It was not long before Lawrence and Frieda were back in Italy, this time in Spotorno, where Lawrence wrote the first version of his short novel Sun, drawing too on memories of the Fontana Vecchia. Their landlord at Spotorno was Angelo Ravagli, to whom Frieda was soon attracted, and with whom she would live after Lawrence's death. To Spotorno came Frieda's daughters, too (she could now see Barby as well as Elsa); and Lawrence put their experiences to good use in his short novel The Virgin and the Gipsy which – however – he resolved not to publish: it was too satirical of Ernest Weekley. A visit from his own sister Ada in the spring of 1926 precipitated another dreadful quarrel with Frieda; he left for a month, to visit the Brewsters, and to see Brett, who was back from America for a European holiday. He had a very short-lived sexual relationship with Brett at this point, before returning to Frieda. They settled down again in a new place, the Villa Mirenda near Florence, in a new mood of reconciliation.
Lawrence at Mablethorpe with his sister Ada (Lawrence Collection)
Lawrence's tuberculosis was now a real problem; but the same disease suffered by another of the Cooper sisters, Gertie (who lived with his sister Ada and her husband) did more than anything else to convince him that he should neither go to a sanatorium nor submit to surgery. He gave Gertie good advice but privately resolved to stay independent for as long as he could. He had always been good at taking care of himself in sickness and health, and nowhere is this clearer than in his determination during the last years of his life. The word tuberculosis was, indeed, not permitted; he suffered (he insisted) from dreadful bronchials, remarking irritably that 'I have had bronchitis since I was a fortnight old'. A visit to England during the coal-strike of 1926 brought his last opportunity to see his old haunts, and it was probably this experience which provoked the first version of Lady Chatterley's Lover ; one of a series of works revisiting the themes and places of his youth, and the problems of his own early life. His sympathy was now far more with his father (who had died in 1924) than with his mother, and the novel's central character was thoroughly working-class. The second version, started in November 1926, made the novel sexually explicit; it became a hymn to the love-making of the couple, to the body of the man and the woman, for sexuality as it could potentially be between an independent (working-class) man, and an independent (aristocratic) woman: a final fictional re-working of a theme which he had always written about and in some ways enacted in his own life and relationships.
A revived friendship with Aldous and Maria Huxley turned out to be one of the sustaining elements in these difficult years. Lawrence also started to paint, and found it a compensation for much. Early in 1927 he finished the second version of Lady Chatterley's Lover and visited the Etruscan sites of central Italy with Earl Brewster; the trip gave rise to one of the most attractive books of his last years, Sketches of Etruscan Places, which developed the Lawrentian myth of the fulfilled body in the context of a beautifully recreated civilisation. A rather similar work was The Escaped Cock, the first half of which showed Jesus, after the resurrection, valuing above all else the natural, phenomenal world about which Lawrence had always written so compellingly, and which was becoming increasingly important to him as he endured the progressive deteriorations of his illness.
Robin Hood's Well, reputed to be model for the gamekeeper's cottage in Lady Chatterley's Lover (Lawrence Collection)
The publication (for subscribers) of the final version of Lady Chatterley's Lover – written in the astonishing time of just five weeks, in one of Lawrence's last great bursts of creative energy – also sustained him, as he overcame the difficulties lying in the way of an individual publishing and distributing his own book. With the help of the Florentine bookseller Pino Orioli, the handsome volume was printed in and distributed from Florence, and made Lawrence more money than he had ever imagined. In June, he wrote the second part of The Escaped Cock, in which Jesus experiences sexual desire again, after the resurrection; another work of intense nostalgia for the body. Lawrence had however suffered more than one haemorrhage at the Mirenda, and always tended to distrust places where he had been seriously ill; he left Florence in the summer of 1928, just at the time when Lady Chatterley's Lover made it possible for him to pay doctor's bills and live more comfortably (often in hotels) than his previous careful existence had allowed.
© Professor John Worthen, 2005
Next chapter: Dying Game