D H Lawrence

A brief history of the writing of the novel ‘The Lost Girl’

A brief history of the writing of the novel ‘The Lost Girl’ by D H Lawrence, published in 1921 and the chronology leading to D H Lawrence’s visit to Picinisco, Val di Comino, Italy in 1919.

For an Italian translation, please click here – “The Lost Girl” ( La Ragazza Perduta ), Una Breve Storia.


The English writer, D H Lawrence, finished writing the novel ‘Sons and Lovers’ in November 1912 whilst living at Lago di Garda, Italy. He then planned 4 more novels over the next 4 months. The first two were quickly abandoned with the 4th becoming his famous novel ‘Women in Love’ – eventually published by Selzer in 1920.

The 3rd planned novel – then called ‘Elsa Culverwell’ – was started in 1912/13. The title was then changed to ‘The Insurrection of Miss Houghton’ and the just-started manuscript was then set aside for a number of years, before being re-written in 1920 in Sicily as the novel ‘The Lost Girl’. This 3rd novel was started over Xmas 1912 and January 1913 with 200 pages written in Gargnano, Italy – a town on the western shore of Lake Garda. It was then set aside in March 1913 as Lawrence said the work had proved ‘too improper’ and in preference to other more pressing writings including dashing off a play called ‘The Daughter-in-Law’. So no further work on this novel was carried out for over 7 years.

DHL later moved home but for only 11 days to San Gaudenzio, just outside and above Gargnano on Lake Garda, then he and Frieda (his female partner with whom he was living) left the area altogether on 11 April 1913.

On their way back to England, they stayed in Bavaria, Germany in May and June 1913 and it was here in Southern Bavaria that the 200 pages of the novel DHL had started the previous Christmas 2012 in Italy, were left.  There they remained during The Great War years of 1914 to 1918 until DHL managed to get the ‘just-started’ manuscript posted out of the turmoil of post-war Germany. It eventually arrived at his then apartment home on the island of Capri – off the Neapolitan coast on the Mediterranean side of southern Italy – on 12 February 1920 – a full 7 years since these first 200 pages were written.

Evidence suggests that of the 16 chapters in the finished novel, the first 5 chapters – which have a racy, satirical style – were written before the war (before 1914) which may indicate that they were part of the original 200 pages written in 1912/13 then re-written from 9 March to 5 May 1920. However, chapters from 6 onwards draw on Lawrence’s experiences and acquaintances during and after the Great War so were certainly the product of his later imagination and later writings in the Spring of 1920, up to the novel’s completion on 5 May 1920.

For example; in chapter 11, DHL refers in the novel to ‘spying’ and the ‘police authorities’ in relation to his novel’s ‘travelling troupe’. This draws directly from his own personal wartime experience in Zennor, Cornwall between 1915 and 1917.

The last 3 chapters (13 to 16) describe Lawrence’s journey to Picinisco (Pescocalascio in the novel). His actual journey from England to Italy was in November 1919 and his visits to Picinisco, Atina and Cervi (called Pescocalascio,  Ossona and Califano respectively in his novel) did not take place until mid-December 1919, so the novel’s last 3 chapters drew on his actual experiences there, and so were written after his visit to the area in December 1919.

There is also reference in the novel to the church in the village of Casa Latina (in reality called Villa Latina). A town between Atina and Picinisco originally called Agnone until a name change to Villa Latina in 1862, reflecting the discovery in the area of remains of Roman villas, in addition to those of a thermal plant and an aqueduct. The present population of the commune of Villa Latina (including the village of Valle Grande) is around 1,250 persons.

Chronology Of Writing –

The started novel’s first 200 pages finally arrived by post from Germany to his apartment in Capri.  An entry in his diary on 12 February 1920 records.  ‘MS – began novel’.  It was obviously still his intention to continue with the novel and DHL worked on the manuscript in February in Capri, in between visits to Montecassino and Sicily.

DHL visited a friend in February 1920 at the Abbey of Montecassino – famous in 1944 during WW2 in the battle for Monte Cassino. The Abbey is perched on this prominent hill above the town of Cassino.  The town is situated just off the present-day A1 autostrada and less than halfway between Roma and Napoli – today less than 1 hour from Napoli.

DHL also visited Sicily in February 1920 looking for a place to rent for himself and Frieda as a new home. He was now keen to move away from the much smaller island of Capri and he also felt that being further south, the winters would be warmer and drier in Sicily and so more beneficial to his health.

The Lawrences moved to Sicily on 8 March 1920 renting an apartment on the top floor at Fontana Vecchia (Old Fountain) in Taormina, Sicily for 2,000 lire a year (£22 at the time). They stayed in Sicily for almost 2 years leaving on 20 February 1922.

In March 1920 DHL quickly abandoned work on the earlier manuscript and the novel was re-started and completely re-written after the Lawrences’ move to Taormina. The novel – re-named ‘The Lost Girl’ – was re-started on 9 March – the day after the move to Taormina, Sicily – and completed by 5 May 1920.  It is primarily set in Eastwood – DHL’s English birthplace – but concentrates on a family a very long way from ‘the common people’ of the north of England.

The novel mentions Pancrazio, as the owner of the Villa at Cervi. This character is based upon the builder and real owner, his host during his short visit in 1919 – Orazio Cervi.

By 22 March he had written some 30,000 words and the novel was 1/4 written.

By 31 March 50,000 words had been written. By 5 April the novel was about half completed and by 11 April – after almost 5 weeks of work – DHL had completed almost 3/4 of the novel – 245 pages out of a book total of 415 pages.

Apart from a trip to Syracuse (famous as the birthplace of the mathematician, astronomer, engineer, physicist and inventor Archimedes in 287 BC) in southern Sicily from 25 to 27 April 1920 – which left its mark in the novel at the start of chapter XII – DHL stayed in Taormina for the rest of April and worked steadily to finish the book.

The novel – ‘The Lost Girl’ – was entirely written and completed at the Lawrence’s home – a top floor apartment in an old Sicilian farmhouse built in the mid 1600’s – at Fontana Vecchia, then on the outskirts of the town of Taormina, Sicily but now part of Taormina town itself. The book took just 8 weeks to write – from 9 March to 5 May 1920 – and though written in Sicily it draws on recent memories and experiences when DHL visited Cervi (now part of the village of Serre) and the area around Picinisco during his short stay in December 1919.

Picinisco was part of the Kingdom of Naples until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy after Italy’s unification in 1861.  Geographically it is situated in the south eastern corner of what is now the province of Frosinone which was established by Royal Decree on 6 December 1926 – some years after DHL’s visit.

So even though DHL found the Picinisco area ‘cold and disagreeable’ in the winter time of December 1919, it provided him with memories for the final locale and setting of the later, ‘Italian’ chapters of his novel ‘The Lost Girl’.

On 5 May 1920 the first batch of his hand-written manuscript was sent to Miss Wallace – an English typist in Rome.  On confirmation of safe receipt the final, second batch of the manuscript was immediately dispatched to Rome.

DHL had originally thought that the cost of typing was to be one shilling per 1,000 words or £6.15s.0d for the 135,000 word novel – but later he wrote of ‘at least 1,000 lire’ (£11 at the time). However, something went amiss in the ‘translation’ (though both spoke English and both were English born) as the final bill for typing was 1,348 lire or 10 lire (2s.3d at the time) per 1,000 words. Making a total typing bill of £14.11s.10d in pre-decimal sterling currency.

The typewritten manuscript was returned by Miss Wallace in early June and by 17 June all had been corrected and a carbon copy was being delivered to the publisher, Secker, in London, England.

On 25 October first preview copies of the book arrived at DHL’s home in Taormina, Sicily.  Final publication in England by Martin Secker was on 25 November 1920. Publication in the USA was by Thomas Seltzer in 1921.

The D H Lawrence novel ‘The Lost Girl’ won the only honour Lawrence ever received in his life – that of the James Tate Black Memorial Prize for fiction. This award is Britain’s oldest literary award and based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland UK.  It was founded in 1919 by Mrs J C Black in memory of her late husband, a partner in the publishing house of A & C Black Ltd.

In December 1921 D H Lawrence was only the second recipient of this prestigious award.  The prize then was £100 (worth nearly £4,000 in 2014).

Later eminent recipients of this coveted award have been – E M Forster (1925);  J B Priestley (1930);  Robert Graves (1935);  C S Forester (1939);  Aldous Huxley (1940);  Evelyn Waugh (1953);  Iris Murdoch (1974);  Lawrence Durrell (1975); John Le Carré (1978);  Salman Rushdie (1982);  Beryl Bainbridge (1999):

Chronology From Late 1913 To May 1920 Including DHL’s Visit To Picinisco In December 1919

In the autumn of 1913, DHL and his partner Frieda Weekley (who was still married to Prof. Weekley) set up home together at Fiaschiarino – a small fishing village in the Gulf of La Spezia – the Ligurian Riviera on the Mediterranean coast in Northern Italy.  Professor Weekley – Frieda’s husband – was a professor of Modern Languages at Nottingham University. He obtained a divorce from Frieda in May 1914, following which the two lovers (DHL and Frieda) returned to London and were married on July 13, 1914.

Unfortunately, they were then caught in the grip of World War 1 which was declared just 2 weeks later on 28 July. Effectively they were captive in England for over 5 years and as some would say – ostracised by society and looked upon suspiciously in view of Frieda’s German family – her father was a Baron and an engineer in the German army – though he died in 1915 – just one year into the war of 1914/18.

Indeed, the Lawrences were even accused of spying for the Germans and officially expelled from Cornwall on 15 October 1917, being forced to leave their home in Zennor, Cornwall after complaints by local residents and with just 3 days’ notice from the authorities under provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act.

For the next 2 years the Lawrences moved among friends’ apartments in London and lived also at Hermitage near Newbury, Berkshire and later in Middleton-by-Wirksworth in Derbyshire.  At this time Lawrence’s sister Ada, came to their rescue, paying the rent for them on Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth, where they stayed until leaving Britain in the Autumn of 1919.

During the whole of the First World War Lawrence and his wife, Frieda were unable to obtain passports and travel documents and were targets of constant harassment from the authorities. The Lawrences were not permitted to emigrate until 1919.

On 15 October 1919 Frieda left England to visit her Mother in Baden Baden in post-war Germany and also her family there, whilst DHL left England a month later on 14 November spending 1 night in Paris, France, on his way to Italy; then 2 nights at the villa at Val Salice near Turin in northern Italy as the guest of Sir Walter and Lady Becker – a wealthy shipowner just recently knighted.

DHL then spent 2 nights at Lerici near Genoa, Italy stopping over for old times sake at the Albergo Delle Palme and renewing old acquaintances in Lerica where he had previously lived; then arriving in Florence on 19 November and staying at the Pensione Balestra. In total DHL was in the city of Florence for 3 weeks.

Florence is the present day capital of the Tuscany region, north of Rome and near Pisa and the Mediterranean coast. Florence is situated approximately 170 miles (274 kilometres) north of Rome. After 2 weeks in Florence DHL met up with Frieda’s train arriving from Baden Baden, Germany, at Florence rail station at 04.00 in the early hours of 4 December 1919.  The couple stayed in the city for a further 6 days then departed Florence for Rome on 10 December 1919.

They cut short their planned stay in Rome from 1 week to just 2 full days telling friends and relatives by letter that though the weather was beautiful ‘Rome was crowded and impossible’. The fact is, they were asked to leave their B & B on the first night in Rome when it was discovered that Frieda Lawrence was German. A friend then helped out by insisting they stayed at her home. There, things went missing and they were robbed so the Lawrences cut short their stay and left Rome as soon as possible.

They left Rome on 13 December 1919 journeying south by train to Cassino, thence to Atina by postbus, then part of the way by donkey and cart, with the last part on foot, to the hamlet of Cervi (now part of the village of Serre) where they arrived in the dark, late on Saturday night on 13th. December 1919.  

The village of Serre is just over 3 miles from the mountain town and commune of Picinisco.

At Cervi they stayed in the house of Orazio Cervi, who emigrated to London at the age of just 16 and was firstly a street performer then an artist’s model for painters and sculptors. In London he posed for – amongst others – the renowned sculptor Sir William Thorneycroft.

In the hamlet of Cervi, Casa Lawrence – as it is now called – was built by Orazio Cervi in the late 1800’s – with money he made as an artist’s model in London – after he returned to live in the Picinisco area again.

The purpose of DHL’s visit there was to check out the house as a favour for a friend in England, as to its suitability for a long stay for an English lady with 3 young children plus nurse – all used to upper class English standards of living.

Needless to say it was a none-starter being too cold, too wet, too snowy, with no facilities and too remote and isolated to be of further interest to this friend – Rosalind Baynes*.  Rosalind was the daughter of Sir William Thorneycroft, the sculptor for whom Orazio had modelled in London some years earlier.  She had recently separated from her husband and was looking for a long term home for herself, her children and her entourage – and a new start in Italy.

DHL reported to her by letter on Tuesday 16 December 1919, including the comments – ‘it is a bit staggeringly primitive.’  Also –  ‘……but what about the children? ….. there isn’t anything approaching a bath: you’d have to wash them in a big copper boiling-pan in which they cook the pigs’ food.’

(*Rosalind Baynes instead rented a villa at San Gervasio near Florence in January 1920 and on 19 September that year she had a brief affair with DHL when he visited her at this villa in Florence.)

Lawrence also said in his 16 December 1919 letter to Rosalind Baynes – ‘if the weather gets any worse then we will have to leave for Naples or Capri.’  This was to find warmer weather for reasons of his ill-health.

At the age of 16 in 1901 he had a severe bout of pneumonia  and again 10 years later in 1911 after a dangerous illness he had given up his teaching post in Croydon on his doctor’s orders. Whilst in 1919 he had barely survived a severe attack of influenza which engulfed the world.

This 3 year flu pandemic from January 1918 to December 1920 affected over 500 million people and killed 50 to 100 million worldwide, making this influenza outbreak the most deadly natural disaster in human history.  Also in March 1925 DHL suffered a near fatal attack of malaria and tuberculosis while on a third visit to Mexico.

It can be seen that during his lifetime Lawrence was known to have respiratory problems and TB.  He died aged just 44, on 2 March 1930 in Vence, France from the complications from his illness and disease of tuberculosis.  

Back to the Lawrences’ brief visit to the Valle di Comino area – after arriving late on Saturday 13 December 1919,  DHL visited the Monday morning market at Piazza Garibaldi in Atina Superiore on Monday 15 December after a walk of over 5 miles from where he was staying at the house of Orazio Cervi at Cervi (now part of the village of Serre).  

The weather DID get worse that week, leading to snow all day on the Saturday before Christmas – 20 December – so the Lawrences were up early and left Serre in the dark at 05.30 on the morning of Monday 22 December 1919 for the 8 km (5 mile) walk to Atina; then catching the postbus from Atina to Cassino rail station; then the train from Cassino to Naples; and the steamer (ferryboat) from Naples across to the island of Capri.

Due to bad weather and a heavy sea swell in the shallow harbour on the island, small boats were prevented from coming out, so were unable to take the ferry passengers off the steamer. So after sailing back towards the mainland the boat took shelter just offshore near the town of Sorrento where the passengers spent an uncomfortable and restless night onboard.  The next morning the steamer returned to Capri and was able to disembark its passengers.

In total the Lawrences’ time in Cervi (Serre) was 8 full days discounting the travelling day from Rome when they arrived late in the evening after dark and discounting also their departure day from Cervi when they left in the dark at 05.30 in the morning – (10 days maximum depending upon which biography you read and whether you include both their arrival day in the evening after dark AND their departure day when leaving in the dark early in the morning.)

In a letter to Cecily Lambert – a friend in England – written by Lawrence from Capri on 9 January 1920. DHL remarks that his ‘big luggage is still in customs in Turin’.  So that whilst Frieda had her luggage from her journeys to Germany and through Italy, DHL had very little personally and nothing by way of reference books, dictionaries or serious writing materials – other than essentials to write a few short letters.

DHL also commented in a letter to Ada Clarke written from Cervi on Saturday 20 December 1919 – ‘Picinisco is too cold – on Monday we are going on to Naples and the Island of Capri – Capri will be warm.’

In John Worthen’s 2005 book on D H Lawrence – called ‘The Life of an Outsider’ – the Emeritus Professor of D H Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham says that in Orazio Cervi’s house in Serre the Lawrences ‘organized the construction of a fireplace in one of the bedrooms (as there was no heat of any kind upstairs) but it was SO primitive and SO cold that it was impossible to settle there or for Lawrence to write.’

So it is clear that DHL did no work by way of serious literary writing during his short 8 day visit to Cervi (Serre).

Today there are items in Casa Lawrence at Serre, Italy, which lead visitors to assume that these items belonged to, and were left there, by DHL but as his ‘big luggage’ was still held up by customs in Turin, this is not so, as he had very little with him on his travels through Italy.  Additionally, there is an old typewriter on display, but DHL did not use a typewriter as he usually sent his hand-written manuscripts to England for typing professionally. He always wrote his novels and poems in longhand and twice – so that he always had a copy.

However, in early 1920 there had just been a postelegrafonico (postal) strike in Italy followed by a railway strike and in post-war Italy the postal service was very unreliable anyway, so that DHL was forever fearful of posting anything but letters. Accordingly, the manuscript of ‘The Lost Girl’ was not on this occasion, sent to England for typing but was typed in Rome in May 1920 by an English typist – a Miss Wallace – to whom it was sent in two parts for typing. The typed manuscript was returned from Rome by her to DHL in Sicily in early June for final correction.

Nothing of the novel ‘The Lost Girl’ was written nor typed in Cervi (Serre), Italy and the one-off stay by the Lawrences in December 1919 was for 8 full days only.

Exhaustively and diligently researched over several months in late 2014 and early 2015 from dated letters to and from D H Lawrence and from biographies, published letters, other books and museum sources dedicated to the writer.

This Coronology and Article was Compiled and Written in early 2015 by –

J Alan Haworth

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