Conversation Construction in Lawrence

Marlene Sloger, American Civilization Graduate Student,, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

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While much of Lawrence’s writing focuses on his descriptive interpretations of Italian landscapes and culture (and, by comparison, his impressions of British culture), he also refers to, albeit much less frequently, his conversations with Italians. Consider these two examples, the first from the beginning of “Cerveteri” in Etruscan Places:

We arrive at Palo, a station in nowhere, and ask if there is a bus to Cerveteri. No! An ancient sort of wagon with an ancient white horse stands outside. Where does that go? To Ladispoli. We know we don’t want to go to Ladispoli, so we stare at the landscape. Could we get a carriage of any sort? It would be difficult. That is what they always say: difficult! Meaning impossible. At least they won’t lift a finger to help. Is there an hotel in Cerveteri? They don’t know. They have none of them ever been, though it is only five miles away, and there are tombs. Well, we will leave our two bags at the station. But they cannot accept them. Because they are not locked. But when did a hold-all ever lock? Difficult! Well then, let us leave them, and steal if you want to. Impossible! Such a moral responsibility! Impossible to leave an unlocked small hold-all at the station. So much for the officials!

The next example is from “Tarquinia,” after Lawrence has been, in his opinion, harassed for his passport:

The hotel manager, propitious, said there was a very interesting museum in Civita Vecchia, and wouldn’t we stay the next day and see it. “Ah!” I replied. “But all it contains is Roman stuff, and we don’t want to look at that.” It was malice on my part, because the present regime considers itself purely ancient Roman. The man looked at me scared, and I grinned at him. “But what do they mean,” I said, “behaving like this to a simple traveler, in a country where foreigners are invited to travel!” “Ah!” said the porter softly and soothingly. “It is the Roman province. You will have no more of it when you leave the Provincia di Roma.” And when the Italians give the soft answer to turn away wrath, the wrath somehow turns away.

How does Lawrence structure these exchanges differently? Although they are both conversations, do their differing forms have an impact on the way each conversation is read? Finally, do they function differently in the greater sense of Etruscan Places?

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Last modified 26 October 2003