September this year sees the centenary of D. H. Lawrence’s brief sojourn on the shores of beautiful Lake Garda hidden deep within the mountains of northern Italy.
To celebrate this highly creative and influential episode in his life, the local community, the Comune di Gargnano aided by the Comitato per Gargnano Storica, is holding a series of events throughout the month.
Italy’s beautiful landscapes and atmospheric towns and villages have long been a draw for English artists, poets and writers – Byron spent time in Genova, Shelley in Rome and Florence, Keats in Venice, while Wordsworth enjoyed a tour of the Alps, walking over the Simplon Pass into Italy.
For many, the Italian way of life provided the inspiration for some of their most seminal works, and this was certainly true of Lawrence who arrived in Garda with his lover, Frieda von Richtofen, in the summer of 1912, having walked through the valleys and villages of the Dolomites on their way to Riva del Garda.
Shortly afterwards, they moved down the western shores of Lake Garda and set up home in Villa Igea (which can still be seen at number 44, Via Colletta) in the attractive lakeside town of Gargnano. The couple had been seeking to settle somewhere that was unmarked and unscarred by industrialisation and in Gargnano they had found their perfect idyll - a ‘paradise’, as Lawrence called it.
For the next six months, he wrote incessantly, putting the finishing touches to his great masterpiece, Sons and Lovers; starting The Rainbow and Women in Love; and fine-tuning his first collection of lyric poetry. Most notably, he wrote a number of novels based entirely on his experiences on Lake Garda, including Fight for Barbara, a play set in Villa Igea; The Letters; and Twilight in Italy, which encompasses his fascination for the lake’s people.
If, like Lawrence, you choose to walk down from the mountains, from Lake Ledro to Lake Garda, to end your stay in Gargnano itself, this latter novel is well worth reading before you set forth. Here is a brief excerpt:
“Everything was clear and sun-coloured up there, clear-grey rocks partaking of the sky, tawny grass and scrub, browny-green spires of cypresses, and then the mist of grey-green olives fuming down to the lake-side. There was no shadow, only clear sun-substance built up to the sky, a bullock wagon moving slowly in the high sunlight, along the uppermost terrace of the military road. It sat in the warm stillness of the transcendent afternoon.
The four o’clock steamer was creeping down the lake from the Austrian end, creeping under the cliffs. Far away, the Verona side, beyond the Island, lay fused in dim gold. The mountain opposite was so still, that my heart seemed to fade in its beating as if it too would be still. All was perfectly still, pure substance. The little steamer on the floor of the world below, the mules down the road cast no shadow. They too were pure sun-substance travelling on the surface of the sun-made world.”