A Visual Journey through Lawrence's San Gaudenzio

Jane Porter '06, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

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Lawrence's descriptions, like those of Ruskin, take the reader on a visual journey, painting an image of surrounds as they exist over time and then gradually zooming into a particular experience, relationship, or more focused observation. In "San Gaudenzio," the fourth section of Twilight in Italy, Lawrence uses a wide lens technique to capture the atmosphere before introducing the individuals he encounters. Lawrence not only vividly depicts the physicality of this place but sets the image in motion by stretching his description across the various seasons, creating a proto-cinematic effect. Such a technique makes readers feel as though the image is unfolding right before their eyes. Lawrence fully employs this tactic when describing the Christmas roses:

Then their radiance becomes soiled and brown, they thaw, break, and scatter and vanish away. Already the primroses are coming out, and the almond is in bud. The winter is passing away. On the mountains the fierce snow gleams apricot gold as evening approaches, golden, apricot, but so bright that it is almost frightening. What can be so fiercely gleaming when all is shadowy? It is something inhuman and unmitigated between heaven and earth.

Lawrence provides us with a strong sense of movement in this description, employing words such as "thaw," "break," "scatter," and "vanish" to emphasis the ever-changing quality of nature. Furthermore, as we discussed in class with regard to Turner's paintings, Lawrence's descriptions successfully point out existing images that have never been noticed earlier by the reader or observer. For example, Lawrence uses uncommon color and image associations when describing the snow as gleaming "apricot gold." This unfamiliar association enables Lawrence to create a sense of brightness described by him as "almost frightening," creating both a visual and emotional context for the reader.


Lawrence expresses a sense of uncertainly when describing the blossoming of cyclamens in the opening of San Gaudenzio, stating: "They are the living myths that I cannot understand" (p. 81). Do such statements separate Lawrence from the sage and wisdom speaker whose ethos is built on an all-knowing and all-understanding image? How does Lawrence's clear admittance that there are indeed things he is incapable of understanding alter our opinion of him as a reliable source? In this sense, how does he compare to Carlyle or Ruskin?

What is the effect of starting with this wide lens perspective? How does this description impact the way Paolo and Maria Fiori are presented? Would this section be as effective if Lawrence had zoomed in from the beginning, introducing us to these characters right away?

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Last modified 26 October 2003