The Virgin and the Gipsy

by D. H. Lawrence

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Critical Context

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Critical comment on The Virgin and the Gipsy seems to reflect this unresolved reaction to the work. On the one hand, the respected critic F. R. Leavis has called it one of Lawrence’s finest works, sufficient in itself to establish Lawrence as a major genius of the novel form. On the other hand, a more recent critic such as F. B. Pinion accuses the work of being blatantly sensational and unconvincing. This disagreement, however, results primarily from Leavis’ perception of the work as realistic and Pinion’s understanding of it as symbolic.

The Virgin and the Gipsy seems typical of many of Lawrence’s novellas and short stories in that it presents the familiar Lawrentian tension between sexual vitality and social repression in stark symbolic terms. Part of this similarity is a result of the generic nature of short fiction as opposed to the novel. Because of the necessary economy of the form, the conflict must be symbolically communicated in a short story (for example, Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”), whereas it can be developed in a psychologically realistic way in his full-length novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). It seems that in the novella form, which shares some of the characteristics of both short stories and novels in being simultaneously realistic and symbolic, Lawrence has difficulty in resolving this problem and making his work believable either as realism or symbolism.

To read The Virgin and the Gipsy, one must either be willing to accept fully the Lawrentian values of the vital life of sensuality and its superiority to the life of social restraints, or else one must look more closely at the structuring intelligence that controls the story and judges its characters and actions. Either the work is a straightforward symbolic romance in which the values are clearly, if simplistically, delineated, or else it is an ironic novel in which the very values apparently propounded are ultimately undercut by the destructive selfishness and immaturity of the protagonist, which is only suggested at by the ironic narrator. If, as the narrator says, the flood in the story is within Yvette’s soul, it is surely a destructive rather than a creative one, and it certainly seems more than a little ironic that a few lines after Yvette is moaning about her love for the gipsy, she realizes that he has a name. Because the novel ends before the reader can see what this personalizing of the gipsy does to her “love” for him, the story seems finally indeterminate rather than resolved.

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