The Virgin and the Gipsy

by D. H. Lawrence

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The rector adored Yvette, and spoiled her with a doting fondness; as much as to say: am I not a soft-hearted, indulgent old boy! He liked to have weaknesses to a hairs-breadth. She knew them, this opinion of himself, and the Mater knew his and she traded on them by turning them into decorations for him, for his character.

At the same time, out of the squalid world sometimes would come a rank, evil smell of selfishness and degraded lust, the smell of that awful nettle, She-who-was-Cynthia. This nettle actually contrived, at intervals, to get a little note through to her girls, her children. And at this, the silver-haired Mater shook inwardly with hate. For if She-who-was-Cynthia ever came back, there wouldn't be much left of the Mater. A secret gust of hate went from the old granny to the girls, children of that foul nettle of lust, that Cynthia who had had such an affectionate contempt for the Mater.

The children were brought up in this atmosphere of cunning self-sanctification and of unmentionability.

The above are some of the most interesting passages from Lawrence's short story. They clearly emphasize the author's astute analysis of human character.

Both Yvette and Lucille are portrayed as almost-orphaned children, raised in an atmosphere of "cunning self-sanctification and unmentionability." Granny must secure her own power and influence over the household by marginalizing her son's former wife. This is why the latter is unceremoniously and contemptuously referred to as She-Who-Was-Cynthia; she is never mentioned as a figure of respectability.

The word "was" in the title She-Who-Was-Cynthia is pivotal: it highlights the dethroning of the former wife and the newly entrenched power of the elderly widow (Granny). To secure her own position, Granny humors the rector. With Machiavellian cunning, she uses the rector's weakness for pure, beautiful things (which he makes into idols) to bind him ever closer to her.

So, despite her hatred for Yvette and, ultimately Cynthia, Granny carefully protects the image of sentimental indulgence in her son (the rector). Meanwhile, the rector, due to his own ambivalence towards his own sexual nature, succumbs to his mother's emotional manipulation. He dotes over Yvette in the same way he once doted over Cynthia: it is the only way he can reconcile what he considers his "worm-like," ugly inner self with the reality of his life.

This "worm-like" self the rector privately agonizes over is the self that secretly desires to be engulfed by his sensual nature. He simultaneously hates and obsesses over it. However, his dysfunctional orthodoxy forbids him the luxury of indulging his latent sensuality to the point of satiation. As such, he can only dote superficially on beautiful creatures like Yvette and Cynthia; his perverse emotional bond with his mother negates his ability to realize his individuality and manhood to the fullest.

Meanwhile, Granny understands the situation perfectly and welcomes the status quo. It is, after all, a useful way for her to retain power over her son.

Yvette went about dazed and peaked and confused. The rector paid in the money to Aunt Cissie, much to that lady's rage. The helpless tumour of her rage was still running. She would have liked to announce her niece's delinquency in the parish magazine. It was anguish to the destroyed woman that she could not publish the news to all the world. The selfishness! The selfishness! The selfishness!

Here, we see the effects of Granny's rule over Aunt Cissie. Unlike her brother, Aunt Cissie openly indulges her self-hatred. She directs it towards Yvette, whom she hates more than anyone else in the family. To Aunt Cissie, Yvette is the spitting image of the beauteous Cynthia. In Cissie's mind, Cynthia is enjoying two things that have been denied her forever: freedom and sensual ecstasy in the arms of a virile lover.

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