness of life in Sardinia and Sicily. But I’ll end this post with a few relevant quotes and follow it up with a post bouncing something Lawrence says up against (surprise) liturgy.

The khaki to which he refers is the military issue from World War I that, of course, still formed a foundation of the now-civilian wardrobe.

Sometimes, in the distance one sees a black-and-white peasant riding lonely across a more open place, a tiny vivid figure. I like so much the proud instinct which makes a living creature distinguish itself from its background. I hate the rabbity khaki protection-colouration. A black-and-white peasant on his pony, only a dot in the distance beyond the foliage, still flashes and dominates the landscape. Ha-ha! proud mankind! There you ride! But alas, most of the men are still khaki-muffled, rabbit-indistinguishable, ignominious. The Italians look curiously rabbity in the grey-green uniform: just as our sand-colored khaki men look doggy. They seem to scuffle rather abased, ignominious on the earth. Give us back the scarlet and gold, and devil take the hindmost.


They talk and are very lively. And they have mediaeval faces, rusé, never really abandoning their defences for a moment, as a badger or a pole-cat never abandons its defences. There is none of the brotherliness and civilised simplicity. Each man knows he must guard himself and his own: each man knows the devil is behind the next bush. They have never known the post-Renaissance Jesus. Which is rather an eye-opener.

Not that they are suspicious or uneasy. On the contrary, noisy, assertive, vigorous presences. But with none of that implicit belief that everybody will be and ought to be good to them, which is the mark of our era. They don’t expect people to be good to them: they don’t want it. They remind me of half-wild dogs that will love and obey, but which won’t be handled. They won’t have their heads touched. And they won’t be fondled. One can almost hear the half-savage growl.


For myself, I am glad. I am glad that the era of love and oneness is over: hateful homogeneous world-oneness. I am glad that Russia flies back into savage Russianism, Scythism, savagely self-pivoting. I am glad that America is doing the same. I shall be glad when men hate their common, world-alike clothes, when they tear them up and clothe themselves fiercely for distinction, savage distinction, savage distinction against the rest of the creeping world: when America kicks the billy-cock and the collar-and-tie into limbo, and takes to her own national costume: when men fiercely react against looking all alike and being all alike, and betake themselves into vivid clan or nation-distinctions.

The era of love and oneness is over. The era of world-alike should be at an end. The other tide has set in. Men will set their bonnets at one another now, and fight themselves into separation and sharp distinction. The day of peace and oneness is over, the day of the great fight into multifariousness is at hand. Hasten the day, and save us from proletarian homogeneity and khaki all-alikeness.


I love my indomitable coarse men from mountain Sardinia, for their stocking-caps and their splendid, animal-bright stupidity. If only the last wave of all-alikeness won’t wash those superb crests, those caps, away.

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