The Virgin and the Gipsy

by D. H. Lawrence

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

In this novella, D. H. Lawrence explores the theme of the loss of innocence together with the repressive character of middle-class society. Along with the latter, he also criticizes the hypocrisy of religious leaders. Yvette’s innocence is tied to the natural passions that he presents as superior to the artificial constraints of social convention. However, her innocence also equals naïveté, which she must move past not only to mature as her own person but also to expand her range of understanding beyond herself.

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The lovely young Yvette and her sister Lucille are burdened by the “sinful” past of their mother. Their aunt and grandmother never tire of telling them how their mother’s wrongful indulgence of her passions damaged not only her daughters but also the entire family, both by besmirching their reputation and by leaving the girls motherless. Yvette, however, is attracted by the idea of passionate abandon, which she associates with the defiance of norms and of her relatives.

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The gipsy, who goes unnamed for most of the book, seems to represent this passionate aspect. Yvette is fascinated by his wife, a fortune teller, and is tempted to ignore her marital claim and enter a sexual relationship with the other woman’s husband. When this does not occur, she becomes fascinated with an affair between two newcomers to their town. Where she romantically attracted to the passion she imagines they share, she is confused by their desire for respectability.

Yvette’s factor is a minister, which compounds the disgrace of his wife leaving him. As he struggles to maintain a façade of condemnation even as he worships his wife’s memory, he seems hypocritical to his daughters. Their grandmother, Granny, and their Aunt Cissie uphold the narrow-minded standards of conventional respectability. Cissie’s endorsement of virtue rings hollow to the girls, however, as they are aware that her anger really stems from her personal resentment at being trapped in service to the family, especially her mother.

In a crisis when the family cannot held her, as the flood waters threaten her home, it is the gipsy who provides a steady, level-headed influence. He literally saves both her life and her innocence. Joe’s understanding of the precariousness of his position and his apparent lack of interest in deflowering a teenager, are finally revealed. Yvette realizes later that she had always seen him only as a man, social outsider, and symbol of her longings. Her epiphany that she had not even bothered to find out his name seems to imply that she may have gained the maturity to understand that in future she must consider the other person’s feelings and sense of social position as well as her own selfish desires.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

Initially, the meaning of The Virgin and the Gipsy seems quite clear. The story makes use of the archetypal figures of the virginal girl and the gipsy wanderer to embody a simple conflict between a life still unlived and a life filled with vitality. Beginning with Yvette’s first meeting with the gipsy, the reader fully expects the novel to run its course to a final sexual consummation. Although Yvette and the gipsy are alone together twice, however, at neither time does this expected event take place. In the first case, the somewhat gratuitous arrival of the Eastwoods prevents it; in the second case, the consummation is a purely symbolic one, complete with imagery of a dam bursting and a “fearful tearing noise” and “deep watery explosion” shaking the house.

As usual with the stories of D. H. Lawrence, it is difficult to know how to react to this novella. It is not a realistic work, for none of the characters is fully developed. Granny and the gipsy in particular are certainly more symbolic than realistic, for Granny is little more than a contemptible symbol of death, decay, and power, while the gipsy is an unnamed figure of mysterious phallic power. Only Yvette herself seems psychologically real and three-dimensional: One is never quite sure whether her dilemma is romantically simplistic or ironically complex. This may be more a function of the narrator’s tone, however, than of Yvette’s character.

Unless one is willing to suspend disbelief and accept Lawrence’s seemingly stark dichotomy between the gipsy as life and the rectory as antilife, it is difficult to react to the work as a significant symbolic novel, although there is little doubt that Lawrence intended readers to view the work in this fashion. It is, however, simply too easy to see the gipsy as the unambiguous image of reality and Yvette as the heroine of a symbolic romance in which one woman fights to find freedom and reality. Seen in this way, the novel fails both as social criticism and as symbolic romance; the lines it draws are too easy and the resolution it poses seems no resolution at all.

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