Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.

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(The entire section is 423 words.)