The trip described in the book in much detail took place in January 1921, and the book was published later the same year. Here is a picture of the original cover:
I was captured by the beauty of its language from the start. Have a look at just a few lines from one of the first paragraphs, describing the Etna and the surroundings of Taormina, where David Herbert Lawrence and his wife Frieda von Richthofen (named Queen-Bee, or Q-B, throughout the book) lived at the time:
Comes over one an absolute necessity to move. And what is more, to move in some particular direction. A double necessity then: to get on the move, and to know whither.Lawrence and his wife travel to and from Sardinia by train and ship, and while on the island, they use the motor bus, still a novelty at that time. The people, the landscape, the villages and towns as well as the interior of the inns and hotels they stay at are described in a way that definitely makes you glad to live almost a century later, with all the comfort we have gotten used to. Most of the humble places where they stay are bitterly cold, no cleaner than a cow shed, offer too little food to make up for the lack of other comforts, and so the Lawrences never stay very long in one place.
Why can't one sit still? Here in Sicily it is so pleasant: the sunny Ionian sea, the changing jewel of Calabria, like a fire-opal moved in the light; Italy and the panorama of Christmas clouds, night with the dog-star laying a long, luminous gleam across the sea, as if baying at us, Orion marching above; how the dog-star Sirius looks at one, looks at one! he is the hound of heaven, green, glamorous and fierce!—and then oh regal evening star, hung westward flaring over the jagged dark precipices of tall Sicily: then Etna, that wicked witch, resting her thick white snow under heaven, and slowly, slowly rolling her orange-coloured smoke. They called her the Pillar of Heaven, the Greeks. It seems wrong at first, for she trails up in a long, magical, flexible line from the sea's edge to her blunt cone, and does not seem tall. She seems rather low, under heaven. But as one knows her better, oh awe and wizardy! Remote under heaven, aloof, so near, yet never with us. The painters try to paint her, and the photographers to photograph her, in vain.
The author is fascinated by local costume and the rather archaic, simple way of life and character he finds in the village people. It helps that both he and Frieda are fluent in Italian, and he reports many a conversation with inn-keepers, bus drivers and fellow passengers.
I enjoyed this read, and also enjoyed reading up about the couple on wikipedia, where I found their pictures. Frieda von Richthofen was German, six years older than David Herbert Lawrence, who became her lover while she was still married to an English professor and he was his student. They eloped to Germany (leaving her three children behind) and married after her divorce came through. They stayed together for the rest of Lawrence's life, which ended early: he died in 1930, aged 44, from tuberculosis. Frieda married again and lived until 1956.
Times have changed, and I guess most Sardinians wear their traditional costume only for touristy events and maybe a national holiday or patron saint feast, but I'd like to know how much of what the author describes of Nuoro, Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono and Terranova still is recognizable today.