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Ploughing the sea: Latin America observed

DH Lawrence

Dust jacket with illustration printed in red depicting a male and female figure dressed in local costumes.Pictorial dust jacket from Mornings in Mexico by DH Lawrence.In 1919 DH Lawrence (1885-1930) left England for a life of self-imposed and wandering exile. Disillusioned with the strictures and hypocrisies of English society, typified, in his eyes, by the hostile reception which had greeted the publication of his novel The rainbow (banned for obscenity in 1915), he and his German wife Frieda left for Italy as soon as they could afford to do so after the end of the First World War.

From Italy they travelled to Sri Lanka, Australia, the United States and Mexico. For Lawrence these countries represented freedom, the chance to escape what biographer John Worthen has described as 'what he saw as the mob spirit and the authoritarian rule of his own country' and to attempt a simpler way of life. They also offered sun and clean air, both of which became increasingly important to the tubercular Lawrence, as his health deteriorated.

In October 1924 the Lawrences, accompanied by their friend, the artist Dorothy Brett, settled in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, where they stayed for five months. Lawrence was working on his novel, The plumed serpent, which is set in Mexico during the revolutionary period, but also found time to pen a number of short travel essays, later published as Mornings in Mexico.

In these short vivid pieces, written as light relief from the serious task of his novel, Lawrence observes the life of the Mexican Indians, a life entwined with the hot dry hilly landscape in which they lived. For Lawrence the Indians were a people upon whom Christianity had been lightly grafted; they remained fundamentally alien to the European cast of mind. Watching the traditional Mexican Indian dances, Lawrence writes in the essay 'Indians and entertainment':

And here finally you see the difference between Indian entertainment and even the earliest form of Greek drama. Right at the beginning of the Old World dramatic presentation there was the onlooker, if only in the shape of the God Himself, or the Goddess Herself, to whom the dramatic offering was made ... There is absolutely none of this in the Indian dance. There is no God. There is no Onlooker. There is no Mind ... The Indian is completely embedded in the wonder of his own drama ... It can’t be judged, because there is nothing outside it, to judge it.

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