The Virgin and the Gipsy

by D. H. Lawrence

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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560

The characters of The Virgin and the Gipsy are:

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The rector: The rector is portrayed as a wronged husband on the surface. However, his worship of his former wife betrays his struggle with a faith tradition that minimizes human sexual nature. As a religious authority figure, he believes that he must hide his true inclinations from the prying eyes of society. However, his well-worn facade destroys his relationship with his wife and daughters.

She-Who-Was-Cynthia: Cynthia is the rector's former wife. In the story, she leaves him for a young, penniless lover. Cynthia is compared to a white snow flower throughout the story. She epitomizes innocence, vivacity, and sensuality. Her former husband, the rector, worships her innocence but struggles to accept her sensual nature.

Yvette Saywell: Yvette is the rector's youngest daughter. She is the image of her mother, Cynthia. In the story, she struggles to reconcile her sensual nature with social convention and familial expectations. On the one hand, she craves the consummation of her sexual desires. Yet, she fears that doing so will banish her to the outskirts of polite society, a fate already experienced by her mother, Cynthia.

Lucille Saywell: Lucille is the rector's eldest daughter. Like Yvette, Lucille despises Granny and harbors contempt for Aunt Cissie. She navigates life in her dysfunctional household by having affairs with virile young men.

Granny (The Mater): Granny is a central character in the story. She is cunning, manipulative, and self-righteous. In the story, she wields a strong emotional hold over her son (the rector) and her daughter (Aunt Cissie). Granny manipulates their insecurities to entrench herself as the central figure of the household.

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Aunt Cissie: Aunt Cissie is Granny's daughter. She is bitterly angry that her life has been held hostage by her filial responsibilities. In the story, she shows open disdain and hatred for her nieces, who remind her of Cynthia (her former sister-in-law). For her part, Cynthia is a woman fully awakened to her sensuality, an experience Aunt Cissie will seemingly never realize in her current circumstances.

Uncle Fred: Uncle Fred is Granny's son. He is a lethargic character who contributes little to the household. In the story, he is said to go into town every day. When he is at home, he plays crossword puzzles with Granny and his brother, the rector.

Joe Boswell (the "gipsy"): This is Yvette's lover and secret suitor. Although he is married, he lusts after Yvette's fresh beauty. In the story, he saves Yvette from drowning after the river overflows its banks.

The Fortune Teller: The fortune teller is Joe's wife. In the story, she tells Yvette that the latter is loved by a "dark man" and that he will replenish her zest for life.

Mrs. Fawcett: Mrs. Fawcett is a Jewess who is being divorced by her wealthy engineer husband, Simon Fawcett. In the story, she has taken a lover, Major Eastwood, who is younger than her. In the story, Yvette is fascinated with Mrs. Fawcett's indifference to social conventions regarding marriage and adultery.

Major Eastwood: Major Eastwood is Mrs. Fawcett's lover. He intends to marry Mrs. Fawcett once her divorce is finalized. In the story, he tells Yvette that "desire is the most wonderful thing in life." Like Mrs. Fawcett, he does not hold to traditional views of morality.

Leo Wetherell and Gerry Somercotes: Leo and Gerry are Yvette's suitors.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 342

The fact that the gipsy had no name for Yvette until the last line of the story is sufficient indication that he is not a real person to her but rather a symbolic embodiment of a life of vitality and freedom as opposed to the deathly world of the rectory and its stagnant sense of middle-class morality and middle-aged death-in-life. Moreover, the inhabitants of the rectory—her father, her aunt, her uncle, and especially old Granny—are more symbolic embodiments than they are real. Her father embodies narrow middle-class morality, whereas her aunt and uncle represent the repressed and meaningless life of middle age. Granny is the central representative of the decayed life of the rectory, the “pivot” of the family, which she covers and controls with her power.

Yvette is the central figure in the battle between the forces of gipsy vitality and the sterility of the deathly world of the rectory. Her older sister Lucille primarily seems to serve the contrasting function of one who is more resigned than Yvette to slip into the harness of bourgeois morality and thus marry and settle down. Yvette’s mother, “She-who-was-Cynthia,” although not physically present in the novella, is an embodiment of one who has escaped these mundane devotions to strike out on her own.

Yvette is a reincarnation of her mother’s yearning for freedom as well as her carelessness and immaturity. Although she elicits the reader’s sympathy because of her entrapment within the stifling world of the rectory, at the same time she alienates the reader with her selfishness. At least at first glance, however, there seems little doubt that the narrator, perhaps the most important “character” in the story, is fully in sympathy with her plight and completely scornful of the world of the rectory. Although the narrator remains an unnamed, omniscient figure throughout, it is his judgmental voice that dominates the action. It is thus by the narrator’s point of view and his possibly ironic tone that the complexity of the novella’s value system is communicated.

Characters Discussed

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Yvette Saywell

Yvette Saywell, a nineteen-year-old who has just returned home from school. A proud, spoiled young woman, Yvette causes friction in the family because she does not take responsibility for her own actions. Like her sister, she is both attracted and repelled by the notion of having a relationship with a man. Because she does not like the “common” boys who are attracted to her, she decides never to fall in love. The candor of this “virgin witch” brings her both admirers and enemies. Because of her longing for freedom, she identifies more with the carefree Gypsies than with the members of her own family. After her father reprimands her for visiting the Eastwoods, she becomes hard, detached, and revengeful; only the Gypsy is able to reveal the mysteries of love to Yvette, thereby bringing her “back to life.”

Lucille Saywell

Lucille Saywell, Yvette’s older sister and confidant. Unlike Yvette, this aristocratic-looking twenty-one-year-old not only takes care of household matters involving doctors and servants but also works at a job in town from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. every day. Her insolence toward Granny and her belief that a girl should have flings and then marry at the age of twenty-six have much to do with Yvette’s rebellion against her family and her involvement with the Gypsy.

The rector

The rector, the father of Yvette and Lucille. Heavy and inert, this forty-seven-year-old man is fanatically afraid of the unconventional, which is why he prevents Yvette from visiting the Eastwoods. Although he still worships his departed wife, he is greatly disturbed by Yvette’s similarities to this woman.

The Mater

The Mater, the girls’ grandmother, who is the matriarch of the household. Obese, bedridden, and nearly blind, this “toad-like” creature never does any harm, but her compulsive desire to control other people’s lives interferes with the plans of Yvette and Lucille. After the great reservoir bursts, she drowns in the resulting flood.

Aunt Cissie

Aunt Cissie, the rector’s middle-aged sister. This pale, pious woman who eats very little has dedicated her life to serving the Mater. When Yvette steals from the money that Aunt Cissie has collected to commemorate the fallen heroes of World War I, Aunt Cissie’s jealousy of the girl’s privileged position in the family manifests itself in a torrent of insinuations and verbal abuse.


She-Who-Was-Cynthia, the girls’ mother, who ran off years before with a younger man. Her freethinking qualities and blithe carelessness have been transferred to Yvette. Whereas the Mater and Aunt Cissie regard the girls’ relation to this woman as a badge of shame, Yvette views her mother as a being from a higher, immortal world.

Joe Boswell

Joe Boswell, a Gypsy who becomes Yvette’s lover. Neat and dapper, almost rakishly so, he is, in Major Eastwood’s words, a “resurrected man,” having barely escaped death in World War I. Unlike Yvette, he is the master of himself and, therefore, is the only person who has any real power over her. At the end of the novel, he rescues Yvette from the flood and from her stifling view of love and sex. She is ultimately saved because of the Gypsy’s admonition to be brave in heart and body.

Mrs. Fawcett

Mrs. Fawcett, a rich Jewish divorcée. This thirty-six-year-old mother of two leaves her husband, a renowned engineer, for a man six years younger than she. Her nonconformist lifestyle attracts Yvette and repels the rector.

Major Eastwood

Major Eastwood, Mrs. Fawcett’s lover and an admirer of the Gypsy. Like the Gypsy, he is a “resurrected” man; he was literally dug out of the ground by his fellow soldiers. This handsome, athletic man also resembles the Gypsy in his disdain for work and in his assertion that anyone who can really feel desire is a king. Because of his relationship with a rich woman who is younger than he, the major is viewed as a “sponge” by the rector.

Bob Framley

Bob Framley, Yvette’s friend and a member of the big, jolly, unruly Framley family. He accompanies Yvette on her holiday to Bonsall Head and assists in her rescue from the flooded house.


Leo, a friend of Yvette who is described by her as a “mastiff” among the “housedog” boys who court her. He proposes to Yvette, even though he is practically engaged to Ella Framley. It is Leo who honks the horn of his car and thereby brings the Gypsy to Yvette’s attention.

Lady Louth

Lady Louth, a friend of the Mater. The Mater insists that Yvette and her friends visit this awful woman during their trip to Bonsall Head.

Uncle Fred

Uncle Fred, the rector’s middle-aged brother. This stingy and gray-faced man eats dinner with the Saywells periodi-cally.

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