Constant Reader
WebBoardOrientationReading ListsHome WorksActivities

Virgin and the Gypsy
by D.H. Lawrence

Book Description The Virgin and the Gipsy was discovered in France after D. H. Lawrence's death in 1930. Immediately recognized as a masterpiece in which Lawrence had distilled and purified his ideas about sexuality and morality, The Virgin and the Gipsy has become a classic and is one of Lawrence's most electrifying short novels.

Set in a small village in the English countryside, this is the story of a secluded, sensitive rector's daughter who yearns for meaning beyond the life to which she seems doomed. When she meets a handsome young gipsy whose life appears different from hers in every way, she is immediately smitten and yet still paralyzed by her own fear and social convention. Not until a natural catastrophe suddenly, miraculously sweeps away the world as she knew it does a new world of passion open for her. Lawrence's spirit is infused by all his tenderness, passion, and knowledge of the human soul.

From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, April 01, 2004 05:38 PM This novella, discovered in France after Lawrence's death, is a strange story. Lawrence, who was famous for his intense rewriting, did not have the chance to edit, so the manuscript was published in its raw form. Some say its simplicity adds to its beauty. It reads somewhat like a combination fairy tale/gothic novel, complete with the Mater as the wicked witch, She-who-was-Cynthia as the princess, and the gipsy as the swarthy, threatening, yet mesmerizing rescuer. This story reminds me of Women in Love, and maybe even a bit more of Lady Chatterly's Lover because, again, the lead female character becomes more intricately aware of the power of her sexuality through her attraction to the sensuality of a dark, foreboding male. I'm curious, tho, about what the gipsy represents. I've read that he represents Yvette's free will, a free will she had previously been unaware of, to escape the harshness and heaviness of her family's corrupt sense of morality, especially that of her father, the rector. This is a short book, only 140 pages, with more depth and symbolism than is first apparent. Beej
From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, April 01, 2004 06:20 PM For anyone interested, here's the novella online: Beej
From: Tonya Presley Date: Saturday, April 03, 2004 11:37 AM I read it, and enjoyed it a lot. More than anything, I enjoyed how very well I was made to understand all the characters; Yvette's vagueness came through like she was my own sister. The power and politics within the family structure were explained and demonstrated pretty well. If the gipsy represents sexual freedom, what did the unmarried couple represent? I liked how the man was so eye-opening for Yvette. It tickled me that the woman could not be separated from her Jewishness, which was as undesirable as being a gipsy, I think. Tonya
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, April 04, 2004 04:46 PM I thought there would be more posts than this by now! That's a good question, Tonya. I think the unmarried couple would represent a certain sort of morality, and one not wrapped up in appearances.They would probably be the antitheses of the Mater, who lived in order to sit in judgement and condemn. Beej
From: Ernest Belden Date: Monday, April 05, 2004 01:56 AM Beej, I enjoyed reading this short novel as it was interesting and the characters well define. The fact that Lawrence died before rewriting explains why I felt this short novel was not as fine tuned as some of his other works. The flooding may be considered the high point and this reminded me of one of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. since a sudden episode of flooding also represents the climax of the action. This story lends itself to symbolic interpretations. Also, I can well understand Yvett's longing to get away from the unpleasant family environment. Ernie
From: Dale Short Date: Monday, April 05, 2004 09:42 PM I'm about a third into this one, Beej, and finding it very intriguing...and a departure in style for Lawrence, at least from what I remember reading many moons ago. Definitely a fairy-tale feel to this one, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. I'll be back when I've reached the finish line. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, April 05, 2004 10:05 PM Oh good, Dale. As Ernie said, the fact that Lawrence died before he could rewrite it gives it an odd feel. But the characters still have meat to them, even without that intense rewriting for which Lawrence was famous. Her aunt really interested me. I felt that she was so jealous of Yvette, and that Yvette might be fearful of becoming like her aunt. Aunt Cissie had sacrificed her life for the Mater, and tho this was accepted by the rest of the family, Cissie was bitter. Cissie had to even sleep in the same bed with her mother because the Mater didn't like to sleep alone! The Mater was the pivot of the family and her purpose for living was to control the family. I'm sure her fate in the flood overflows (no pun intended) with symbolism. Beej
From: Ernest Belden Date: Wednesday, April 07, 2004 12:45 AM Perhaps the essence of the story is Yvette's disgust with most members of her family and her attempts to get away from it all. She wants to get away as far as possible so she became involved with person most unlike the members of her family - the gypsy and the unconventional living arrangements of the unmarried couple. The ex-officer, perhaps upper class living with a jewish woman who seems well fixed financially. Of course these interests were unacceptable to her father, a member of the clergy, and he had his "little talk" with Yvette to straighten her out and remind her of family expectations. So we need the flood to intervene to give young Yvette a taste of temporary romance and freedom. Ernie
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, April 07, 2004 02:05 PM I read this in a day, during a couple of long subway rides, and that was a few weeks ago. I was a bit annoyed with Yvette, to tell the truth. Their home life was a real bore, to be sure, but she struck me as very spoiled. She did nothing about her situation, just sat back and waited to be entertained. At least her sister had the initiative to get a job and get out of the house! Not that I had a great deal of sympathy for anyone else, actually, except for Louise, who seemed the most decent person out of the bunch. And I found Lawrence's anti-Semitism rather appalling. This was set in the 1920's, I gather. When was it actually written? Mary Ellen
From: Tonya Presley Date: Thursday, April 08, 2004 01:44 AM What you say is true, Mary Ellen, but I think having an understanding of that vagueness Lawrence gave Yvette mitigated it for me. She seemed born not just in the wrong family, but in the wrong time, or the wrong dimension. She seemed to be waiting to be born, really. She had absorbed few prejudices, even if she obeyed her father's wishes. Actually, I didn't assume that her father's antisemitism reflected on Lawrence, just thought it was an attribute he gave her father, just like he gave her vagueness. But I don't know anything about him. Tonya
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, April 08, 2004 01:11 PM Tonya, I think nearly every description of that woman is informed by antisemitism. For starters, she is always referred to as "the Jewess." This doesn't mean Lawrence was antisemitic, of course, but he does not distance himself from the antisemitism in the narration. As to Yvette: I agree she was unformed and unfinished. But she also was often cruel. I'm not sure I buy the idea (which the narration puts forth) that her cluelessness excuses the cruelty of some of her statements. (It's been too long since I did my quick read of this book for me to remember specific instances of this.) The closing line of the book is fascinating and, for me, spoke volumes about the extent of Yvette's self-absorption. Mary Ellen
From: Ann Davey Date: Monday, April 12, 2004 07:47 AM Beej, Thanks for getting this discussion going. I just got back from Italy (wonderful!) where we were visiting our son who is studying there for a semester. So far I haven't had a chance to read the book. Ann
From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 09:22 PM You're more than welcome, Ann. It was my pleasure. Ernie, I've re-read your post several times and especially this line: 'So we need the flood to intervene to give young Yvette a taste of temporary romance and freedom.' boy, do I agree with that; I would even go so far as to say that flood was symbolic of Yvette's sexual freedom and how it (the flood) destroyed the Mater. But I could use some help in deciphering what all the Mater symbolizes. I know there was something about how she was like a gnarled tree root around which the rest of the family was bound, or something to that effect. My take was that she was a nasty, controlling, meddlesome bitch. Beej
From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, April 13, 2004 09:47 PM (Not to divert the topic but, Ann, being Italian myself, I hope you'll go downstairs to CR Salon and tell us more about your trip!) Beej
From: Candy Minx Date: Friday, April 23, 2004 03:52 PM What a great opening live! I am working through chapter five, and I think I am going to really enjoy this one... The family is torture...and as much as I am squirming at the Grandmother "mater" I still wish someone around the house was graceful...I don't really enjoy how "bored" the daughters are, but what can you do. That Aunt Cissie is scary huh, how she crept to the bedroom and hissed at Yvette... This really does feel different than other Lawrence stories in terms of the descriptions, this is sparse and simple. It reminds me more of contemporary novels actually. I kind of miss the insights that are such a treat in more florid Lawrence fair. But, itis like a fairy tale, and I tell ya, I would have just stayed with the gypsies I think...that dark staring gypsy sounded pretty handsome... I think we might come to side with the mother that abandoned her family and kids by the end though, huh? At least the young women have an excuse to be fed up with the adults in their life... can't people just be nice? Heh heh...
From: Candy Minx Date: Saturday, April 24, 2004 03:52 PM Who knew? D.H. Lawrence had a sense of humor... “I’m not sure one shouldn’t have one’s fling till one is twenty-six, and then give in, and marry!” This was Lucille’s philosophy, learned from older women. Yvette was twenty-one. It meant she had five more years in which to have this precious fling. And the fling meant, at the moment, the gipsy. The marriage, at the age of twenty-six, meant Leo or Gerry. So, a woman could eat her cake and have her bread and butter.
From: Candy Minx Date: Sunday, April 25, 2004 11:02 AM I was very disturbed by the constant mention of "the jewess" it was so weird, i just had to go on reading because there was something weird about that...I don't know what exactly... By the time I got to the chapter on the soldier and married could see Lawrences opions about marriage and phoniness...ah thought I, there is the D.H. we have all come to love! ...but about the whole thing, I really enjoyed it overall. "She was barely conscious: as if the flood was in her soul." Well, this was quite a story. I think maybe we see that Yvette became strong one, because of her love for the gypsy...and oddly a contemporay notion of the power of positive thinking! The words of the fortune teller gave her a kind of strength and I thought that was pretty cool. I thought it was also funny and notable that as Granny is dying all we see at last is her hand on the newel of the staircase...and her wedding ring. It's as if we see that marriage can not itself, save you...whereas, the feelings of love can. I like how a flood was associated with love. (I can't help but feel that Lawrence got a little corny with the whole "rubbing" thing with a fact I was kind of laughing like he was all naughty about it, and yet it was so unsexy...i suppose it must have been somewhat risque back then...)
From: Dale Short Date: Sunday, April 25, 2004 10:34 PM I'm glad I read V&G, and have enjoyed you guys' comments, but I'm wondering if the high praise of the novel I saw in book blurbs raised my expectations unrealistically. My paperback copy, for instance, has this buildup: Lawrence was, above all, a deeply serious artist who drew on psychoanalysis, theosophy, history and archaeology to define the impoverishment of modern civilization. The search for a full, intense life, lived in harmony with deep, instinctive energies dominates his novels, poems, and critical works. Hard as I try, I can't see this level of cosmic profundity in The Virgin & The Gipsy.To me, it has some vivid scenes and striking images, but when all's said and done, it's the story of two specific adolescent girls raised in a specific repressive, religious household, period. Some of the descriptions of the adolescent mindset struck me as beautifully done, particularly since this was written long before teenagerdom became an institution. But broad applications to the larger world, and Lawrence's supposed theme of "freedom through eroticism," are beyond my grasp here. The flood sequence had some excellent writing, but the final scene between Yvette and the Gipsy was an anticlimax, pardon the expression. Am I just in a reading funk, or did anybody else feel somewhat unsatisfied by this one? >>Dale in Ala.
From: Candy Minx Date: Sunday, April 25, 2004 11:01 PM I'm going to get back on this one Dale, it's late and I am almost asleep here...and the LEAFS lost miserably tonight, so I for one AM in a funk...ha ha... see ya in the morning... (but I can definately reaffirm that the "freedom through erotism" deal didn't work for me...but I did enjoy this one in general. I just thought it wasn't very sexy...)
From: Candy Minx Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 12:15 PM I was reading through the posts again...Tonya your insight really hit me... "If the gipsy represents sexual freedom, what did the unmarried couple represent? I liked how the man was so eye-opening for Yvette. It tickled me that the woman could not be separated from her Jewishness, which was as undesirable as being a gipsy, I think." I did not recognize this, and I think that is shows me how I missed that completely and thought there must have been some reason Lawrence kept pointing this out...and I didn't feel weird about reading "gypsy" over and over, but did about jewess!!! Hey!! They are comparable...and both exotic and both had transformative power over rather conservative people. The woman transformed a man who lived a previously conservative life, so much so that he was in the military...which could represent following the orders of society? And yet he too was freed by love and a person who may have seemed an outsider to the point where Lawrence kept highlighting gypsy/jewish. Tonya, this really made me like this writing in this odd little story a lot more. I also had a thought about the flood...Beej kept haunting me with her question...what does the flood symbolize? Well, as soon as the flood occurred in the story, I was like this is ridiculous, this can't be happening what kind of far fetched notion is this? I am sure I felt a little about this rather convenient flood like others felt about Yvette, how simple and annoying she was, haha. Well...the flood is a result of a dam or reservoir...a man made construct, that has tampered with the natural resources. Perhaps like the father and grandmother in the family who adhered to social constructs? An emotional unloving construct controlling the family unit and the detrimental effects of water channelling...I wonder was our Mr. Lawrence an environmentalist!? Maybe? Dale, does this idea spark anything more positive about the story? am I way off do you think?
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 01:26 PM Dale, I'm with you. I didn't think this was such a big deal, though it might have improved if Lawrence had been able to edit and rewrite. The only characters I liked were Louise and the gipsy, and I really disliked Yvette, spoiled and bored and thoughtless. Did anyone else think that Lawrence's use of "virgin" as an adjective overdone? There was one passage in particular where it wouldn't have surprised me had he referred to her "virgin fingernails," as he'd used it to describe so much else. Mary Ellen
From: Candy Minx Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 01:36 PM Heh heh Her virgin fingernails. so funny. Well, as i said earlier, most everything in this story about sex made me laugh...but I suppose it may have been really exciting at the time. I still feel like laughing when I think of the rub with towels after the flood. Um, the repetitive use of also like the repetitive use of gypsy and jewess I think.Irritating, but now I am thinking it may have been to make the story more likea fairytale and simple...?It might have failed and been boring and corny...but I think maybe Lawrence might have been trying to make it work on purpose rather than as a mistake or poor writing. It seems like he might have been experimenting as I think this over... One other thing, when the flood happened I found myself thinking of the flood in Oh Brother movie...
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, April 29, 2004 01:06 PM Candy, I see what you mean about trying to create a fairy tale/oral tradition kind of rhythm. Guess it didn't work for me. AND I wish I'd thought of "O Brother..." (one of my favorites!) When I got to the flood, I thought of "The Mill on the Floss" (downer!) I think it was more of an O Brother-type flood; not the big tragedy of "Mill." (Apologies, Mater!) Mary Ellen
From: Candy Minx Date: Saturday, May 01, 2004 02:36 PM Well, I agree with you and Dale that this is not the greatest story, especially form such a great writer...but aside form some irritation...I think he was really onto something. I think it would be very cool to do an Ähab's Wife"kind of thing with this the whole thing as if one were writing it for the first time, ala Lawrence and with what we know now...


In Association with