In most of Lawrence’s works, one of the most significant themes one sees is the recognition and the exploration of the other, whether they are othered from the character of the work by gender, age, ideology or race.
In this paper, I will focus on the Lawrentian perception and treatment of the non-Caucasian characters in Lawrence’s works, and attempt to map out the ideological changes he underwent as he delved deeper into this field.
Lawrence’s preoccupation with the other was long established before he began to travel the world. However, this quest for trying to understand the other, when combined with his unhappiness with the mechanized English society and the poor reception of The Rainbow, was a potent incentive for him to try and find a land that hadn’t lost its way en route to achieving excellence as a civilization.
It has been theorized by quite a few Lawrentian enthusiasts and historians that his trip to Cornwall and his exposure to the ancient Celtic traditions was the true start of his travel writing journey, and several allusions are made to his time at Cornwall in his novel Kangaroo to support this theory. His fascination with the timeless quality and the comparative lack of mechanization invigorated his flagging spirits and inspired him to journey off to the lands that were truly “other” to the traditions and customs and religions that Lawrence was accustomed to in England.
He has written quite a few novels and short stories and plays om this subject, and they are markedly different from one another because of the type indigenous people he portrays and his portrayal of them by itself and the type of plot he goes with.
Lawrence’s relationship with the non-Caucasian other is very interesting, and we can definitely see the evolution of his ideologies regarding this as we read through his works.
There is a large body of work that he produced during his travels, but for the purposes of this study, I will be focusing on some of his novels and short stories and essays on this topic in a chronological order.
3.1. Sea and Sardinia
The first travel book that Lawrence produced is Twilight in Italy which was written in 1916, but the first travel book that pertains to this line of scrutiny is his second travel book, Sea and Sardinia (1921) as this is where he truly explores a space that is out of the bindings of European civilization. In this, he tracks his travel from Sicily to Sardinia, thus making his comparisons between the Sicilians, who are described as romantic, feline, self-conscious and tender, and the Sardinians, who are described as independent, matter-of-fact, masculine and not self-conscious; instead of the obvious comparison between Englishmen and Sardinians.
It is very interesting to note that Lawrence doesn’t really give the readers a reason for his travel to Sardinia, by saying
Why, then, must one go? Why not stay? Ah, what a mistress, this Etna! with her strange winds prowling round her like Circe’s panthers, some black, some white. With her strange, remote communications and her terrible dynamic exhalations. She makes men mad. (SS 13, italics mine.)
In this we can see that he conveys two ideas that he fleshes out in greater detail later on. The first idea we get is his need to get away from the influence Etna (which is equated to the Roman civilization) has on people, that he wanted to find a niche that wasn’t affected by Etna. The second is his longing to find “masculine” freedom (the Lawrentian equation of freedom and aboriginality to masculinity is one of his motivations to find “remnants” of ancient civilization, so he can rejuvenate his soul and find a way back to his blood consciousness). Curiously, his quest for “masculine” freedom seems to be quite at odds with his requirement that the q-b (queen bee) be with him for this journey.
The tone of the book is flippant for the most part, where Lawrence is the casual observer with a good eye for descriptions, and records his observations of the islanders as he continues on his journey. Bakhtinian chronotope theory.
Even the way he seems to have chosen the destination for travelling seems very offhand, when this is how he puts his decision-making process:
Where does one go? There is Girgenti by the south. There is Tunis at hand. Girgenti, and the sulphur spirit and the Greek guarding temples, to make one madder? Never. Neither Syracuse and the madness of its great quarries. Tunis? Africa? Not yet, not yet. Not the Arabs, not yet. Naples, Rome, Florence? No good at all. Where then?
Where then? Spain or Sardinia. Spain or Sardinia. Sardinia, which is like nowhere. Sardinia, which has no history, no date, no race, no offering. Let it be Sardinia. It lies within the net of this European civilisation, but it isn’t landed yet. (SS 15)
While this does seem carefree, on a closer look we can see how Lawrence tries to drive home the fact that Sardinia is the perfect amount of otherness for him to observe. Girgenti (where several classical ruins are present) represents the glory of the Roman civilization, while Syracuse represents the barbarism that is thinly masked by the veneer of civilization (one of its quarries was the torturous gaol for the Athenian soldiers). On the other hand, Tunis, Africa and the Arabs represent too much exoticism for him to handle. Naples, Florence and Rome also fall into the category of cities that are too civilized for him. Sardinia is appropriate amount of otherness for him; it isn’t non-European, yet it is out of the loop of civilization.
The way Lawrence describes Sardinia’s lack of history is disconcerting however, given that they’d been rebelling against getting annexed as a part of Italy and like any other country they did have a history of their own, and indicates his colonialistic point of view. In this book, he explains this away by stating that Sardinia doesn’t have a historical background because it was fighting the onslaught of imperialism and until Sardinia either submits to it or identifies with it, Sardinia would continue to remain without history. Nonetheless, he does fully succumb to the colonialist idea that a land doesn’t have history until the colonizers delivered the natives from their lack of history in Kangaroo.
While Lawrence does observe a few Sardinians at close quarters and write about it, he also makes quite a few observations of Sardinian people and their costumes and mannerisms and so forth as he passes them by. And in his observations, we can also see that he himself is self-conscious of his otherness to the natives and this in turn absolves him of the imperialist gaze’s unidirectional invisibility with which they can freely scrutinize without being observed back by the other party. Lawrence’s knapsack acts as the symbol of his reciprocal alien-ness to the people, and for good reason; this text is about the differences of the cultures of the Sardinians and the narrator after all.
Intriguingly, there are no direct comparisons between these two cultures; the Sardinian way is always compared to that of the Sicilian on text, and these comparisons are presented as immediate ones not ones he came to the conclusion with after reflecting on it for any length of time. He describes Sardinians as diametric opposites of the Sicilians when he first encountered them, saying, “But is so different from Sicily: none of the suave Greek-Italian charms, none of the airs and graces, none of the glamour. Rather bare, rather stark, rather cold and yellow—somehow like Malta, without Malta’s foreign liveliness” (SS 99), and “The people seemed warm and good-natured, like human beings. One has got so used to the non-human ancient-souled Sicilians, who are suave and so completely callous” (SS 101). The cultural difference of the author to the Sardinians is always only hinted at subtextually. One important point to note here is the way the pacing and frequency of his observational conclusions (be they honest as they may be) seems to be driving towards a pre-determined direction.
When Lawrence talks about the self-consciousness of the Sicilians (or the lack thereof of the Sardinians) he really means the awareness of the other-as-subject, which Sartre calls “being-seen-by-the-other”. So, when Lawrence describes the Sardinians as un-self-conscious, he basically makes them the other-as-object, and tries to see them strictly as being-in themselves rather than being-for-oneself or being-for-others in Sartrean terms. Thus, they exist purely for him to observe in this text. This is shown when he contrasts the eyes of a Sicilian to the eyes of a Sardinian:
There are fascinating dark eyes in Sicily, bright, big, with an impudent point of light, and a curious roll, and long lashes: the eyes of old Greece, surely. But here one sees eyes of soft, blank darkness, all velvet, with no imp looking out of them. And they strike a stranger, older note: before the soul became self-conscious… (SS 123)
The light of self-consciousness that is a remarkable feature of the Sicilian eye is conspicuously absent in the latter eye. This non-reciprocity of subjectivity does have a bit of the imperialist notion of being invisible to the other.
Like with his association of Etna’s characteristics to the people of Sicily, Lawrence shows a tendency to equate the people to the land they’re in, or in this case, see the Sardinians’ history and culture as one with the land, effectively robbing them of a true sense of history; they are just as savage and timeless and unexplored by outside influences as the land itself is. This may have been because he wanted to view Sardinia as another entity entirely, existing beyond the rest of the history-soaked lands of Italy.
Another important point to note in this book is the way Lawrence always describes the racial and cultural other in masculine terms. Although he doesn’t just breeze past the female members of the tribes or populations that he finds dissimilar to his culture, the conventional example he falls back on always ends up being masculine, the unconquerable male. Even the women in Sardinia are described in masculine terms, like how they were too handsome to be Italian, or how their straight backs (an aspect Lawrence associates with aboriginality and maleness) sets them apart from their Sicilian counterparts and so forth. They aren’t presented as opposites to their male counterparts, rather, they are similar. This perhaps rises from the Lawrentian description of the ideal parents: the father who is an aboriginal of the English lands, at one with the natural landscape; while the mother is a pale-faced woman whose paleness arises from her blood-consciousness fighting over her mental consciousness rather than fusing into one. This makes his tendency to represent the other as masculine more understandable. We can see how he expounds on this ideology a bit in his essay Nottingham and the Country:
The real tragedy of England, as I see it, is the tragedy of ugliness. The country is so lovely: the man-made England so vile… The woman almost invariably nagged about material things. She was taught to do it; she was encouraged to do it. It was a mother’s business to provide money. In my father’s generation, with the old wild England behind them, and the lack of education, the man was not beaten down. But in my generation, the boys I went to school with, colliers now, have all been beaten down, what with the din-din-dinning of Board schools, books, cinemas, clergymen, the whole national and human consciousness hammering on the fact of material prosperity above all things.
Here we can see how Lawrence links the aboriginality of the Old English collier and his masculinity to the materialistic and democratic progress through the times, and this is also seen in the way Lawrence describes the Sardinian way of speaking (which is likened to the Sardinians themselves) which is straightforward, no-fuss, open and manly, like the qualities of the indomitable man and how that is being watered down by their acceptance of socialism (or “herd-proletariat and the herd-equality mongrelism”, as Lawrence charmingly put it) unlike the Sicilians who’d never fully get on the socialism band wagon because of how long they’ve steeped in the mainstream European culture.
And yet, despite all his assertions that the Sicilians were out of touch with the indomitable maleness of their selves, he plays a different tune when he talks about the puppet-play that he went to watch with Frieda and another female companion, at the behest of Frieda. He talks about how he could feel “voice that gained hold of the blood. It is a strong, rather husky, male voice that acts direct on the blood, not on the mind.” (SS 351) and that he could feel “the old male Adam began to stir at the roots of my soul” (SS 351). Oddly, he mentions how he was glad that the audience was all male although the premise clearly shows that the audience was not strictly male, and more importantly, the gathering was predominantly Sicilian. Well, as he mentioned in Why the Novel Matters, “I am a very curious assembly of incongruous parts. My yea! of today is oddly different from my yea! of yesterday”, and his writing style is generally structured in a way to allow him to showcase his changing opinions on the subject should he so wish it. This also gives him the freedom to look at something from two completely different viewpoints and not have it look odd in the text.
One very intriguing aspect of this book is the way Lawrence goes to Sardinia with high expectations for the country, but not like he was on a journey for a quest. And then he proceeds to present a slightly exaggerated version of his disappointment when the country and its people didn’t live up to his expectations. When we look at the scene where his q-b and him are irritated with the condition of their inn (and the innkeeper’s wine-stained shirt) and the intrusive locals, he also portrays the difference of the experience for the traveler for whom the place is somewhere they can observe and enjoy and that of the natives who lived there. Later in this scene, Lawrence encounters a girovago (a peddler) and expresses:
He was by far the strongest personality in the place, and he had the keenest intelligence…To me, too, he was something of a kindred soul that night. But there we are: fate, in the guise of that mysterious division between a respectable life and a scamp’s life divided us. There was a gulf between me and him, between my way and his. He was a kindred spirit—but with a hopeless difference. (SS 196-197)
The kinship he felt with the man which is fascinating given that the girovago is an antithesis of the solemn “roasting priest”, and Lawrence’s “hardy and indomitable male”; he is loud and boisterous, and possesses a very distinct personality, something Lawrence professes he mistrusts a lot in people. This is perhaps because he could relate to the girovago’s alien-ness to the rest of the Sardinians, forging a bond of relatability between the two men (as Lawrence was also similarly ostracized by the mining community when he was young). The peddler’s relationship with his “wife” is also somewhat similar to Lawrence’s ideal male companionship. From the text we can gather that the only reason why Lawrence doesn’t think he could try mingle with the girovago is because of his station in life, which clearly means there are quite a few similarities between the two men otherwise.
And at the end of the novel, Lawrence emerges from the trip mostly unchanged, with perhaps a few of his projected ideals on the land and thus, the people, being challenged by the reality he faces (after all, he found the girovago the most interesting in his trip, unlike his expectations). All in all, he still remains the traveler (with imperialist notions), free to pass by and observe the lives of these people as he chooses from a position of subjective detachment and curiosity, his life in no way affected by the happenings in the trip. Otherness is merely an exhibit for Lawrence to maybe sample from, and he ends up finding that he may have idealized it a bit too much before encountering the real thing, and struggles to try to come to terms with reality.
This novel was written in 1923, two years after Sea and Sardinia, and is the last of Lawrence’s major novels with a male central protagonist (Richard Lovat Somers); and thus, marks the end of his series of ‘autobiographical thought-adventures’ which includes Aaron’s Rod, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and Mr. Noon.
It is set in a travel-book style, similar to Sea and Sardinia, but it is a bit more nuanced than just a travel-book. Miguel Bell comments on with the world portrayed in Kangaroo as “the social world of the novel and a world we might know rather from Lawrencean travel experience”. This is important to Bell as he can determine the dynamic of this world and how it may affect the plot. In the part where Somers first encounters the bush, for example, we can see how a value drastically modifies this world but cannot be integrated by it nonetheless. There is a metaphysical quality to the way the world of the novel is described (furthering Bell’s argument that it is tied to the consciousness), unlike the individualistic or psychological approaches we can see in Women in Love or The Rainbow. Another noteworthy distinction between this novel and his previous one is the way the narrator is quite distanced from Somers’ feelings at any given time, instead choosing to assume the viewpoints of other characters or dwelling on other moments. In the previous novels, the narrator was more focused on the feelings of the characters as the characters’ perspectives shaped the world, but in this case the world is already pre-constructed so to speak, and Somers is a character placed in it to explore it.