The Virgin and the Gipsy

by D. H. Lawrence

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In a rural English village, two young girls grow up without their mother in a strictly religious home. Lucille’s and Yvette’s father is a minister, and their aunt and grandmother try to replace the girls’ mother, who had run off with a younger man. Aware of their relatives’ resentment and their father’s inability to cope, the girls long to rebel. Lucille, the older sister, is the first to act on their dissatisfaction, working for wages and having flings with young men. Yvette, the more romantic and imaginative of the two, envisions an exciting life far from the boring town.

The author juxtaposes Yvette’s humdrum life with what she believes is the exciting, carefree existence of a “gypsy” who camps nearby with his wife. The girl inserts herself into their life, eager to hear tales of their vagabond life and the fortunes that the woman tells, playing to the teenager’s obvious interest in sex. The Gypsy seems to desire her, and she fantasies about losing her virginity to him. Distracted from these fantasies by the arrival of newcomers to the town, Yvette transfers her voyeuristic interest to this couple. Major Eastwood and his mistress, who is Jewish, rent a cottage while they await her divorce so they can be married. Believing this association is corrupting his daughter, the rector forbids her to see them.

A dramatic climax occurs in the form of a major weather event, as the river that runs through town floods its banks while Yvette is home alone. The Gypsy saves the girl inside her home by taking her upstairs, but her grandmother dies. Lawrence uses the floodwaters as a metaphor for sexual awakening. It seems, however, that the Gypsy stops short of having sex with the teenager. After they fall asleep, he leaves her home and leaves town.

Despite the sympathetic portrait of the girl’s ardent desire, the author also suggests that reason and restraint have their place and that physical longing is no substitute for mature love, such as Eastwood has found. Finally, Yvette learns that the Gypsy is a person with a name, Joe, not an abstract object of her desire.

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