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ELT 37:4 1994 A Lawrencean Cosmology D. H. Lawrence. Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays. Sionetta de Filippis, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. lxxiii + 387 pp. $125 IN H. G. WELLS'S Tono-Bungay, the sculptor Ewart explains to the engineer narrator, George Ponderevo, the true appeal of the quack tonic of the novel's title: The real trouble of life, Ponderevo, isn't that we exist—that's a vulgar error, the real trouble is that we don't really exist and we want to. That's what this—in the highest sense—muck stands for! The hunger to be—for once—really alive—to the finger-tips!" In other words, the tonic Tono-Bungay is a comic allegory for the cultural dilemma of enervation and the wish to feel vitally alive. Lawrence was an enthusiastic reader of Tono-Bungay when it first appeared in the inaugural issues of the English Review, and twenty years later one can still see Ewart's existential diagnosis refracted in Lawrence's unfinished hermeneutic meditations on the remnants of Etruscan funerary art. Lawrence depicts the figures on the painted wall of a tomb "swiftly going with their limbs full of life, full of life to the tips." In the vitalistic economy Lawrence endows upon the Etruscans, the divine is redistributed as life-energy and suffused like a tonic into the body: "the etruscan dancers ... know the gods in their very finger-tips. ... To the Etruscan, all was alive: the whole universe lived." Lawrence's Etruscans had no need of Tono-Bungay. Etruscan Places is one of two major exercises in imaginative cosmology Lawrence composed during the last years of his life. Like Apocalypse , it takes shape as the interpretation of a religious text. Both works are essentially allegorical exegeses of religious symbols, refashioned after Lawrence's own mystic vitalism. Relative to the Book of Revelation in Apocalypse, Etruscan burial sites present Lawrence a superior object for his method. His mind is happier confronting pagan cultures, especially one with an unreadable language and thus no textual impediments . The task of travelling to the old Etruscan cities—Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, Volterra—draws him into contact with the recentlyFascist Italy of 1927, and his travelogues are still fresh and sharp. As with Twilight in Italy and Sea and Sardinia, Lawrence's philosophical ruminations are invigorated by the fine distractions of perambulating through the Italian countryside, on foot or beast, by train, omnibus, or cart. But Etruscan Places has the additional benefit of a specific and 556 BOOK REVIEWS concrete topic of investigation. It is unfortunate that he left it incomplete . Lawrence intersperses his observations and cultural speculations with vivid descriptions of the tomb paintings and sculptures. A veritable Keats before a whole gallery of undeciphered urns, Lawrence restores these decaying murals in his imagination and represents them in lucid, often limpid terms: This sense of vigorous, strong-bodied liveliness is characteristic of the Etruscans, and is somehow beyond all art. You cannot think of art, but only of life itself, as if this were the very life of the Etruscans, dancing in their coloured wraps with massive yet exuberant naked limbs, ruddy from the air and the sea-light, dancing and fluting along through the little olive trees, out in the fresh day." The Cambridge edition provides the complete set of photographs Lawrence collected for the use of magazine editors and eventual book publication. He informed his agent Seeker: "I want this book ... to be as popular as I can make it." It was to be a picture book, thus the title now restored to the text, Sketches of Etruscan Places. That quality of informal sensuous appeal still clings to the text, even in its Cambridge embalmment. Lawrence rarely makes sketches without going on to moralize them. Behind the broken and unappreciated compositions of the Etruscan tomb painters lies a different way of being in the world. This is the depth of the Etruscan text. One of the best moments in the book is when Lawrence and his silent companion, Brewster, happen upon a young German archeologist who knows all the pictorial details but who lacks Lawrence's ability to read...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 556-559
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
N
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