Walter Cummins on Otherworldly Intrigue in The Etruscan

I was delighted to see that critic and writing teacher Walter Cummins, mentor to generations of writers, included his review of my first novel The Etruscan, originally published in The Literary Review, in his new anthology of reviews and essays Knowing Writers (2017)

His generous review cuts through to what is for me the essence of the novel: the clash and fusion of the mythic and the temporal, gothic and modernism, romance and reality, Italian cynicism and Yankee yearning for spirit and beauty.  My own life plays out, frazzled but energized, in the midpoints of those binaries.

This novel grew out of my exploration of the storied Etruscan landscape and my sojourn in an ancient house. It was nurtured by my literary studies of the Brontes and the gothic, DH Lawrence and Italy,  Henry James, Vita Sackville West, and Daphne Du Maurier, as well as by my research into the lives of early twentieth century women travelers.

Here are some highlights from his review. The full text may be accessed at Cummins on The Etruscan 

“Among the pleasures of The Etruscan are a compelling plot, intriguing characters, vivid sense of place, strong descriptive writing. But Linda Lappin’s principal achievement – and greatest challenge – may be found in her realization of Count Federigo Del Re and the strange power he exerts over the novel’s heroine, Harriet Sackett. 

Lappin’s task -or that of any writer who wishes to create a Federigo Del Re- is convincing the reader to share Harriet’s complex, almost otherworldly, obsession with the man. In The Etruscan she succeeds.

While the novel has a twenty-first century publication date and a twentieth-century setting, many of its narrative strategies are Victorian, with the Gothic overtones found in writers like the Brontes. Del Re is clearly a Byronic figure in the tradition of Rochester and Heathcliffe. Mystery lies at the heart of the story-for much of the novel the question of what happened to Harriet in Italy and, even after the final page, the nature of what draws her to Del Re.

Two realities are contrasted, that of Edwardian perspectives of Wimbly, the Hamptons, and the Hampton’s housekeeper, Mrs Parsons, and that of Harriet’s immersion in another realm. Lappin presents the attitudes and perceptions of Wimbly, the Hamptons, and Mrs Parsons in close third person. But Harriet emerges directly through her first-person diary, a document like that found in many traditional novels. The physical diary itself becomes an object of contention, with Stephen trying to burn it, Mrs Parsons rescuing it, and Sarah preserving the final, torn out page until its content is revealed on the very last pages of the novel. The Italian settings are certainly Gothic, the ancient homes, the treacherous landscapes, the Etruscan tombs. Because of Lappin’s exact descriptions, they are very convincing” –Walter CumminsKnowing Writers: Essays & Reviews

Thank you Walter
The Etruscan is available on kindle.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008KM69YQ

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D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places and The Etruscan

lawrence-etrus-art-2

The Etruscans are not a theory or a thesis. If they are anything, they are an experience. DHL

Near the end of his life, DH Lawrence returned to Italy in 1927  after a soul-searching journey through Mexico, the American Southwest, Ceylon, Australia, and New Zealand. Gravely ill with tuberculosis, unaware of how little time he had left (he died three years later at the age of 44), Lawrence sought an ideal land where he might flourish as a “whole man alive” and find an antidote for the alienation of industrialized society denounced in his fiction, particularly in Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

lawrence-in-tuscia-photo
D.H.Lawrence in Tuscia

Lawrence’s last pilgrimage led him to the Etruscan ruins north of Rome. His idea was to write a travel book about the twelve great cities of Etruscan civilization. Lawrence rejected the contemporary, scholarly views of the time: that Etruscans were inferior to the ancient Romans. Lawrence’s approach to the Etruscans was highly personal and unscientific, yet his book, Etruscan Places, has shaped modern readers’ ideas of this vanished people more than any other text. etruscan-places-dh In the Etruscans, Lawrence found a life-affirming culture which exalted the pleasures of the body and viewed death as a journey towards renewal. This is the main theme of  one of his greatest poems, “The Ship of Death.”  He also believed that  Etruscan culture was based on equality between the sexes, and this idea influenced his  portrayal of the relationship between Connie and Mellors in  Lady Chatterly’s Lover,  his last and best-known novel.   For Lawerence,  Etruscan culture was infused with the joy of being and and informed by a  superior level of consciousness.

etrus-art-3

In Etruscan Places,  he wrote: “To the Etruscan, all was alive, the whole universe lived, and the business of man was to live amid it all.  He had to draw life into himself , out of the wandering, huge vitalities of the world.”  … [The Lucumones were]  The life-bringers and the death-guides. But they set guards at the gates of life and death. They keep secrets and safeguard the way. Only a few are initiated into the mystery of the bath of life and the bath of death: the pool within the pool within the pool  wherein when a man is dipped, he becomes darker than blood and brighter than fire…”

Traveling on foot and by mule cart, Lawrence explored Tuscia-a wild, wooded area  where the center of Etruscan culture was located. He visited the frescoed tombs of Tarquinia and the rougher rock tombs of Cerveteri, as well as the sites of Vulci and Volterra. The tombs Lawrence described  are easy to visit today, well-connected to Rome and Florence by a system of trains and buses. In Vulci and Volterra, museums offer informative displays on Etruscan history. In the frescoes of Tarquinia, pipers play on as red-skinned dancers perform to the delight of thousands of tourists per year. And copies of Etruscan Places are for sale everywhere.

The mystery Lawrence relished may best be found off the tourist track-in the rock tombs carved along the ravines at Cerveteri and neighboring areas.

etruscan-tombs

To get a sense of what these sites were like in Lawrence’s time, I recently visited one of the lesser known areas-out in the countryside, off the main road. Covered with ivy, the huge tombs carved in cliffs face out upon a ravine. Wandering through the tall weeds, I approached a tumulus where a tall doorway led into a chamber hollowed in the rock. There at the back stood the fake door, which Lawrence called the door of the soul, as it had no real opening and was only painted or carved on the wall surface. I think of Lawrence sitting in a chamber like this one, contemplating the door of the soul-a barrier for the body, but not for the imagination.

door-of-the-soul

Etruscan Places  has been read as Lawrence’s attempt to reconcile himself with his own mortality. For the Etruscans, he believed, death was a continuing celebration of life, or so he learned from studying their tomb art.  “What one wants,” he wrote in the closing pages of Etruscan Places, is not a lesson about the Etruscans, but direct “contact.”   It is this contact he believed he found and which he now tries to pass on to us.

Lawrence’s vision of the Etruscans in Etruscan Places is among the chief inspirations for my novel,  The Etruscan, set in the 1920s,  in the era of Lawrence’s visit here.  The heroine, Harriet Sackett, a feminist photographer, comes to the Tuscia to photograph Etruscan tombs and finds herself entangled with count Federigo del Re, occultist and self-proclaimed Etruscan spirit.  It’s the story of an irresistible attraction between the modern, advanced woman and the archaic-minded, patriarchal male, between America and Italy,  and ultimately, between the worlds they embody: the temporal and the timeless.

second-cover-with-glow-copia
The Etruscan, 2010 

While working on my novel, I lived in a farmhouse outside the gates of the old town, with a window overlooking a gorge where dozens of tombs have been hollowed out of the rock face. You cannot live in a such a place for long without unconsciously absorbing its mystique.  Researching the background for my novel,  I soon learned that it was quite common for local people, from aristocrats to farmers, to believe they were somehow in touch with the vanished Etruscans.

In the course of my research, I met dowsers and healers who trace their occult powers back to the Etruscans. I met a controversial scholar who has dedicated a lifetime to studying step pyramids and altars in the woods north of Rome that remain unexplained by the academe.  I met a geologist who showed me a hidden spot in the woods where strange magnetic phenomena occur, a  tombarolo who invited me to explore with him, a paranormal researcher who has recorded  strange echoes in caves, and a painter who  studies the lay of the land from  a balloon. I met a chef who cooked me dishes he believed were surely of Etruscan origin and the author of a cookbook whose grandmother ran the trattoria where Lawrence liked to dine. I met a woman who leads tours to a secret place where witches gathered in the middle ages.  A countess unveiled for me her secret collection of Etruscan artefacts illegally assembled by her grandfather. I met a designer who creates hats based on Etruscan designs and a sculptor who peoples his life  with terracotta sphinxes  of Etruscan inspiration. I listened to  folk tales and dreams recounted, all telling of the underworld, and like Harriet Sackett , I have  sat for hours in dank tombs, pondering the  door of the soul separating this world from the next. The fruits of all this research and reflection are to be found in my novel The Etruscan, in which I hope readers will discover the same fascination  that I have found in the spirit of the Tuscia.

The Etruscan was originally published in July 2004, by Wynkin deWorde, a small literary press in Galway, Ireland.  Released in the USA in 2006 under the FRANK imprint, made available for the first time on kindle in 2010, The Etruscan was runner-up in fiction at the New York Festival of Books in 2010,  a finalist in the 2011 Next Generation Indie Awards, and received honorable mention at the Paris Book Festival of 2010. Kirkus reviews called it “Haunting, Vivid, Entrancing…”

etruscan-bookcover
The Etruscan, first edition

D.H. Lawrence’s Etruscan Places and The Etruscan

lawrence-etrus-art-2

The Etruscans are not a theory or a thesis. If they are anything, they are an experience. DHL

Near the end of his life, DH Lawrence returned to Italy in 1927  after a soul-searching journey through Mexico, the American Southwest, Ceylon, Australia, and New Zealand. Gravely ill with tuberculosis, unaware of how little time he had left (he died three years later at the age of 44), Lawrence sought an ideal land where he might flourish as a “whole man alive” and find an antidote for the alienation of industrialized society denounced in his fiction, particularly in Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

lawrence-in-tuscia-photo
D.H.Lawrence in Tuscia

Lawrence’s last pilgrimage led him to the Etruscan ruins north of Rome. His idea was to write a travel book about the twelve great cities of Etruscan civilization. Lawrence rejected the contemporary, scholarly views of the time: that Etruscans were inferior to the ancient Romans. Lawrence’s approach to the Etruscans was highly personal and unscientific, yet his book, Etruscan Places, has shaped modern readers’ ideas of this vanished people more than any other text. etruscan-places-dh In the Etruscans, Lawrence found a life-affirming culture which exalted the pleasures of the body and viewed death as a journey towards renewal. This is the main theme of  one of his greatest poems, “The Ship of Death.”  He also believed that  Etruscan culture was based on equality between the sexes, and this idea influenced his  portrayal of the relationship between Connie and Mellors in  Lady Chatterly’s Lover,  his last and best-known novel.   For Lawerence,  Etruscan culture was infused with the joy of being and and informed by a  superior level of consciousness.

etrus-art-3

In Etruscan Places,  he wrote: “To the Etruscan, all was alive, the whole universe lived, and the business of man was to live amid it all.  He had to draw life into himself , out of the wandering, huge vitalities of the world.”  … [The Lucumones were]  The life-bringers and the death-guides. But they set guards at the gates of life and death. They keep secrets and safeguard the way. Only a few are initiated into the mystery of the bath of life and the bath of death: the pool within the pool within the pool  wherein when a man is dipped, he becomes darker than blood and brighter than fire…”

Traveling on foot and by mule cart, Lawrence explored Tuscia-a wild, wooded area  where the center of Etruscan culture was located. He visited the frescoed tombs of Tarquinia and the rougher rock tombs of Cerveteri, as well as the sites of Vulci and Volterra. The tombs Lawrence described  are easy to visit today, well-connected to Rome and Florence by a system of trains and buses. In Vulci and Volterra, museums offer informative displays on Etruscan history. In the frescoes of Tarquinia, pipers play on as red-skinned dancers perform to the delight of thousands of tourists per year. And copies of Etruscan Places are for sale everywhere.

The mystery Lawrence relished may best be found off the tourist track-in the rock tombs carved along the ravines at Cerveteri and neighboring areas.

etruscan-tombs

To get a sense of what these sites were like in Lawrence’s time, I recently visited one of the lesser known areas-out in the countryside, off the main road. Covered with ivy, the huge tombs carved in cliffs face out upon a ravine. Wandering through the tall weeds, I approached a tumulus where a tall doorway led into a chamber hollowed in the rock. There at the back stood the fake door, which Lawrence called the door of the soul, as it had no real opening and was only painted or carved on the wall surface. I think of Lawrence sitting in a chamber like this one, contemplating the door of the soul-a barrier for the body, but not for the imagination.

door-of-the-soul

Etruscan Places  has been read as Lawrence’s attempt to reconcile himself with his own mortality. For the Etruscans, he believed, death was a continuing celebration of life, or so he learned from studying their tomb art.  “What one wants,” he wrote in the closing pages of Etruscan Places, is not a lesson about the Etruscans, but direct “contact.”   It is this contact he believed he found and which he now tries to pass on to us.

Lawrence’s vision of the Etruscans in Etruscan Places is among the chief inspirations for my novel,  The Etruscan, set in the 1920s,  in the era of Lawrence’s visit here.  The heroine, Harriet Sackett, a feminist photographer, comes to the Tuscia to photograph Etruscan tombs and finds herself entangled with count Federigo del Re, occultist and self-proclaimed Etruscan spirit.  It’s the story of an irresistible attraction between the modern, advanced woman and the archaic-minded, patriarchal male, between America and Italy,  and ultimately, between the worlds they embody: the temporal and the timeless.

second-cover-with-glow-copia
The Etruscan, 2010 

While working on my novel, I lived in a farmhouse outside the gates of the old town, with a window overlooking a gorge where dozens of tombs have been hollowed out of the rock face. You cannot live in a such a place for long without unconsciously absorbing its mystique.  Researching the background for my novel,  I soon learned that it was quite common for local people, from aristocrats to farmers, to believe they were somehow in touch with the vanished Etruscans.

In the course of my research, I met dowsers and healers who trace their occult powers back to the Etruscans. I met a controversial scholar who has dedicated a lifetime to studying step pyramids and altars in the woods north of Rome that remain unexplained by the academe.  I met a geologist who showed me a hidden spot in the woods where strange magnetic phenomena occur, a  tombarolo who invited me to explore with him, a paranormal researcher who has recorded  strange echoes in caves, and a painter who  studies the lay of the land from  a balloon. I met a chef who cooked me dishes he believed were surely of Etruscan origin and the author of a cookbook whose grandmother ran the trattoria where Lawrence liked to dine. I met a woman who leads tours to a secret place where witches gathered in the middle ages.  A countess unveiled for me her secret collection of Etruscan artefacts illegally assembled by her grandfather. I met a designer who creates hats based on Etruscan designs and a sculptor who peoples his life  with terracotta sphinxes  of Etruscan inspiration. I listened to  folk tales and dreams recounted, all telling of the underworld, and like Harriet Sackett , I have  sat for hours in dank tombs, pondering the  door of the soul separating this world from the next. The fruits of all this research and reflection are to be found in my novel The Etruscan, in which I hope readers will discover the same fascination  that I have found in the spirit of the Tuscia.

The Etruscan was originally published in July 2004, by Wynkin deWorde, a small literary press in Galway, Ireland.  Released in the USA in 2006 under the FRANK imprint, made available for the first time on kindle in 2010, The Etruscan was runner-up in fiction at the New York Festival of Books in 2010,  a finalist in the 2011 Next Generation Indie Awards, and received honorable mention at the Paris Book Festival of 2010. Kirkus reviews called it “Haunting, Vivid, Entrancing…”

etruscan-bookcover
The Etruscan, first edition