D.H. Lawrence's Erotics of The Dance

Jon Segal, Graduate Student in American Civilization at Brown University, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

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Late in D.H. Lawrence's Twilight in Italy, the author takes the reader to an Italian peasant dance. It is, for the two English ladies in the audience, a simply orgasmic experience. Yet, aside from the obvious allegorical qualities of the passage (the dance as love-act), Lawrence could also be using the device of the dance to construct something about the savage masculinity/sexuality of the Italian man.

In the following passages, Lawrence seems to be constructing conflicting messages about the sexuality of the other (southern Italian).

There were only two English women: so men danced with men, as the Italians love to do. The love even better to dance with men, with a dear blood-friend, than with women

"It's better like this, two men?" Giovanni says to me, his blue eyes hot, his face curiously tender.

and, later...

"Yes-Yes--you've only to let them take you."

Then the glasses are put down, the guitars give their strange, vibrant almost painful summons, and the dance begins again.

It is a strange dance, strange and lilting, and changing as the music changed. But it had a kind of leisurely dignity, a trailing kind of polka-waltz, intimate, passionate, yet never hurried, never violent in its passion, always becoming more intense. The women's faces changed to a kind of transported wonder, they were in the very rhythm of delight. From the soft bricks of the floor red ochre rose in a thin cloud of dust, making hazy the shadowy dancers; the three musicians, in their black hats and their cloaks, sat obscurely in the corner, making a music that came quicker and quicker, making a dance that grew swifter and more intense, more subtle, the men seeming to fly and implicate another strange inter-rhythmic dance into the women, the women drifting and palpitating as if their souls shook and resounded to a breeze that was subtly rushing upon them, through them; the men worked their feet their thighs swifter, more vividly, the music came to an almost int! olerable climax, there was a moment when the dance passed into a possession, the men caught up the women and swung them from the earth, leapt with them for a second, and then the next phase of the dance slower again, more subtly interwoven, taking perfect, oh, exquisite delight in every interrelated movement, a rhythm within a rhythm, a subtle approaching and drawing nearer to a climax, nearer till, oh, there was the surpassing lift and swing of the women, when the woman's body seemed like a boat lifted over the powerful, exquisite wave of the man's body, perfect for a moment, and then once more the slow, intense, nearer movement if the dance began, always nearer, nearer, always to a more perfect climax.

Is it hot in here? Okay, now after we all get back from taking a cold shower, let's answer some questions.

In the main portion of the passage above, Lawrence writes a long, run-on sentence, joining his descriptions of the dance, fragmented, with commas and semi-colons. How does his writing mimic the rhythm of the dance, and maybe of the sex-act itself? Is his purpose to make his description more vivid?

Contrast the first quote with the second. Are the constructions of the Italian (savage/other) man contradictory between the two passages? Can a man be both homoeroticized(feminized?) and virile(masculine) with women, according to Lawrence? How does this dichotomy of less-than-English-man/more potent than English-man, play with the colonialist crisis in the discourse of masculinity that occurred at the turn of the century in England and America? (rudolph valentino, Tarzan?)

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Last modified 26 October 2003