- 1 Hugh and Pauline Massingham, The Englishman Abroad, xvii.
1The introduction to The Englishman Abroad – an anthology of travel letters – makes the following statement: “The truth is that, far from loving foreign travel, the English have a curious love-hate towards it. The born traveller – the man who is without prejudices, who sets out wanting to learn rather than to criticize, who is stimulated by oddity, who recognizes that every man is his brother, however strange and ludicrous he may be in dress and appearance – has always been comparatively rare."1 Most readers of Lawrence will agree that he was a rare specimen of writer and traveller, who fitted all the aspects of the previous definition while diverging from them at the same time.
2He was a creative artist first and foremost, and, unlike an explorer or scientist, his travel writing did not focus on recording observations about the land or people he encountered, so much as his experience of travel and his characters’ responses to foreignness. In this aspect, he followed the approach of modern travel writing, which, from the 1880s onwards, left aside realistic, didactic accounts and started describing cultural differences and the effects produced on the European beholder in an imaginative light. At the beginning of the twentieth century and in the wake of successful British imperialism, awareness of cultural difference, of a changing world in which self and identity were no longer stable, and of a possibly “degenerating” Western world, encouraged English writers such as Lawrence and E. M. Forster to search for and dramatize alternative ways of thinking and inhabiting the world.
3Central to Lawrence’s writing is the encounter with otherness, which takes on many shapes, whether male or female, foreign or from a different social class, present in the landscape and more precisely in what he called “the spirit of place.” In his letters, travel narratives, short stories and novels, Lawrence exposes the different and forever changing ways in which the European traveller perceives and responds to foreignness, an experience or exposure to cultural otherness which brings about a gradual alteration of the self, both physical and spiritual.
- 2 Max Nordau, Degeneration (Entartung), 1892; Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (Der Untergang (...)
4I shall therefore examine the transformation Lawrence’s characters undergo when they come into contact with cultural otherness, first thanks to a detailed analysis of the various reactions to cultural difference depicted in the novels and travel narratives, from the initial fear of otherness through the progressive stages of adaptation, an analysis which points to a number of differences in the responses of his female and male characters. The exposure of his travelling characters to cultural otherness is designed by Lawrence to provoke an alteration of their European self, which may lead to their possible “regeneration,” a hypothesis derived from the cultural theory of western “degeneration,” developed by Nordau and later Spengler,2 and which became widespread across Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. By encountering other modes of consciousness and embracing them, the European travellers can potentially be “regenerated.” However, the reciprocity of alteration through contact with the foreign other remains limited: I shall discuss the extent to which Lawrence’s foreigners appear to be affected by their encounter with the European characters, and whether an exchange of world views and a mutual alteration take place.
- 3 Neil Roberts, D.H. Lawrence, Travel and Cultural Difference, 43.
5Engaging with otherness is, in the words of Neil Roberts, a “progressive process."3 as the traveller goes through a series of stages in his reception of cultural differences. Yet what remains to be seen is whether this process is linear, regular, irreversible and life-changing, or whether it is only a temporary response to the unfamiliar, leaving the traveller essentially untouched at the core of his being.
- 4 Claude Lévi-Strauss, Race et Histoire, 44.
- 5 Sea and Sardinia, 96.
- 6 “They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips.” Id., 13.
- 7 The Lost Girl, 314.
- 8 Kangaroo, 14.
- 9 The Plumed Serpent, 42.
- 10 Id. 34.
- 11 Ibid.
- 12 “On va souvent jusqu'à priver l'étranger de ce dernier degré de réalité en en faisant un « fantôme (...)
- 13 Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 14.
- 14 “The Princess” in St Mawr and Other Stories, 179.
- 15 The Plumed Serpent, 50.
6Most travel narratives deal extensively with the description of their protagonists’ reactions to the discovery of a foreign place and its denizens, many of these initial reactions being far from enthusiastic. They range from fear to anger and disgust to mockery, all of them effects of one simple deficiency: incomprehension, which Claude Lévi-Strauss explains thus: “« Habitudes de sauvages, » « cela n'est pas de chez nous, » « on ne devrait pas permettre cela » etc., autant de réactions grossières qui traduisent ce même frisson, cette même répulsion, en présence de manières de vivre, de croire ou de penser qui nous sont étrangères4.” How amusing it then is to find Lawrence’s narrator in Sea and Sardinia expressing the same thoughts towards the Sardinians: “I cursed the degenerate aborigines, the dirty-breasted host who dared to keep such an inn, the sordid villagers who had the baseness to squat their beastly human nastiness in this upland valley."5 Disgust and anger are not however the sole responses to habits the traveller is unable to appreciate: mockery also finds its way into his account, comparing the Italians’ tender and affectionate behaviour towards one another to melting butter and soft sprawling pasta6 – a rather facile, typically English, food comparison. Yet the dominant response to be found in Lawrence’s works is a terrible fear of the “spirit of place” and its perceptible power upon the human psyche. Whether it be the Alban valleys of The Lost Girl, the Australian bush of Kangaroo or the dark night and Mexican mountains of The Plumed Serpent, the character is seized by the frightful impression that the spirit of place “seemed always to be annihilating"7 any human presence, especially foreign. The dreadful power of the spirit of the bush is personified in the shape of “a long black arm"8 trying to get hold of Richard Somers, thus associating the terror of an unknown type of landscape to the terror of the as yet unseen aborigine. Similarly, the daunting Mexican mountains are likened to “ponderous,” “watchful lions,"9 conveying Kate’s uneasy feeling of constant danger, which also arises from her encounter with the natives. Her fear of them seems mainly to result from her inability to relate to them – an interaction first enabled by eye contact, which Kate fails to establish, for, as she complains: “Their eyes have no middle to them. […] Their middle is a raging black hole, like the middle of a maelstrom."10 As she cannot locate the pupil, instant connexion proves impossible and gives rise to the superstitious inkling that “they aren’t really there."11 Denying somebody any reality is the ultimate stage in the rejection of otherness, Lévi-Strauss asserts,12 and ghostly comparisons abound in travellers’ descriptions of native inhabitants. The blank, vacant eyes of the natives cause Conrad’s Marlow to call them “phantoms,"13 while the natives’ loose white cotton clothes and wandering gait are repeatedly associated with ghostliness by Dollie Urquhart – the Princess – and Kate Leslie: “Two ghostlike figures on horseback emerged from the black of the spruce across the stream. It was two Indians on horseback, swathed like seated mummies in their pale-grey cotton blankets."14 Refusing to acknowledge the foreigner’s humanity, by using ghostly or animal similes, amounts to refusing any possible kinship with him, for the white traveller is deeply disturbed at the thought of sharing his humanity with so different a being. Despite those initial negative responses to foreign places and individuals, the main impression conveyed by Lawrence’s characters is that their feelings are inevitably mixed and even conflicting. Richard Somers, for instance, is continually caught between praise for the beauty of the Australian landscape, down to its flowers and birds, and dread of the spirit of place, which never ceases to be alien to him. The very effects of the Mexican spirit of place on Kate’s psyche are presented in a contradictory light: “Amid all the bitterness that Mexico produced on her spirit, there was still a strange beam of wonder and mystery, almost like hope. A strange darkly-iridescent beam of wonder, of magic,"15 the final oxymoron encapsulating the paradox and dilemma she is subjected to, down to the last page of the novel.
- 16 Neil Roberts, D.H. Lawrence, Travel and Cultural Difference, 14-15.
- 17 Sea and Sardinia, 170.
- 18 Kangaroo, 307.
- 19 Ibid., 20.
- 20 Kangaroo, 346.
- 21 Ibid., 145.
- 22 “she slept, giving up everything […] And presently she began to be sick, and to vomit violently, as (...)
- 23 The Plumed Serpent,. 376.
7Thus it would seem that the European traveller never gets accustomed to the foreignness of his environment, yet this does not mean that he or she necessarily remains unchanged by the encounter. Lawrence experiments with various degrees of transformation throughout his works, from the most superficial experience of otherness, as related in Twilight in Italy and Sea and Sardinia, to the deepest-felt effects of a true physical and spiritual transformation, as in Kangaroo and “The Woman Who Rode Away.” Neil Roberts, quoting Mikhail Bakhtin,16 identifies two distinct types of travel writing in order to analyse these texts: the Italian travel books belong to “adventure time,” a chronotope which mainly focuses on descriptions of what the protagonist sees and thinks, a mode of writing more easily rendered through the use of a homodiegetic narrator. Inner focalisation thus gives direct access to the experience of foreignness, but records no particular influence on the traveller who seems unchanged at the end of his journey and of the book. Thus, towards the end of Sea and Sardinia, the narrator states that his Sardinian trip has left no lasting impact on his spirit: “suddenly arriving on the mainland again […] I felt my sound Sardinian soul melting off me, I felt myself evaporating into the real Italian uncertainty and momentaneity."17 Conversely, extra-diegetic narratives such as Kangaroo and “The Woman Who Rode Away” register both the characters’ impressions and the change wrought by the influence of the spirit of place and contact with the natives – a type of writing related to a “quest” rather than a simple adventure. Both protagonists indeed set out on their journeys with a deliberate purpose – the woman seeking a new life amidst the Chilchui Indians, and Richard Somers a new start in a new, unspoilt country. They are subsequently transformed by the experience, the woman even to her death as she is stripped of her identity as a beautiful, proud white woman and humbled into accepting to be sacrificed for the good of cosmic balance. However, the alteration in Richard Somers’ relation to Australia, Australians and to the eventuality of a new social and political ideal is not without a recurrence of regressions and hesitations. I have already mentioned Somers’ contradictory responses to the spirit of place, perceived as pure and free as well as aloof and hostile towards white men. His appreciation of the people is just as ambivalent, wavering between love for their friendliness, hatred of their familiarity, regret over their distance. Nevertheless, praise gradually supplants rejection: “That was the beauty of the men: their absolute lack of affectation, their naïve simplicity, which was at the same time sensitive and gentle. The gentlest country in the world. Really, a high pitch of breeding. Good-breeding at a very high pitch, innate, and in its shirt sleeves. A strange country. A wonderful country. Who knows what future it may have."18 The short sentences and the repetitions create an interior monologue where the omniscient narrator and the character seem to merge into one voice, expressing true admiration for the foreign other. In parallel, Somers’ feelings towards his native Europe fluctuate between an initial dismissal, which has led to the trip to Australia and an occasional sudden longing for the Old Country, when the crisis of otherness reaches a climax, as underlined by the following interjection and accumulative structures: “Oh God, to be in Europe, lovely, lovely Europe that he had hated so thoroughly and abused so vehemently, saying it was moribund and stale and finished. The fool was himself. He had got out of temper and so had called Europe moribund: assuming that he himself, of course, was not moribund, but sprightly and chirpy and too vital, as the Americans would say, for Europe."19 Yet as the narrative unfolds and the protagonist acclimatises to the new country, Europe is unfavourably and repeatedly compared to Australia, and is eventually quite rejected, as the result of a recurrent dream replete with prison-like palazzos, narrow old streets and “huge, ponderous cathedrals,"20 revealing the sense of suffocation Richard associates with the Old Continent. Sleep is in fact a key factor here in the process of transformation, which is described in physical terms, although it affects both body and mind: “‘The blood is thinner out here than in the Old Country.’ The Australians seemed to accept this as a scientific fact. Richard felt he didn’t want his blood thinned down to the Australian consistency. Yet no doubt in the night, in his sleep, the metabolic change was taking place fast and furious."21 In “The Woman Who Rode Away” the change undergone by the female character is also described as physical, uncontrollable and linked with sleep,22 even though these effects are partly induced by the drugs the Indians give her. The change may appear inevitable, yet both Richard Somers and Kate Leslie strongly refuse to submit to it, fearing a loss of their individuality, of their strong old selves and perhaps also of their whiteness, for the change in Kate takes place “far, far inside her: in her soul and womb "23 (my italics) reminding us that part of her transformation is due to the influence of her sexual relationship with the Indian Cipriano.
- 24 See annex A.
- 25 See annex B.
- 26 The Lost Girl, 299.
- 27 Kangaroo, 350
- 28 Ibid., 351.
8Besides the fact that protagonists differ in the extent to which their foreign surroundings affect them, their very approach to what is foreign seems determined by gender. A quick glance at the letters compiled in The Englishman Abroad leads one to conclude, like the Times Literary Supplement,24 that female travellers come across as considerably more enthusiastic about foreignness. And indeed, Lawrence’s travelling heroines systematically show a greater readiness to come into contact with the foreign other than do the men. We may for example compare two train scenes in Italy, one taken from The Lost Girl, the other from Aaron’s Rod25: while Aaron shrinks from the gaze of the Italian passengers around him and resents their curiosity towards him, Alvina delights in the foreign atmosphere and does not recoil from her neighbours’ interest. Aaron’s monologue is saturated with allusions to “himself,” whereas Alvina’s rests on the repetitive structure “she loved” followed by what she sees and hears, thus stressing his aversion and her openness to the surrounding otherness. The same extract mentions that Italians “were neither as beautiful nor as melodious as she expected,"26 pinpointing final disappointment as another characteristic of Lawrence’s female travellers, for the emotional journey into foreignness of women like Alvina, Harriett Somers, the woman who rode away and Dollie Urquhart, moves from intense anticipation and delight to bitter disenchantment. Compare Harriett Somer’s initial elation: “And in the first months she had found [freedom] in Australia […] She had felt herself free, free, free, for the first time in her life. […] Woman that she was, she exulted, she delighted"27 to her final harrowing response to the country: “She had sudden, mad loathings of Australia. And these made her all the more frenzied because of her former great, radiant hopes and her silvery realisations."28 Meanwhile her husband Richard experiences the reverse transformation, gradually shaking off his gloom and nourishing hope for Australia’s future. What their contrasted evolutions reveal is that the English female traveller is significantly more eager to enjoy the freedom she finds abroad than the male traveller, because English society exercises a much tighter hold on women than on men. That is also the reason for Kate Leslie’s departure from Europe and her hesitation to leave Mexico, yet the evolution of her responses to the foreign country is much more complex than Harriett’s. Contrary to the heroine of Kangaroo, her first responses to Mexico are, as we have seen, anything but enchanted and are thrown into light by contrast with those of the two American men accompanying her. While they relish the crude, superficial sensations of otherness which the gory bullfight offers in the first chapter of The Plumed Serpent, Kate cannot bear to stoop to such a sterile and degrading experience, since she is on a quest for marrow-deep transformation leading to new being. However, she never comes to love the foreign place, unlike Richard Somers, or to thoroughly hate it, like Harriett, nor does she clearly decide to leave it, as they do. Her transformation is only half achieved, for instead of creating a new self out of the old self, she is left with two incompatible selves – an unbearable situation which Lawrence chose not to redress between the book’s covers. Lawrence’s travellers are thus always affected by their encounter with foreignness but not all of them retain a permanent change, brought about by their permeability to the spirit of place. The evolution of their transformation also differs, depending on their gender and their responses to the spirit of place. But all of them share the desire to flee from Europe and discover new ways of being in foreign lands, on an ongoing quest for regeneration.
9Despite their negative responses to cultural differences and their resistance to the influence of the spirit of place, Lawrence’s protagonists set out with the specific purpose of abandoning their culture to experiment with another – an imaginative recreation of the writer’s own investigations, a double experiment, in a way. This quest for new ways of being, widely referred to as the quest for “regeneration,” was not peculiar to Lawrence since many others among his contemporaries made it the goal of their physical and imaginative explorations, so as to face the crisis of the times. He proposed to effect the renewal of man and society by reviving the primitive, instinctual self retained by some foreign peoples from whom European man and woman might learn how to regain it.
- 29 Lady Chatterley's Lover, 152.
- 30 Aaron's Rod, 152.
- 31 Twilight in Italy, 143.
- 32 Ibid.
- 33 Ibid., 142.
- 34 Aaron's Rod, 291.
- 35 St Mawr, 97
- 36 Ibid.
- 37 Kangaroo, 14.
- 38 Ibid.
- 39 The Plumed Serpent, 43.
- 40 T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland, 1922.
10The depiction of England, and more generally, of Europe, as a degenerating land is a leitmotif in Lawrence’s works and the standard response to the phenomenon is the urge to flee to a place where the self might not be annihilated by the evils of modern civilisation – more specifically, by the growing mechanisation of life. Lawrence indeed believed that mechanisation was not only a phenomenon affecting the technical, industrial world but that it also spread to the organic level, to the point where it was slowly throttling vitality in the spirit of place, in society and in the self, as in the following description of the spirit of place in the Midlands: “the utter negation of natural beauty, the utter negation of the gladness of life, the utter absence of the instinct for shapely beauty which every bird and beast has, the utter death of the human intuitive faculty."29 The toll of the repetitive structure clearly conveys the destruction of everything that is natural and instinctual, caused by mechanisation. It is also described in terms of decay and disease, for it spreads from the technical to the organic as well as from one country to another: “the accursed mechanical ideal gains day by day over the spontaneous life-dynamic, so that Italy becomes as idea-bound and as automatic as England."30 Thus the south of Europe, which was deemed still to harbour the vital flow now absent in England, is in fact right in the process of disintegration. The last few pages of Twilight in Italy are overcast by this shadow as the travelling narrator-protagonist repeatedly expresses his horror at the new high-roads he follows, lined with the products of industrialisation: “The roads, the railways are built, the mines and quarries are excavated, but the whole organism of life, the social organism, is slowly crumbling and caving in, in a kind of process of dry rot, most terrifying to see."31 To him they are not only lifeless, they have sucked the life out of everything else, landscape and people, down to the peasants he had lauded earlier in his journey, but ultimately avoids, “afraid of them: the same spirit had set in them."32 Despite the images of crumbling and negation, the overriding sensation is not one of unfettered void but of oppression: “Everything seemed under a weight"33 as in Richard Somers’ dreams. The feeling of imprisonment in Europe is omnipresent in Lawrence’s travel writing and is always accompanied by thoughts of escape, as if from “a cage"34 as Rawdon Lilly puts it. To American Lou Witt, the very English landscape seems like a prison, “wet, close, hedged-and-fenced […] Everything enclosed, enclosed, to stifling,"35 and the English spirit of place is doubly fatal since it kills all possibility of new life as well as existing life, being completely sterile, as the metaphor of the apples suggests: “The very apples on the trees looked so shut in, it was impossible to imagine any speck of ‘Knowledge’ lurking inside them. Good to eat, good to cook, good even for show. But the wild sap of untameable and inexhaustible knowledge – no! Bred out of them. Geldings, even the apples."36 The quotation marks and capitalisation of “Knowledge” evidently refer to the Garden of Eden, while the term “Geldings” hints at technicized horticulture and the resulting modified fruit, which is believed to have lost its natural flavour. The passage thus suggests that England is no longer a primeval and paradisiacal land, but a barren and lifeless place, deprived of the primitive knowledge which “uncivilised” peoples were thought to have kept – a notion propounded by 19th and early 20th century anthropology. Conversely, Australia and America are presented as ideal lands, invariably portrayed as young, virgin continents in sharp contrast with “done for, played out, finished"37 Europe. What the traveller finds there are “pure, crystal” skies, “new and unbreathed” air and “great distances,"38 the exact opposite of previously mentioned descriptions of cramped, grey and foggy England. The death of the Old Continent is abundantly referred to and leads to the death of the old consciousness, “the consummatum est of her own spirit."39 thinks Kate. Thus Western Europe has become The Wasteland,40 a civilisation of the past, and the European traveller must look to Australia and more particularly to America for his future and the rebirth of his consciousness.
- 41 Sea and Sardinia, 117.
- 42 “The Woman Who Rode Away,” 59.
- 43 The Plumed Serpent, 56.
- 44 Mornings in Mexico, 55-56.
11For Lawrence, the declining northern consciousness was so corrupted by the growth of mechanisation that it had overwhelmingly become what he called a “mental consciousness,” losing its capacity to feel through the senses and instinct, losing the primitive, vital flow of the “blood-consciousness,” still to be found in some populations on the globe. Turning his back on the Old Continent, the Lawrencian traveller sets out in search of a way to revitalise the agonizing consciousness in parts of the world where blood-consciousness still prevails, for as we have seen this cannot be done in stale, repressive Europe – at least not before Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The exploration of foreign lands is a perfect framework for the exploration of the self, in that both body and mind are free to wander into unknown geographical and psychological regions. The narrator of Sea and Sardinia thus observes that “to penetrate Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery – back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness."41 Those forgotten chords are parts of the primitive self that had been lost under the effects of mechanisation and encroaching mental consciousness, but the encounter with blood-conscious people and an alien, unspoilt spirit of place stimulates the senses and brings the traveller closer to the pre-civilised instinctive self. Many scenes in Lawrence’s travel writing focus on reopening the senses through the display of colours, music and dancing. Particular attention is given to unfamiliar sounds, striking costumes and puzzling dances, as in the Chilchui village of “The Woman Who Rode Away,” with its “heavy, savage music, like a wind roaring in some timeless forest."42 The recovery of the sensual self then naturally draws the European protagonist towards the rediscovery of the body. Both Kate and the woman are first struck by the appeal of the bodies around them – caused by their half-nakedness, unfamiliar brown colour and the glistening aspect of the skin – and quickly learn to accept the nakedness of others and of themselves. Ultimately the sexual experience is what will enable the character to reconnect with the primeval blood-conscious self, as Kate perceives in her relationship with the Indian Cipriano and the woman discovers in Indian mythology, which asserts that only through the sexual relation between man and woman can the cosmos be continually regenerated. Yet one significant obstacle bars Lawrence’s imaginative path to spiritual regeneration: his repugnance for the mixing of “dark” and “white” blood, because “when you mix European and American Indian, you mix different blood races, and you produce the half-breed. Now, the half-breed is a calamity. For why? He is neither one thing nor another, he is divided against himself. His blood of one race tells him one thing, his blood of another race tells him another."43 Although contact with populations in which blood-consciousness survives is the key to regaining blood-consciousness in the European self, Lawrence has qualms about actually conceiving the merging of Indian blood-consciousness with European mental consciousness. Since trying to fuse the two modes in one individual creates alienation, the European traveller cannot adopt the dark blood-consciousness as well as keep his original consciousness, as Kate Leslie tries to do. Therefore, the solution to this dilemma is “to have a little Ghost inside you which sees both ways, or even many ways,"44 meaning that the traveller may be made aware of the existence of another mode of consciousness through his encounter with the foreigner and learn to rekindle it within his existing self.
- 45 Studies in Classic American Literature, 126.
- 46 The Plumed Serpent, 300.
- 47 Studies in Classic American Literature, 55.
- 48 Aaron’s Rod, 212.
- 49 The Plumed Serpent, 224.
- 50 Sea and Sardinia, 192.
12Rediscovering the primitive sensual self, however, does not imply regressing to a primitive state or adopting the way of life of the Indian, as is stated in Studies in Classic American Literature: “The truth of the matter is, one cannot go back. Some men can: renegade. […] I know now that I could never go back. Back towards the past, savage life."45 Lawrence deemed such a return impossible and undesirable for the European subject, who should not forsake his mode of consciousness but learn to revitalise it from the primitive, blood-conscious foreigner. Regenerating the blood-conscious self implies learning to re-establish the link with the cosmos, which western civilisation has lost – that is, to recreate the lost harmony between man and the natural world, between man and woman, and between man and man, an idea which Lawrence originally cherished and then fortified with his knowledge of Native American beliefs. The explicit expression of this idea is exposed in The Plumed Serpent as the “Morning Star,” which represents the completeness of the self when it is in perfect relation with the spirit of place, its soul mate and its blood-brothers: “For if there is no star between a man and a man, or even a man and a wife, there is nothing."46 It is even more clearly expressed in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, though it is presented implicitly through Constance and Mellors’ relation to the spirit of place of the wood, through their relation to each other as sexual partners and through Mellors’ notion of an ideal, closely-knit society. Kate Leslie, on the other hand, never seems to be wholly able to relate to the Mexican spirit of place, nor do any other of the protagonists who have set foot on American soil – Lou Witt, the woman who rode away and the princess all stress the violence of the American spirit of place against white consciousness, including the authorial voice in Studies in Classic American Literature, who declares: “When you are actually in America, America hurts, because it has a powerful disintegrative influence upon the white psyche."47 Consequently, it appears as though the European consciousness can only resume a perfect harmony in connection to the European spirit of place, and perhaps Constance’s awakened sensitivity to the old English landscape comes as a corrective to Kate’s failure to respond successfully to Mexico. Only when the perception of the unknown spirit of place is a harmonious one can the regeneration it brings about be fully satisfactory, as in Aaron’s Rod where “Aaron felt a new self, a new life-urge rising inside himself. Florence seemed to start a new man in him."48 As for the successful creation of a universal blood brotherhood, it never goes beyond the stage of a utopia in Lawrence’s writings, with Don Ramón urging Kate to export the political and religious structure he has created in Mexico, to Ireland and other parts of the globe, so that every culture may revive its old gods and replicate his goal of founding “a Natural Aristocracy of the World."49 In both The Plumed Serpent and Kangaroo, the protagonists agree to participate in a collective, societal revival, but each time they fail to commit fully to the end. On a non-political level, the end of Sea and Sardinia paints a scene of communion between the traveller and a group of foreigners, the narrator asserting “Truly I loved them all in the theatre: the generous, hot southern blood, so subtle and spontaneous, that asks for blood contact, not for mental communion or spirit sympathy,"50 but one cannot forget all the previous scenes emphasising the chasm between them. So it transpires that a blood brotherhood remains an ideal in Lawrence’s works and that he imagined an efficient regeneration of man taking place solely at an individual level.
- 51 “il y a peut-être, du voyageur au spectacle, un autre choc en retour dont vibre ce qu'il voit” Vict (...)
13Undeniably the traveller undergoes some sort of transformation under the influence of the foreign spirit of place and of the native inhabitant, but as Victor Segalen points out, “there may be another, reciprocal shock vibrating through the scene the traveller beholds"51: the effect of the traveller upon his surroundings, seldom related in travel writing. Imperialism enabled the European traveller to journey to any part of the world to satisfy his curiosity and gave him such a position of superiority over the people encountered there that self-centredness and Euro centrism were thetypical responses to what he discovered. Lawrence however, being naturally extra-sensitive to others, sees through the looking-glass and explores the possibility of the foreigner’s point of view on the traveller and of a collective, cosmic regeneration.
- 52 Twilight in Italy, 13.
- 53 Sea and Sardinia, 12 and 41.
- 54 “The Woman Who Rode Away,” 47.
- 55 Twilight in Italy, 17.
- 56 See annex C.
- 57 Sea and Sardinia, 186.
- 58 Ibid.
14If the travelling protagonists are at liberty to pry and contemplate, they are in equal measure the objects of unabashed scrutiny on the part of the natives, which they can neither prevent nor hide from, to the extent that some scenes of travel narrative take on an almost nightmarish quality when the character is surrounded by alien eyes: “Women glanced down at me from the top of the flights of steps, old men stood, half-crouching under the dark shadow of the walls, to stare. It was as if the strange creatures of the under-shadow were looking at me."52 Those eyes are sometimes kindly, as in Alvina’s train journey, but more often than not they are perceived as hostile, jeering and demeaning. Twice in Sea and Sardinia the narrator-protagonist feels he is being looked at “as if I had arrived riding on a pig” and “as one would gaze at a pig."53 The return of his gaze is a most startling and unpleasant experience for the self-important European tourist who suddenly realizes that his presumed ascendant and unassailable position is in fact a precarious one. The best example of this challenge to self-assurance and assumed superiority is to be found in the encounter between the Chilchui Indians and the woman: “The man’s eyes were not human to her, and they did not see her as a beautiful white woman."54Worse still than being deposed from a pre-supposed pedestal is to be altogether ignored on the grounds of one’s lack of importance, which the woman experiences soon after and the narrator of Twilight in Italy deplores at length. He repeatedly fails in his attempt to communicate with an old Italian woman, gradually perceiving that he is of no interest to her: “In her universe I was a stranger, a foreign signore. That I had a world of my own, other than her own, was not conceived by her. She did not care."55 The realisation comes rather as a shock because he is used to attracting the inhabitants’ attention and because he never expected that his curiosity for the foreign other could go unanswered. As a result, this English traveller learns to look for the effect he may produce in the foreigner and the latter’s opinion of him. Lawrence uses various techniques to present the point of view of the native on the invading foreign traveller: narratorial incursions whose didactic tone makes those views seem exaggerated, conjectures put forth by the characters, and finally direct expression of the native’s impressions through dialogue, this last technique being the most convincing, since it stages the confrontation.56 These devices highlight Lawrence’s effort to question presupposed English or European superiority, as in Sea and Sardinia, where a similar narrator-protagonist to that of Twilight in Italy often reflects upon the noxious influence which England has had on Italy: “Later on, when I had slept, I thought as I have thought before, the Italians are not to blame for their spite against us. We, England, have taken upon ourselves for so long the role of a leading nation. And if now, in the war or after the war, we have led them all into a real old swinery – which we have, notwithstanding all Entente cant – then they have a legitimate grudge against us."57 Consequently, not only is the traveller’s self put to the test in an encounter with foreignness, the image of his country is unsettled, forcing him to consider it in a new light and dissociate himself from it. On three occasions the same narrator rails against the Italians’ habit of seeing him as “a mere national unit, a mere chip of l’Inghilterra or la Germania” instead of “a single human being, an individual,"58 thus suggesting the emergence and assertion of a new self.
- 59 The Plumed Serpent, 126.
- 60 Sea and Sardinia, 24.
- 61 Sea and Sardinia, 106.
- 62 Mornings in Mexico, 90.
- 63 Ibid.
- 64 Kangaroo, 148.
- 65 “If there were no churches to mark a point in these villages, there would be nowhere to make for at (...)
- 66 “this land always gives me the feeling that it doesn’t want to be touched, it doesn’t want men to g (...)
- 67 Mornings in Mexico, 56.
- 68 “c’est par le fait même d’être moi que j’exclus l’autre : l’autre est ce qui m’exclut en étant soi, (...)
- 69 (1432 To Eunice Tietjens, 21 July 1917), Letters iii., 140.
15What Lawrence’s characters discover through their analysis of the foreigner’s gaze and opinion of them, is that the other is never perceived as an equal: they themselves are seen as “a half-incomprehensible, half-amusing wonder-being"59 or “A foreigner, you know. A bit of an imbecile, poor dear."60When a native does show some interest in the traveller, as when Juana plies Kate Leslie with questions about her country and way of life, awareness of otherness is raised on both sides but the outcome is generally not mutual understanding, rather increased distance. Even when the narrator of Sea and Sardinia meets a “kindred soul” in a Sardinian, there remains a “mysterious division,” a “gulf"61 between them, also alluded to in Studies in Classic American Literature and Mornings in Mexico. “[T]he gulf of mutual negation between us"62 means that any identification with the foreigner is impossible because of a different Weltanschauung: the Native Americans “have the remoteness of their religion, their animistic vision, in their eyes, they can’t see as we see."63 Similarly, Richard Somers laments the “different vision"64 of the Australians and his consequent inability to relate to them. This difference of conception even applies to places which the outsider is sometimes incapable of reading, failing to understand their organisation if it differs from what he is used to: the absence of a church will deprive a Mexican village of a central point of reference in the eyes of the European traveller.65The Australian landscape is so alien that Somers concludes to its not wanting to be grasped – physically and mentally – by European colonisers, as if the spirit of place had a will of its own and refused to grant the traveller what he seeks.66 A full comprehension of the foreign other is therefore also impossible, Lawrence strongly insists, unless one is willing to “destroy [one’s] own conception."67since to understand the other is to become other and thus alien to oneself, as Jean-Paul Sartre writes: “it is by the very fact of being me that I exclude the Other. The Other is the one who excludes me by being himself, the one whom I exclude by being myself."68 As a result, one can learn to know oneself thanks to the other, but one can never learn to know the other. No true exchange takes place during the encounter with a foreigner: he merely serves as a means of building the self. Of course the writer being a traveller himself, the focalisation he adopts is that of his English protagonists more than that of the foreigners, so that if he offers no description of an apparent transformation of the native, it may only be because he could never perceive any. The Plumed Serpent ventures into opportunities of reciprocity but they come to nothing on both occasions: the native Mexican Teresa, intrigued by Kate’s European personality, finally rejects it, and the two servant girls Kate tries to educate relapse into their Mexican selves. Yet it largely seems as though it is of no importance whether or not the traveller has any lasting impact on the people he encounters, the focus being on the evolution of the European character. In fact, Lawrence’s attitude towards Americans indicates that he has no interest in the people, merely in the spirit of place and the transformative powers it possesses, as the following letter makes clear: “I want to come to America […] not for the American people […] but for the strange salt which must be in the American soil, and the different ether which is in the sky, which may feed a new mind in one."69 The purpose of his journey appears purely selfish: a regeneration of the self by the self, with no concern for the people who inhabit the land of salvation.
- 70 The Plumed Serpent, 376.
- 71 (573 To Arthur McLeod, 23 April 1913) Letters i., 544.
- 72 “The white man’s spirit can never become as the red man’s spirit. It doesn’t want to. But it can ce (...)
- 73 “[Nous nous mettons ainsi en mesure d’aborder la deuxième étape qui consiste,] sans rien retenir d’ (...)
- 74 (3155 To Rolf Gardiner, 4 July 1924) Letters v.,. 67.
- 75 Kangaroo, 148.
- 76 The Plumed Serpent, 224.
16Why is it then, that his two major travel narratives explore the possibility of collective regeneration thanks to social, political and religious renewal: by applying the concept of universal love in Kangaroo, and by reviving the old Mexican polytheist religion and establishing a new political order in The Plumed Serpent. These concerns are not subplots or narratorial digressions, they are central to the structure of the novels, particularly in the latter. Both their protagonists take part in the local political revolutions, albeit with a certain reluctance, as Richard Somers eventually refuses to commit himself to Benjamin Cooley and Willie Struthers, and Kate Leslie waveringly assumes her role in the Native Mexican pantheon, all the while striving “to withdraw from contact, to be alone."70 Although Benjamin Cooley’s idea of universal regeneration dies with him, and Ramón Carrasco’s constantly threatened Men of Quetzalcoatl are still trying to impose themselves when the book ends, the imaginative experiment of collective regeneration is not a failure since it enables the characters and their author to examine the self through social and political transformations. Therefore it seems that Lawrence was in truth not so much preoccupied with the regeneration of other peoples as with the idea of collective regeneration in general, to be ultimately applied to his own country, as stated in a letter: “I do write because I want folk – English folk – to alter, and have more sense."71 This again explains why he was so averse to mingling the Indian consciousness with the European consciousness, for one cannot become the other, nor can they fuse to create a mixed consciousness, but the existence of the other may inspire a broadened Indian or European consciousness.72 In fact, one finds this notion echoed in anthropologist Lévi-Strauss’s observations: “while not clinging to elements from any one particular society, we make use of one and all of them in order to distinguish those principles of social life which may be applied to the reform of our own customs, and not of those of societies foreign to our own."73 The spirit of place is responsible for this failure or refusal to participate in another community’s regeneration since it “ultimately always triumphs"74 by having too powerful a hold on its people and being too alien to the traveller for him to commit to any projects of change in a land and amongst a people which are not his own. That is why Kate Leslie, Richard Somers and Alvina Houghton abandon all hope of playing a lasting role in a foreign society, and actually leave it, or at least contemplate leaving it, having no power to alter it and needing to reconnect with their original spirit of place, in order to achieve their personal regeneration. Another consequence deriving from this assertion is the impossibility of the ideal universal blood-brotherhood Lawrence had fantasized about and upon which Richard Somers had expressed doubts, exclaiming: “And how in the name of heaven is this world-brotherhood mankind going to see with one eye, eye to eye, when the very blood is of different thicknesses on different continents, and with the difference in blood, the inevitable psychic difference"75? The answer to this question is partially and metaphorically given by Don Ramón, who declares: “Only the Natural Aristocrats of the World can be international, or cosmopolitan, or cosmic. It has always been so. The peoples are no more capable of it than the leaves of the mango tree are capable of attaching themselves to the pine."76 Through this character, Lawrence voices the idea that ordinary individuals cannot and, to a certain extent, must not be unified with the other peoples of the world, but should focus instead on the link with their own culture.
17Lawrence’s views on how to fulfil the self evolved over the years, as a result of his geographical and imaginative explorations. He increasingly came to realise two things: first, that the quest for an ideal place and an ideal society in which to initiate the regeneration of the English self would prove fruitless, since any foreign land invariably remained deeply foreign to the traveller, however much he tried and desired to adapt. The spirit of place, though universal, is very different from one region of the globe to another and strongly links a community to its land, excluding all outsiders. Lawrence therefore concentrated his search on studying the conception of the renewal and fulfilment of the self in non-European cultures, and the influence of the spirit of place on the self. His aim was no longer to settle in a perfect place located as far as possible from Europe, but to collect from various foreign cultures the clues to a regeneration of his own culture and people. Gradually he also came to realise that the forceful transformation of a whole society would never reach its goal and that regeneration would best be accomplished on a personal level only, thus spreading to English society as a whole, from individual to individual. As his last novel and the first to return to an English setting after a series of works set in locations overseas, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a transposition of the experience of foreignness to the home country. It is intended as a sort of guidebook to Englishmen and women, teaching them how to reconnect with their land and its neglected spirit of place, and to reconnect with one another, primarily via a tender, sexual relationship. The idea of world brotherhood has disappeared however, as Constance and Mellors shun any contact with the outside world and withdraw into the isolation of their relationship, an intimate “Morning Star.”