Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689
The story begins with an account of a wife's adultery. Accordingly, the rector's wife has left him and their two young daughters for a young, penniless lover.
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The rector grieves but is loath to forget his beautiful wife. Instead, he turns his attention towards their daughters, Yvette and Lucille. In the story, we are told that the rector particularly adores Yvette, who reminds him of his former wife, Cynthia.
After being given responsibility for a rectorate in the north country, the rector soon welcomes three people into his household: his cunning mother (known as Granny or the Mater), Aunt Cissie (his sister), and Uncle Fred.
For her part, Granny is a wily, manipulative character. She particularly enjoys keeping the rector and Aunt Cissie under her thumb, and she does so with cunning grace. Meanwhile, Aunt Cissie secretly despises Granny, for the latter has prevented her from ever securing a happy marriage. The reality of the situation is that Aunt Cissie has sacrificed her sexuality and feminine inclinations to care for Granny in her old age.
As a result, the household is a miserable place to live. Everyone is unhappy, and no maidservant stays for more than three months. The only one who manages to keep her zest for life is Granny. She devours most of the poorly cooked meals, while Aunt Cissie dispenses with meat in her diet.
As can be expected, Granny loathes both her grand-daughters as well, particularly Lucille (the older of the two). As the young women grow, they eventually come to recognize Granny's terrible hold over everyone and take steps to secure their independence.
For her part, Lucille takes a job in town and flirts with every virile young man she sees. At twenty-one, Lucille tells Yvette that it is every young woman's right to enjoy flings with eligible young men until she is at least twenty-six years old. Meanwhile, Yvette (at nineteen) isn't so sure. She is pursued by eligible suitors, such as Leo Wetherell and Gerry Somercotes. However, she feels little desire to settle into the traditional role of mother and wife.
Effectively, the women in her life (her mother, Granny, and Aunt Cissie) have destroyed her inclinations in that direction. Things soon come to a head, however, when Yvette is caught spending some of the proceeds for the church Window Fund. Accordingly, Aunt Cissie had had her eye set on a stained glass window for the fallen soldiers of World War One. The loss of the money becomes a bitter point of contention between the two and precipitates the further deterioration of Yvette's relationship with her father and aunt.
Meanwhile, Yvette's hatred for Granny intensifies. In this, she feels helpless, as her father will not entertain any complaint about the old woman.
As a consequence, Yvette begins to yearn for freedom. As the story progresses, Yvette has her fortune told by a fortune teller. It is then that she notices the fortune teller's virile, handsome husband (a gypsy). To Yvette, the gypsy epitomizes sexual magnetism, power, and unbridled freedom. In short, he represents everything she believes is missing from her life.
Yvette soon decides in her heart that her one fling (before she marries) must be with the gypsy.
The story, however, ends on a bitter-sweet note. On one fateful day, the river overflows, and the town experiences a flood of frightening proportions. In the house, Granny is inundated with water and drowns in the process. Yvette, however, is saved by the gypsy, who leads her to the top story of the house. There, the two take shelter in a back room. They discard their water-soaked clothing, and in response to Yvette's cries, the gypsy takes her in his arms.
Despite the strong sexual attraction between the two, Yvette and the gypsy do not consummate their affair. Exhausted by their ordeal, they fall asleep in each other's arms.
After Granny's funeral, the gypsy sends Yvette a letter. In the letter, he tells her that his name is Joe Boswell and that he hopes to see her again. The story ends here, and we are left to speculate about Yvette's future with Joe.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 842
The primary conflict in this posthumously published short novel, as suggested by the title, is between the virginal and therefore unlived life of the young protagonist Yvette and the sensual and therefore vital world of the gipsy. This tension is heightened by the stifling nature of Yvette’s rectory home. Presided over by the domineering, toadlike grandmother, intolerably crowded by the presence of the repressed and always angry Aunt Cissie and the pinched and stingy Uncle Fred, the rectory is a squalid place that threatens to engulf the rector’s two daughters when they return home from school. To make the place even more cold and inhospitable, it seems haunted by the ghost of the rector’s wife, who left him for a penniless young man when the girls were only seven and nine. Although she exists in the rector’s mind as the “pure white snowflower” of a young bride, for the family, she exists only as “She-who-was-Cynthia,” a “foul nettle of lust” who would contaminate all with whom she comes in contact.
The house is filled not only with the rector’s perennial grief and anger for the loss of his wife but also with the grandmother’s hatred for Lucille and Yvette, who remind her of their mother and who challenge her position as the center of attention. Aunt Cissie’s hatred also dominates the house because she has sacrificed her life and her sex to care for her mother. The narrator of the story seems primarily sympathetic with the plight of Yvette: He continually describes the house as ugly and sordid and the grandmother as some “awful idol of old flesh.” Yvette is described as a creature mesmerized and suffocated by the stifling atmosphere of the rectory.
Yvette, who has already told her sister that she would like to fall violently in love, is thus emotionally and physically ready for the appearance of the gipsy, a handsome man, somewhat more than thirty years old, who lives with his wife and children in a wagon nearby. In contrast to the middle-aged rectory and the childish banality of her friends, the gipsy has a mysterious allure for Yvette. Her fascination with gipsy life becomes even more intense when she takes money that Aunt Cissie has been saving for a memorial church window and thus must bear the brunt of her aunt’s hatred and her father’s scorn when her casual theft is discovered.
Yvette wishes she could be a gipsy and thus escape what she sees as the stagnant life of the rectory. She envies the gipsy’s wife, a fortune-teller who has told her that people are treading on her heart and that a dark man will blow a spark into her again. She likes the woman’s immoral, unyielding sex and her hard, defiant pride, for she knows that the fortune-teller would despise the rectory and its morality. The gipsy man, who has looked at her with naked desire, knowing the “dark, tremulous, potent secret of her virginity,” makes Yvette feel as if a drug has cast her into a new mold.
At the very point of giving in to the desire of the gipsy, Yvette is momentarily distracted from him by the arrival of Major Eastwood and his lover, described as a bourgeois Jewess, who has left her husband to marry the major. When the couple takes a small cottage to wait for the divorce decree, Yvette begins to visit them, fascinated by their relationship, or, as the narrator calls it, their “connection,” for it is sexual connection that so puzzles and intrigues Yvette. When the rector hears of her friendship with the Eastwoods, however, he forbids Yvette to see them again, and she is therefore thrown back on her one hope for a “fling” before she must give in and marry: the gipsy.
The story comes to a climax with a literal bursting of the dammed-up desires of Yvette. When she and Granny are left alone in the house, the river overflows its banks and inundates the house. The gipsy arrives in time to carry Yvette upstairs to safety, but Granny is swept under and drowned. The final consummation of Yvette’s need comes when she and the gipsy strip off their clothes and huddle together in the bed to stay warm. As his body wraps around her, the vicelike grip of his arms seems “the only stable point in her consciousness.” There is no sexual consummation, however, for the two fall asleep, and when Yvette awakes, the gipsy is gone and rescuers have arrived to remove her from the flooded house.
The novel ends with Yvette moaning in her heart that she loves the gipsy but at the same time knowing the wisdom of his disappearance. After Granny’s funeral, she receives a brief and banal letter from him indicating that he hopes he will see her again and signing it, “Your obdt. servant Joe Boswell.” The last line of the story ironically notes, “And only then she realised that he had a name.”