Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.