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The Englishman Who Rode Away D. H. Lawrence “Translates” Italy

Maria Cristina Consiglio
p. 173-202

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Travel, travel writing and translation

1Travel writing is a hybrid literary genre, mixing essay, autobiography, social criticism, statistics, homilies, complaints. In Wiley’s words, “even the purest forms of travel writing combine with other forms of writing and do more than describe the factual circumstances of places that a writer encounters” (Wiley 991). In addition, in travel literature the boundaries between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, are blurred, which may explain why it has often been neglected by critics; in fact, only recently has the academic world shown an interest in travel accounts, which in the past were often overlooked as a minor genre.

2The relations between travel, travel writing and translation are manifold. First, there is the etymological origin: some critics have suggested that both “travel” and “translation” mean movement, transportation, transfer; in this sense travellers literally “translate” themselves into a foreign country. Secondly, there are historical and phenomenological reasons that allow one to draw a parallel between travel and translation: translation has always played an important role in travel in “the way in which travellers have always relied upon interpreters, as well as acting as intermediaries in their own right” (Polezzi 171). Travelling in a foreign country where people speak a foreign language and identify with a different culture implies the necessity of translation, therefore, “interlingual travelling is both a travel in translation and travel as translation” (Cronin 65). Thirdly, there is a metaphorical relationship between travel and translation: they are both concerned with the fundamental unknowability of the other. In other words, the encounter with another place, people, civilization, and language is based on the sense of difference; but while writing about what they see, travel writers also write about themselves, because “their perceptions are shaped by the cultural context from which they come and by all that they have read and experienced in that culture” (Bassnett xi). Travel writers “translate” themselves and their emotions onto the written page. Lastly, both travellers and translators need “to relay the new through the known, the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar” (Polezzi 171), and in this sense travel writing can be defined as a form of writing akin to translation.

3The relationship between travel writing and translation is not to be seen only in metaphorical terms, since when one travels through a foreign country translation is unavoidably at work; but the translator is usually absent from travel books; he is invisible, “overshadowed by the solar presence of the Traveller as Author” (Cronin 39). Yet, he is there. Any reader of travel literature is well aware of the presence in it of foreign words and expressions which give a taste of local colour and render with realism the people and places observed. It is the multilingual nature of travel books that makes the role of translation particularly relevant in travel writing.

4Considering the impossibility of neglecting the role of translation in travel writing, the travel writer could better be called transveller, a portmanteau word which seems suitable for emphasising the inseparability of the two activities, and, given the centrality of these activities in Lawrence’s life experience, he can be considered as the transveller par excellence.

  • 1 In the quotations Twilight in Italy will be referred to as TI, Sea and Sardinia as SS, Sketches of (...)

5Starting from the consideration that translation, intended both as a metaphor and a set of linguistic and cultural practices, cannot but play a major role in travels abroad – and consequently in writing about it - this article aims to analyse D. H. Lawrence’s Italian travel books in terms of translation. After having explored the manifold relations between travel, travel writing and translation, I will propose a close reading of Twilight in Italy (1916), Sea and Sardinia (1921) and Sketches of Etruscan Places (1932),1 in order to show how the author “translates” himself and his emotions onto the written page and to what extent the polyphonic nature of his travel books is revealing of an underlying process of translation.

Translating emotions

6Lawrence’s travel books were all written in what were emotionally very intense periods in his life; the author’s emotions, ideas, convictions, and philosophical reasoning, therefore, emerge from these pages; it is as if Lawrence were translating himself for his readers, letting them enter his consciousness and discover his position and his ideas. Even the passages dealing with the artistic heritage of the places visited are far from being objective descriptions, rather they express the author’s subjective response to what he saw. Lawrence himself makes it clear that his intention is not to describe monuments when, in Sea and Sardinia, he abruptly interrupts his description of the cathedral of Cagliari, saying “for the rest I am not Baedeker” (SS 58).

7In “The Spinner and the Monk,” Lawrence tells the reader about his visit to a church, but, rather than describing the place, he emphasises his emotional reaction: “I went to the church. It was very dark, and impregnated with centuries of incense. It affected me like the lair of some enormous creature. My senses were roused, they sprang awake in the hot, spiced darkness” (TI 105). But Sea and Sardinia is the book that is most revealing of Lawrence’s emotions. It also portrays the author facing all those practical difficulties that travel usually entails, and a voyage to Sardinia in January and in the early 1920s was a hard experience even for the most experienced traveller. His emotional reactions, therefore, are often vehement and violent as when, on his arrival in Sorgono, he finds that the only inn is dirty and uncomfortable, and says: “‘Dirty, disgusting swines!’ said I, and I was in a rage. I could have forgiven him [the innkeeper] anything, I think, but his horrible shirt-breast, his personal shamelessness” (SS 96). And, when Frieda tells him to “take it as it comes,” he comments “my rage is black, black, black” and concludes “I cursed the degenerate aborigines” (SS 99).

8Etruscan Places also records Lawrence’s mood and emotional reactions. A man stops him in Cività Vecchia (Civitavecchia) and asks for his passport: “I was furious. He made no answer. […] I was furious. Supposing I had not been carrying my passport – and usually I don’t dream of carrying it – what amount of trouble would the lout have made me” (EP 22). And he concludes the episode with the rhetorical questions: “Why are officials always fools?” (EP 22). Yet, Lawrence’s travel to the Etruscan places is mostly a voyage of discovery and revelation; what he writes are not detached observations of the places visited (even if there are also paragraphs devoted to the artistic description of the tombs), but personal notes about his feelings after “having looked sensitively at the tombs and the Etruscan things that are left” (EP 20). His subjective approach to the Etruscans is evident from the very beginning of the book when he draws an explicit parallel between their fate and fame and his: “The Etruscans were vicious. We know it, because their enemies and exterminators said so. Just as we knew the unspeakable depths of our enemies in the late war. Who isn’t vicious to his enemy? To my detractors I am a very effigy of vice” (EP 1-2). The ironic tone of the passage becomes more evident in the following paragraph when Lawrence defines the Romans, the enemies and exterminators of the Etruscans, as “those pure, clean-living, sweet-souled Romans, who smashed nation after nation and crashed the free soul of people after people” (EP 2). The sharp contrast of the adjectives “pure,” “clean-living” and “sweet-souled” with the verbs “smashed” and “crashed” shows that for him those who think that the Romans were a civilized people, also producing fine works of art, only have a partial vision of history; he seems to suggest that the Romans wrote History and, as “winners,” manipulated it.

9The encounter with other peoples, places, cultures, and languages leads the author to greater self-awareness: “travelling through differences makes a sense of difference more keenly felt. It is a common experience for travellers abroad not so much to be aware of the cultural identity of others as to feel a strong and growing sense of their own specific cultural difference” (Cronin 58). This is particularly evident in Twilight in Italy which deals with a prolonged sojourn in Italy which allowed Lawrence to live in contact with the natives and to experience (in)communicability. Throughout the book he perceives himself as an outsider in Italy, his physical and mental difference is continuously stressed: “And I was pale, and clear, and evanescent, like the light, and they [the Italians] were dark, and close, and constant, like the shadow” (TI 104). In his peculiar position as both observer and observed, Lawrence is able to register both his reactions and other people’s responses to his presence; this is what he says of his meeting with the old spinning woman: “in my black coat, I felt myself wrong, false, an outsider” (TI 106). And he also knows that the old woman sees him as an outsider: “She saw merely a man’s figure, a stranger standing near. I was a bit of the outside, negligible” (TI 106). As his knowledge of the Italians, and of the Italian language, increased, he started understanding their behaviours better and this brought him to explore also his inner self, so that in Sea and Sardinia he writes: “Italy has given me back I know not what of myself, but a very very great deal” (SS 123).

Translating ideas

10Not only do Lawrence’s travel books record the author’s emotions but they also come back to some of the themes he develops in his novels, his short stories and his philosophical essays; the experience of travel seems to kindle his artistic inspiration, as is confirmed by his letters. Lawrence’s journey to the south in search of the sun was also a quest for places and people whose supposed primitivism might contrast with the mechanicalness of modern society which he was fleeing from. He hoped to find somewhere in the world a people with “unspoilt nobility, fine bodies and unclouded instincts” (Burgess 1985: 114), whose life was lived in full communion with nature, the soil and the place they inhabited.

11In Twilight in Italy, the contrast between primitivism and mechanicalness is first ironically expressed by Signor di Paoli when he says: “Ah, in England, […] in England you have the wealth – les richesses – you have the mineral coal and the machines, vous savez – here we have the sun” (TI 131). The same concept is expressed by Lawrence in the closing page of “The Lemon Gardens”:

Yet what should become of the world? There was London and the industrial countries spreading like a blackness over all the world, horrible, in the end destructive. And the Garda was so lovely under the sky of sunshine, it was intolerable. For away, beyond all the snowy Alps, with the iridescence of eternal ice above them, was still England, black and foul and dry, with her soul worn down, almost worn away. And England was conquering the world with her machines and her horrible destruction of natural life. She was conquering the whole world. (TI 132)

12Throughout his journey Lawrence is in search of an Italian primitiveness, and the Italians are stereotypically seen as an innocent people, in contrast to the English, who are slaves to modernity. Yet the book ends with Lawrence’s bitter considerations about the advance of “machine life” and the loss of all primitiveness:

It seems to happen when the peasant suddenly leaves his home and becomes a workman. Then an entire change comes over everywhere. Life is now a matter of selling oneself to slave-work, building roads or labouring in quarries or mines or on the railways, purposeless, meaningless, really slave-work, each integer doing his mere labour, and all for no purpose, except to have money, and to get away from the old system. […] It is as if the whole social form were breaking down, and the human element swarmed within disintegration, like maggots in cheese. (TI 223)

13Although he feels anguished at the realisation that Europe is on the edge of destruction, Lawrence seems confident that traces of the primitive can still be found somewhere in Europe, and this is the very reason why he decides to leave for Sardinia: “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 outside; outside the circuit of civilization” (SS 3). But he is so disillusioned by the people he meets that he affirms: “they are ordinary men no more: the human, happy Italian is most marvellously vanished. New honours come upon them, etc. the dignity of human labour is on its hind legs, busy giving every poor innocent who isn’t ready for it a kick in the mouth” (SS 39).

14Nonetheless, during his last journey to Italy, he thinks he can see traces of the Etruscan primitiveness in the Italians, either in their physical traits – “And in the full, dark, handsome, jovial faces surely you see the lustre still of the life-loving Etruscans” (EP 16) –, or in their love for the land – “the intense culture of the land by the Italian peasant of to-day seems like the remains of the Etruscan system” (EP 77) – or in their social behaviour: “When the Italian to-day goes almost naked on the beach he becomes a lovely dark ruddy colour, dark as any Indian. And the Etruscans went a good deal naked. The sun painted them with the sacred minium” (EP 42).

15In Sea and Sardinia he ironically refers to the “new” Italian materialism and writes: “I am thoroughly sick to death of the sound of liras. No man can overhear ten words of Italian to-day without two thousand or two million or ten or twenty or two liras flying like venomous mosquitoes round his ears. Liras – liras – liras – nothing else” (SS 28).

16In Etruscan Places, instead, the comparison between past and present is sometimes pervaded by a sense of nostalgia: “It is different now. […] We have lost the art of living; and in the most important science of all, the science of daily life, the science of behaviour, we are complete ignoramuses” (EP 60). And he adds: “It must have been a wonderful world, the old world where everything appeared alive and shining, in the dusk of contact with all things, not merely an isolated individual thing played upon by daylight” (EP 68). During his first journey to Italy, he had already foreseen that his idea of the Italian peasant – as a man living in a sort of new Arcadia – was only a “romantic” idealization.

17Lawrence also develops in his travel books his “phallic philosophy,” which, in a sense, is linked to the question of primitivism. In Twilight in Italy, he says: “to the Italians the phallus is the symbol of individual creative immortality, to each man his own Godhead” (TI 124). Yet, cultural distance causes any attempt to follow the Italian way of life to fail: “We [the Northerners] have said: ‘Let us go back from this adventuring, let us enjoy our flesh, like the Italian. But our habit of life, our very constitution, prevents our being quite like the Italian. The phallus will never serve us as a Godhead, because we do not believe in it: no Northern race does’” (TI 115).

18Similarly, in Sea and Sardinia Lawrence appreciates the Sardinian men’s toughness – synonymous with masculinity – and their relationship with women which is defined as “the fine old martial split between the sexes” (SS 67). It is evident that love relationships are seen in terms of strife and only when a woman has a child do the two opposites find a balance. The birth of a child is seen as the triumph of “the flesh united with the flesh in oneness” (TI 135), a triumph of the phallus, which “is a symbol of creative divinity” (TI 138).

19What attracts Lawrence to the Etruscan culture is what he believes was their worship of the fullness of life epitomized by the phallic symbols he found everywhere in the tombs: “Here it is, in stone, unmistakable, and everywhere, around the tombs. Here it is, big and little, standing by the doors, or inserted, quite small, into the rock: the phallic stone!” (EP 13). The almost obsessive repetition of the adjective “phallic” (repeated eight times on the same page) reveals Lawrence’s enthusiasm on discovering that, what in his time was considered as a taboo, to the Etruscans was a symbol of life and freedom. And, in fact, he constantly compares the Etruscan past and his own present and is glad to find out that “[t]here seems nothing of the modern world here” (EP 27).

20Lawrence is also attracted by the Etruscans because he thinks he can see in their tombs an anticipation of his religion of life: “To the Etruscans all was alive; the whole universe lived; and the business of man was himself to live amid it all […] every man, every creature and tree and lake and mountain and stream, was animate, had its own peculiar consciousness. And has it to-day” (EP 49).

21Lawrence complains that the Etruscan religion, according to which man and nature harmonize, “changed with the Greeks and Romans into a desire to resist nature, to produce a mental cunning and a mechanical force” (EP 75). In his view, it was this change that forged the idea of “hell, or purgatory, or nothingness, and paradise [as] an inadequate fiction” (EP 76).

22Lawrence’s personal interpretation of the Etruscans is particularly evident when it comes to the relationship between life and death. He sees in the Etruscan tombs a metaphor for “the journey out of life, and into death; the death-journey, and the sojourn in the afterlife” (EP 52) where the tomb is seen as “a house, a home” (EP 10). His desire to think of death as an afterlife is reflected in his interpretation of the Etruscan idea of death: “And death, to the Etruscan, was a pleasant continuance of life, with jewels and wine and flutes playing for the dance. It was neither an ecstasy of bliss, a heaven, nor a purgatory of torment. It was just a natural continuance of the fullness of life. Everything was in terms of life, of living” (EP 12). What emerges in this passage is a dying man’s hope to find peace and meaning in what he calls “the life below” (EP 36), “for the underworld of the Etruscans was a gay place” (EP 36).

Travel writing as translation practice

23As already suggested, the relation between travel writing and translation is not to be understood only in metaphorical terms. In Cronin’s opinion, travel books are forms of translations, at least in those sections that either describe the specific cultural aspects of the country visited or reproduce the traveller’s encounter with the native population. Both sections present foreign words and expressions as well as linguistic phenomena like code-switching and code-mixing.

24Lawrence’s travel books are polyphonic and multilingual. Italian, German, French, dialects, and even Etruscan words and expressions enrich the narrative and give birth to what Bakhtin has called a carnival-like interaction of a variety of voices, with different ethnic entities speaking a variety of languages. In travel writing, these words are usually culture-specific and, given the notorious difficulty of translating them, for lack of equivalents in the target language, they are used in their “untranslated” state (Cronin 40), which marks out cultural difference.

25Lawrence makes a great use of “untranslated” foreign words, as in the following examples:

  • 2 Wherever not indicated in brackets, italics are in the original and underlining is used for emphasi (...)

In their clumsy zoccoli they strode easily across. (TI 128)
On the right […] are several groups of bersaglieri. (TI 134)
Then the anti-clerical party, with the Syndaco at the head, is bourgeois and respectable. (TI 152)
They laughed at my pretending to cub the slabs of polenta with a string: that rejoiced them all: it took them back to the Italian mezzo-giorno, the bells jangling in the campanile, the eating after the heavy work on the land. (TI 199-200)
Wine in a bottiglione. (SS 23)
Our friend the carpenter spied us out: at least, he was not my friend. He didn’t find me simpatico, I am sure. (SS 47)
He treats her – a bel pezzo – as if he would lick her boots. (SS 49)
And finally the bread varies immensely from town to town, from commune to commune. (SS 81)
They ordered two eggs each, in padella. (SS 146)
So basta! Quand le maître parle, tout le monde se taît. The Etruscan were vicious. (EP 2)
In an entrance room from the cortile. (EP 27)
a bunch of men are excitedly playing morra. (EP 78)
I bought a finocchio for a salad2. (EP 82)

26One can notice, however, that not all the words in Italian are culture-specific and many have an equivalent in English: “zoccoli” means “clogs”; “sindaco” means “mayor”; “campanile” means “bell tower”; “mezzogiorno” is metaphorically used to indicate the South of Italy; “bottiglione” is a big bottle; “simpatico” means “nice”; “cortile” means “courtyard”; “padella” means “frying-pan”; “finocchio means “sweet fennel”; and the expression “basta!” is equivalent to “Stop it!” The other words are all culture-specific except for the expression “bel pezzo,” which is the first part of a rather coarse colloquial expression used by men to appreciate a woman’s beauty.

27Though all the above examples are to be ascribed to the invisibility of the translator, the very presence of foreign words, what Cronin has called “lexical exoticism” (Cronin 41), reminds the reader that the country is foreign and that the text is a translation, since the presence of foreign words draws attention to their otherness in the text, and it is the reader who “is translated into a foreign climate through the untranslatable” (Cronin 41).

28Sometimes, however, Lawrence translates foreign words:

And the maestra – she is the schoolmistress, who wears black gloves while she teaches us Italian. (TI 129)
Then Maria sent him also away, complaining that he was too wild – proprio selvatico. (TI 172)
Call it love of country or love of the village, campanilismo. (TI 200)
It contains what the guide calls: un po’ di pornografico! – but a very little. (EP 64)

29These excerpts render translation visible. The last example is a particular case since Lawrence translates only the first part of the expression – “un po” meaning “a little” – probably because the Italian “pornografico” is graphically similar to the English “pornographic” and, therefore, understandable.

30Sometimes the “visibility” of translation depends on the author’s irony, as in the following example: “Subito means immediately, but it is as well to be definite. (EP 81). Here Lawrence is ironically referring to the stereotype of the Italians’ laziness and their habit of being late, but what he also seems to suggest is that words may have the same denotative meaning – as “subito” and “immediately” do have – but different cultural connotations.

31Here follow two examples from Sea and Sardinia where Lawrence adopts a particular translation strategy:

They are like bees round a hive, humming in an important conversazione, and occasionally looking at some paper or another, and extracting a little official honey. But the conversazione is the affair of affairs. To an Italian official, life seems to be one long and animated conversation – the Italian word is better – interrupted by casual trains and telephones. (SS 11)

Sicilian railways are all single lines. Hence, the coincidenza. A coincidenza is where two trains meet in a loop. […] Ecco la coincidenza! Then after a brief conversazione between the two trains, diretto and merce, express and goods, the tin horn sounds and away we go, happily, towards the next coincidence. […] we come to a station where we find the other diretto, the express from the other direction, awaiting our coincidental arrival. (SS 13)

32In the first example, the word “conversazione” is translated only at the end of the paragraph; as is clear from the expression “the Italian word is better,” but Lawrence’s use of the Italian word seems to suggest that “conversazione” in Italy has a cultural meaning quite different from the English “conversation”; he ironically points out that the Italians love chatting, which is another widespread stereotype. In the second example, the word “coincidenza,” which means “junction,” is translated by means of a paraphrase. Then Lawrence implicitly translates the Italian word, using a calque, as “coincidence,” using the English word with the Italian denotative meaning, a case of semantic expansion. This lexical choice also depends on the author’s irony in the last part of the quotation, where the adjective “coincidental,” meaning “casual,” “fortuitous,” seems to suggest the inefficiency of Sicilian railways.

33The translator becomes even more visible when he mistranslates as in the following example: “ The fish appeared. And what was it? Fried ink-pots. A calamaio is an ink-pot: also it is a polyp, a little octopus which, alas, frequents the Mediterranean and squirts if offended.” (SS 43)

34Here Lawrence is speaking about the dinner he is having on board the ship that is taking him to Sardinia and he misinterprets the meaning of words. The little octopus he is served – which is actually a squid – is called “calamaro,” which does not mean ink-pot. Moreover, squids do not squirt ink if offended, it is cuttlefish that do so. But Lawrence seems to enjoy the pun and goes on calling the squid ink-pot: “we chewed a few ends of oil-fried ink-pots” (SS 44).

35Lawrence’s travel books are also interspersed with a considerable amount of dialogue which, according to Burgess, gives the reader the “sense of hearing actual speech, complete with fractured syntax, repetition, slang, facetiousness, buttonholing, even bullying” (Burgess 1997: xii). Being dialogue, the passages that render the writer’s encounter with the natives who speak another language, suggest the presence of two cultures and two peoples which clearly manifest their inability to communicate.

  • 3 Leech and Short make a distinction between the presentation of speech (direct speech, indirect spee (...)

36In their fundamental study Style in Fiction, Leech and Short have pointed out that direct speech claims to report the words used verbatim and, therefore, claims to reproduce “faithfully what was stated and the exact form of words which were used to utter the statement” (320). The dialogue in Lawrence’s travel writing is all given in English, even when it actually took place in a foreign language (Italian or German), which implies that it is not a faithful transcription, rather it becomes a form of translation. This is in line with Mortara Garavelli’s conviction that direct speech is a form of reported discourse, which questions its accuracy; in her opinion, direct speech is fictitious and, in a sense, a form of “translation” and, as such, it entails a suspicion of betrayal (77-88).3

37Cronin has pointed out that the status of dialogue in travel writing is paradoxical. On the one hand, both direct and indirect speech are given in English, thus making the other language disappear; on the other hand, the passages in direct speech are full of foreign-language terms and/or imperfect syntax that suggest that the conversation is taking place in a foreign language. This implies that “the act of translation at one level is concealed […] at another level, the approximate, translated state of the conversation is inscribed in words, accent and word-order” (Cronin 42).

38In the following excerpt taken from Etruscan Places, Lawrence and Brewster are in Cività Vecchia (Civitavecchia) looking for a hotel, when somebody stops them and asks for their passports:

“Are you foreigners, aren’t you?”
“What nationality?”
“You have your permission to reside in Italy – or your passport?”
“My passport I have – what do you want?”
“I want to look at your passport.”
“It’s in the valise! And why? Why is this?”
“This is a port, and we must examine the papers of foreigners.”
“And why? Genoa is a port, and no one dreams of asking for papers.” (
EP 21-22)

39The above dialogue is interesting for two reasons. First, the translating process is left out, taken for granted: the passage is in English and the reader cannot know in which language it took place – however, the passport controller probably spoke in Italian, considering that at the beginning he asks Lawrence and Brewster if they are foreigners. Secondly, the dialogue is related to the social history of the time: passports were introduced in 1915 as a wartime emergency regulation and were considered as a sort of scandal, mostly because of the obligation to attach a photograph, which was perceived as a sign of vulnerability, the inventory of mortality (Fussell 25-26), which explains Lawrence’s vehement reaction.

40The following example is particularly revealing of the translator’s (in)visible presence in travel writing: the dialogue is written in English, but the speakers are two Italians and since there is no reason why they should speak English, the presence of a hidden translator is evident:

“Eh – what’s that?” said the peasant, frightened.
“We’re starting,” explained the bright-faced young man.
“Starting! Didn’t we start before?”
The bright face laughs pleasedly.
“No,” he said. “Did you think we had been going ever since you got in?”
“Yes,” said the old man, simply, “since the door was shut.” (SS 120)

41In Sea and Sardinia, there are also some examples of dialogue rendered in indirect form, their layout on the page as well as the use of auxiliaries and question marks being typical of direct speech, but the verbs are in the past tense. Considering Leech and Short’s definitions of free indirect speech as a “freer version of an ostensibly indirect form” (325) – whose main markers are the lack of reporting clause and the use of tenses and pronouns associated with indirect speech – and of free direct speech as dialogue with no reporting clause and no inverted commas – a form of speech presentation that tends to use the present tense and the first person pronoun (322-323), giving the reader the illusion of hearing the immediate words of the characters without the narrator as intermediary (258) –, the following example, where Lawrence is talking to a bus-driver in Sorgono, can be seen as a form in between free indirect and free direct speech:

Where did the bus go?
It went to join the main railway.
At half-past seven in the morning.
Only then?
Only then.
“Thank God we can get out, anyhow,” I said. (SS 97)

  • 4 Leech defines the term ‘slipping’ as “the unobtrusive change from one mode to another” (340).

42As can be seen, the passage is visibly in dialogical form, there are questions, with the use of auxiliary verbs and question marks, and answers and the fractured structure of the sentences makes the passage seem like the transcription of actual speech. Yet the use of the past tense marks the artificiality of the transcription, not a faithful report of the dialogue between Lawrence and the bus driver, but the author’s rendering of that dialogue in his own words. The slipping4 to direct speech in the last line confirms this interpretation; here the author speaks with his own voice, but he clearly “translates” the thoughts and words of the characters and sometimes uses their style.

43The example that follows is a particular one: Lawrence and Frieda are shopping in Palermo and three young women (that Lawrence labels as “hussies”) laugh at them because of their “strange” look; Frieda reacts to their insolence as follows:

Did you want something? Have you something to say? Is there something that amuses you? Oh-h! you must laugh, must you? Oh – laugh! Oh-h! why? Why? You ask why? Haven’t I heard you! Oh – you spik Ingleesh! You spik Ingleesh! Yes – why! That’s why! Yes, that’s why. (SS 19)

44This is an example of free direct speech in which the “faithfulness” of the passage to what was actually said is suggested by the “phonological” transcription in which, according to Leech and Short, the reporter claims to be faithful not only to what was said but also to how it was said (321). As in any form of transcription, however, the relation of equivalence between the spoken words and the written page is only conventional. In this case the passage is actually a translation since Frieda rebukes them in her “sledge-hammer Italian” (SS 19), as Lawrence remarks a few lines later.

45Sometimes the dialogue presents foreign words and expressions which emphasise the multilingual nature of the text and its “translated” status, as the last sentence of the following dialogue between Lawrence and a barber after the performance of D’Annunzio’s La fiaccola sotto il moggio indicates:

“Ah, bellissimo, bellissimo!?” He said, in tones of intoxicated reverence, when he saw me.
“Better than I Spettri ?” I said.
He half-raised his hands, as if to imply the fatuity of the question.
“Ah, but –” he said, “it was D’Annunzio. The other ….”
“That was Ibsen – a great Norwegian,” I said, “famous all over the world.”
“But you know – D’Annunzio is a poet – oh, beautiful, beautiful!” there was no going beyond this ‘bello – bellissimo’. (TI 138)

46What emerges from this conversation is the difficulty Lawrence has communicating with someone belonging to a different cultural world.

47Other dialogue presents continuous code-switching as if it were actually taking place in two different simultaneous linguistic codes, as in the following example where Lawrence is talking to his Italian teacher about a performance of Hamlet:

“Amleto!” I say. “Non lo conosco.”
[…] “Si,” she cries, wavering, appealing, “un dramma inglese.”
“English!” I repeat.
“Yes, an English drama.”
“How do you write it?”
Anxiously, she gets a pencil from her reticule, and, with black-gloved scrupulousness, writes Amleto.
“Hamlet!” I exclaim wonderingly.
“Ecco, Amleto!” cries the maestra, her eyes aflame with thankful justification. (TI 142)

48The dialogue quoted above very likely occurred in Italian, as the presence of Italian words suggests; it is highly improbable that the barber knew English and, as far as the teacher is concerned, it is her role that suggests she spoke to Lawrence in Italian – and, indeed, she writes Amleto and not Hamlet. Thus, the examples given may be considered as forms of translation.

49When in Twilight in Italy Lawrence meets Faustino, nicknamed Il Duro, who knows a little English, their conversation takes place in the two languages as Lawrence’s attention to code-switching makes clear:

“But why”, I said, “why do you live alone? You are sad – è triste.”
[…] “Triste!” he repeated, stiffening up, hostile. I could not understand.
“Vuol’ dire che hai l’aria dolorosa,” cried Maria, like a chorus interpreting […]
“Sad,” I said in English.
“Sad I”, he repeated, also in English. […]
“Why,” I said, “don’t you marry? Man doesn’t live alone.”
“I don’t marry,” he said to me, in his emphatic, deliberate fashion, “because I’ve seen too much. Ho visto troppo.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. (TI 176)

The passage highlights the communicative problems arising in bilingual communication. What is even more interesting is that the reasons why Lawrence cannot understand Il Duro are not limited to the language used, but there are also cultural factors to be taken into account, as the following part of the conversation points out:

“Ho visto troppo”, he repeated, and the words seemed engraved on stone. “I’ve seen too much.”
“But you can marry,” I said, “however much you have seen, if you have seen all the world.”
He watched me steadily, like a strange creature looking at me.
“What woman?” he said to me.
“You can find a woman – there are plenty of women,” I said. […]
“Not for me. I have known too much.”
“But does that prevent you from marrying?”
He looked at me steadily, finally. And I could see it was impossible for us to understand each other, or for me to understand him. (TI 176)

50Lawrence’s conclusion seems to anticipate today’s awareness of the complex role culture plays in any form of interlingual communication, of which translation is the most widespread.

51Sometimes Lawrence draws his readers’ attention explicitly to code-switching. In Sea and Sardinia he highlights the code-switching of a woman he and Frieda met on the boat:

The Cagliarese young woman talked to us. Yes, she broke into that awful language which the Italians – the quite ordinary ones – call French, and which they insist on speaking for their own glorification: yea, when they get to heaven’s gate they will ask St. Peter for:

“OOn bigliay pour ung – trozzième classe.”

Fortunately or unfortunately her inquisitiveness got the better of her, and she fell into her native Italian. […] she lapsed into her ten-pounder French, which was most difficult to follow. And she said that one must eat, one must eat, if only a little. But – and she lapsed into Italian – one must by no means drink wine – no – no! (SS 32)

52In the above passage the focus on code-switching is used in the ironic characterization of a certain kind of people, those pretending to belong to the higher classes. Also the continuous slipping from narrative report to free indirect speech gives rise to an ironic effect due to the interference of the authorial voice that interposes itself between the readers and what the character says, a way to distance the readers from the character’s words, to make them “see” the character from the outside (Leech, Short 334).

53The excerpts in which the dialogue is conveyed to the reader in narrative form are even subtler and become highly significant in terms of translation. In the following example, taken from Twilight in Italy, reporting Maria Fiori’s considerations about il Duro, the narrative report seems quite traditional, since Lawrence uses the past tense and the third person pronoun, yet the passage is in fact a case of free indirect speech:

He [il Duro] was rich, Maria said, shouting in her strident voice. He at once disclaimed it, peasant-wise. But before the Signori he was glad also to appear rich. He was mean, that was more, Maria cried, half-teasing, half getting at him. (TI 175)

54The word “signori” here refers to Lawrence and Frieda and it is evidently from Maria’s perspective since she is their host, but also a sort of housemaid for them; other evident markers of free indirect speech are the unusual construction of the last sentence and the position of the reporting clauses. The use of free indirect speech gives rise to an ironic effect that allows Lawrence to detach his readers from his characters who emerge here with their idiosyncratic behaviour.

55The following example taken from Sea and Sardinia seems to be the transcription of a real conversation between Lawrence and another passenger on board the ship going to Sardinia, as the use of the present tense, the second person pronoun, question marks, and Italian words and expressions make clear:

Ah, Naples – bella, bella, eh? A little dirty, say I. But what do you want? Says he. A great city! Palermo of course is better.

Ah – the Neapolitan women – he says, à propos or not. They do their hair so fine, so neat and beautiful – but underneath – sotto-sotto – they are dirty. This being received in cold silence, he continues: Noi giriamo il mondo! Noi chi giriamo conosciamo il mondo. We travel about, and we know the world. Who we are, I do not know: his highness the Palermitan carpenter lout, no doubt. But we, who travel, know the world. He is preparing his shot. The Neapolitan women, and the English women, in this are equal: that they are dirty underneath. Underneath they are dirty. The women of London. (SS 50)

56The above passage is, indeed, despite the presence of the reporting clauses, a form of free direct speech, whose markers are the presence of Italian words and sentences, the various repetitions (“underneath,” “sotto sotto,” “dirty”), the fragmented syntax, the use of first person pronouns (“we” in particular) and the absence of inverted commas. The passage is also an example of bilingual discourse, with the words and sentences in Italian translated into English, a “hidden” translation since only those who know Italian can see that “we who travel know the world” is the translation of “noi chi giriamo conosciamo il mondo.” The Italian sentence contains a mistake, since the relative pronoun should be “che” and not “chi,” as if Lawrence were back-translating into Italian what he had already translated into English but was actually said in Italian.

57In Etruscan Places the most interesting passages from a translation studies perspective are those where Lawrence speaks to Albertino, the young son of the innkeeper. In the following example Lawrence is asking Albertino about the dinner:

“What is there?”

Erc’è –“ He always begins with wonderful deliberation as if there was a menu fit for a Tsar. Then he breaks off, suddenly, says: “I’ll ask the mama” – darts away – returns, and says exactly what we knew he’d say, in a bright voice, as if announcing the New Jerusalem: “There are eggs – er – and beefsteak – and there are some little potatoes. […] Off darts Albertino, only to dart back and announce that the potatoes and beefsteak are finished (“by the Chinese,” he whispers), “but there are frogs,” “There are what?” “Le rane, the frogs!” “What sort of frogs?” “I’ll show you!” (EP 60-61)

58Here the process of translation is certainly at work as the first words spoken by Albertino in Italian suggest – moreover, it should be remembered that Albertino is very young and it is highly improbable that he can speak English, but the translator is totally absent from the page. The artificiality of the dialogue is made explicit by Lawrence a few lines later when he says: “Albertino gives little grunts, like commas and semicolons, which I write as er!” (EP 61). Then Lawrence proceeds to transcribe Albertino’s words to him in narrative form:

Bread they want, eh? – er! – they take the little book – here he takes an imaginary little book, lays it on the tablecloth, wets his finger and turns over the imaginary leaves – bread! – er! – p – you look under ‘p’ – er! – ecco! Pane! – pane! – si capisce! – bread! They want bread. Then wine! Er! Take the little book […] – er! Here you are, vino! – pane, e vino! So they do! (EP 61)

59Albertino is referring to a group of Japanese, whom he insists on calling Chinese “But the Japanese are also Chinese!” (EP 61) – who do not speak Italian and use a French-Italian dictionary. The passage quoted may be seen as a “double” translation as Lawrence is translating into English Albertino’s Italian words concerning the Japanese’s translation from the French, this is the reason why he writes that to look up the word “bread” in the dictionary you have to look under “p” (the French translation for “bread” is “pain”).

Cultural comparison

60Travelling through a foreign country involves coping with the unknown, and in order to communicate this unknown to his reader, the traveller has to associate it with something known. In other words, the traveller engages in a dialogue between languages and cultures, becomes an interlingual and intercultural communicator, in an interplay between distance and closeness, difference and resemblance. Similarly, the translator creates a dialogue between two separate texts written in two different languages and referring to two different cultures. The translation makes sense only when the like and the unlike, the two different languages, are joined, yet are also separate, for translation implies a distinct original (Cronin 140).

  • 5 The word metaphor derives from the Greek metaphorà which means “transfer,”, akin to metaphérein whi (...)

61Both travel writing and translation remind one of the structure of the metaphor, where two poles have to work together in order to bridge a semantic gap (Stierle 66). The word metaphor itself implies carrying, movement and displacement5 and, therefore, has the same etymological root as “travel” and “translation” according to some critics. Metaphors are extremely useful as a way of visualising the real, particularly when the reality is foreign to the reader, as is always the case with travel accounts. In addition, metaphors pair the familiar with the alien, thus allowing “travel writers to introduce different kinds of heterogeneous material into their texts” (Cronin 139). And in travel books part of the enjoyment is found in the sense of revelation that comes from the association of the like and the unlike in metaphor, pointing to the cognitive possibilities of travel writing.

62This process of bringing two usually separate entities together, which can be labelled as cultural comparison, is what Trivedi has called cultural translation. In his view, translation is seen in terms of representation and is strictly connected to experiences of migration, exile, and diaspora (all involving travel) and is a way of supplementing one culture with another (Trivedi 6).

63In Twilight in Italy cultural comparison occurs through learned references to English writers. When Lawrence tries to explain the Italian spirit, he first quotes William Blake: “it is the spirit of the tiger. The tiger is the supreme manifestation of the sense made absolute” (TI 117). Then he refers to P.B. Shelley: “This is the spirituality of Shelley, the perfectibility of man” (TI 121), and, in order to describe the father of one of the young Italian men he meets during his stay, he compares him to Falstaff (TI 181). A similar strategy is used in Sea and Sardinia where, in order to describe the relationship between a bus driver and his assistant, Lawrence compares them to Charlotte Brontë’s characters: “The mate was the alert and wide-eyed Jane Eyre whom the ginger Mr. Rochester was not going to spoil in a hurry” (SS 152).

64In Etruscan Places, instead, when he writes about the paintings in the Tomba del Triclinio, Lawrence compares the Etruscans to Native Americans: “In the early days men smeared themselves with scarlet when they look on their sacred natures. The Red Indians still do it” (EP 41). But, a few pages further on, he associates the Etruscan religious practices with the practices of the Germanic tribes: “The same crude principles ran through the religions of the barbaric world all the time, Druid or Teutonic or Celtic” (EP 52). Strangely enough, the Etruscan sarcophagi also remind him of those of the crusaders: “In the open room upon the courtyard of the Palazzo Vitelleschi lie a few sarcophagi of stone, with the effigies carved on top, something as the dead crusaders in English churches” (EP 29).

65In both Sea and Sardinia and Etruscan Places, the use of cultural comparisons is mainly related to the description of the places. In the former, Sardinia is first compared to a Celtic land – “so we ran through the gold of the afternoon, across a wide, almost Celtic landscape of hills” (SS 72) – then to England – “it was so like England, like Cornwall in the bleak parts, or Derbyshire uplands” (SS 82) – then to Ireland (SS 83), therefore its landscape is called moorland (SS 87) – then to Hardy’s country (SS 95), an imaginary archaic place, the same archaism and primitivism that the references to Cornwall (“the Land’s End region” SS 71) and the Celts point to. In Etruscan Places, when he is travelling through the Maremma, defined as “that flat, wide plain of the coast that has been water-logged for centuries, and one of the most abandoned, wildest parts of Italy” (EP 83), Lawrence associates it with the English moorland and uses the English “cultural equivalent” every time he refers to the Maremma (EP 84, 85, 87, 89, 91, 92).

66What emerges from Lawrence’s travel accounts is the suggestion that the effective knowledge of a place and its history, as well as of the history of its re-discovery, is much more valuable than any escape to the Antipodes (Brilli 112).

67I have tried to show that the polyphonic and multilingual nature of Lawrence’s travel books conceals and reveals at the same time the translation process at work in the act of writing about Italy for an English public. I have also tried to show that Lawrence’s travel writing is not a minor literary genre, though it is often neglected by critics. On the contrary, his travel books are interesting both for their content, as they anticipate and/or restate many of Lawrence’s ideas, and for their style, which reflects the attention he paid to language and language differences. In this sense, Lawrence’s travel books are the space where the “logic of emotion” (and its rhetoric) emerges quite clearly, and where a balance can be found between objective observation and subjective interpretation.

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Bassnett, Susan. “Introduction.” Ed J. Speake. Literature of Travel and Exploration. An Encyclopedia, 3 vols. New York/London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003: xi-xv.

Brilli, Attilio. Alla ricerca degli itinerari perduti. Cinisello Balsamo (MI): Silvana editoriale, 1988.

Burgess, Anthony. “Introduction.” D. H. Lawrence. D. H. Lawrence and Italy. Ed. A. Burgess. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997: vii- xiii.

Burgess, Anthony. Flame into Being: the Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence. London: Heinemann, 1985.

Cronin, Michael. Across the Lines. Travel, Language, Translation. Cork: Cork University Press, 2000. online edition. 2009. <>

Fussell, Paul. Abroad. British Literary Traveling between the Wars. Oxford: OUP, 1980.

Lawrence, D. H. Twilight in Italy and Other Essays. Ed. S. Michelucci. London: Penguin, 1997.

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Leech, Geoffrey N., and Michael H. Short. Style in Fiction. London/New York: Longman, 1981.

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Polezzi, Loredana. “Translation, Travel, Migration.” The Translator, 12 (2), 2006: 169-188.

Stierle, Karlheinz. “Translatio studii and Renaissance: from Vertical to Horizontal Translation.” Eds S. Budick, and W. Iser. The Translatability of Cultures: Figurations of the space Between. Stanford: Stanford U P, 1996.

Trivedi, Harish, “Translating Culture vs. Cultural Translation.” 91st Meridian 4.1: 1-6. May 2005. <>

Wiley, Michael. “Travel and Literature.” Eds S.R. Serafin, and V. Grosvenor Myer. Continuum Encyclopaedia of British Literature. London: Continuum, 2006: 991-994.

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1 In the quotations Twilight in Italy will be referred to as TI, Sea and Sardinia as SS, Sketches of Etruscan Places as EP.

2 Wherever not indicated in brackets, italics are in the original and underlining is used for emphasis.

3 Leech and Short make a distinction between the presentation of speech (direct speech, indirect speech, narrative report of speech acts, free indirect speech and free direct speech) and the presentation of thought (direct thought, indirect thought, narrative report of thought acts, free indirect thought and free direct thought which includes interior monologue). Mortara Garavelli, instead, uses the broad category of reported discourse that in her model includes direct discourse, indirect discourse and free indirect discourse, which, in turn, includes interior monologue that is also called free direct discourse. It is evident that the choice of the word “discourse” makes the difference between speech and thought irrelevant. In the present study the terminology used by Leech and Short will be used, but the general idea underlying Mortara Garavelli’s work is accepted. It is worth noticing, however, that the idea of fidelity, which has always been a traditional metaphor in the discourse about translation, is present in both Leech and Short’s and Mortara Garavelli’s works.

4 Leech defines the term ‘slipping’ as “the unobtrusive change from one mode to another” (340).

5 The word metaphor derives from the Greek metaphorà which means “transfer,”, akin to metaphérein which means “to transfer.”. It is made up of the prefix meta-, which means “after,” “along,” “beyond,” “behind,”, and the verb phoros which means “bearing.” There follows that the Greek prefix meta- is the same as the Latin prefix trans- which means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” “transverse” (

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Maria Cristina Consiglio, « The Englishman Who Rode Away D. H. Lawrence “Translates” Italy »Études Lawrenciennes, 43 | 2012, 173-202.

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Maria Cristina Consiglio, « The Englishman Who Rode Away D. H. Lawrence “Translates” Italy »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2013, consulté le 23 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Maria Cristina Consiglio

Maria Cristina Consiglio is part-time lecturer in English language at the Faculty of Educational Sciences and at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Bari. She completed her PhD in Translation Studies with a dissertation about Neoclassical adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Her present post-doctoral research is about the relationship between D. H. Lawrence and Italy. She has published on Nahum Tate’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s King Lear and Richard II, on the translation of multilingual novels and on corpus stylistics.

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