As has become a tradition, when Mr. Kaggsy learned that another Club Week was coming up, he offered to provide another guest review – I think he quite enjoys his little forays into book blogging, although he’s much more of a film man nowadays. Anyway, he’s chosen an author I’ve never read (despite Middle Child’s attempts to get me to) and so here is his guest post – it’s quite a long one…. 😀

The Virgin and the Gipsy (later Gypsy) by D. H. Lawrence

1930 first editions, by G. Orioli, Italy and Martin Secker, UK

Lawrence’s novella, amounting to just over 30,000 words, was written in the mid-1920s, but only discovered after the author’s death in 1930, in France. In that year it was first published in Italy and five months later in Britain. Still in print, today’s public domain rules mean that ‘new’ editions will continue to be produced. “The Virgin and the Gipsy” (later changed to “Gypsy”) also received a fresh lease of life when it was made into a film, shot in 1969, to be released the following year. I have to confess that I only came upon the tale after the cinema adaptation.

The story commences after a vicar in his late forties, abandoned by his wife for a younger man, has transferred from his vicarage in the south to a rectorate in the north. The setting, in the fictional parish of Papplewick, the local river providing its name, represents a new placement for clergyman’s two daughters, his blind mother and his sister, another sibling being a brother from the city. The embittered minister clings to the memory of his distant wedding day: “(in) the rector’s heart still bloomed the pure white snowflower of his young bride.”

The girls’ contact with their mother is minimal, a woman described as glamorous and not dependable, “forever coming and going”. In time, the daughters are returning from a finishing year in Lausanne, Lucille approaching twenty-one and Yvette nineteen. Back home, “The rectory struck a chill into their hearts as they entered.” Lawrence’s land of the north, with its steel mills and rugged geography, is always evident: “The country, with its steep hills and its deep, narrow valleys, was dark and gloomy, yet had a certain powerful strength of its own. Twenty miles away was the black industrialism of the north. Yet the village of Papplewick was comparatively lonely, almost lost, the life in it stony and dour”

In the dull domestic setting, the household is almost matriarchal, the grandmother ruling the roost and her only daughter having a sharp tongue. One day, the adolescent girls, desperate to forge some kind of social life, go on a motoring jaunt into the countryside with two male contemporaries. At one point, ahead of them is a light cart, the sight of its driver kindling feelings within the younger car passenger: “Yvette’s heart gave a jump. The man on the cart was a gypsy… something over thirty, and a beau in his way.” Following an opening exchange the group agree go to the traveller’s winter settlement to have their fortunes read.

After her encounter with the traveller the aroused female regards him as virile and more interesting than the two privileged men accompanying her. When back in her home, “Yvette stirred luxuriously in the bed. The thought of the gypsy had released the life of her limbs, and crystallised in her heart the hate of the rectory: so that now she felt potent, instead of impotent.”

Much of the following parts of the story deal with domestic boredom, dull days indoors. “The rectory was on one side the Papple, in the rather steep valley, the village was beyond and above, further down, on the other side the swift stream. At the back of the rectory the hill went up steep, with a grove of dark, bare larches, through which the road disappeared. And immediately across stream from the rectory, facing the house, the river-bank rose steep and bushy, up to the sloping, dreary meadows, that sloped up again to dark hillsides of trees, with grey rock cropping out.”

Hardbacks – Alfred A. Knopf Inc, US (1930) and The World Publishing Company, US (1944)

At a later time the gypsy happens along the lane to the rectory and his young admirer feels herself charged by his presence. All other ordinary days following the meeting no longer hold any interest for Yvette, even going to a party, or having the company of young men, whom she finds irritating. Around her the weather continues to be blighted by heavy rain and wintry conditions. On a February day the preoccupied young woman goes “… for a walk by herself, up the frozen hills, to the Black Rocks.” On another occasion she takes to her bicycle, and as luck would have it, runs into the gypsy, he hammering a copper bowl near to his caravan, his family about him.

Cold from being out in the day, Yvette is invited to sit and share the travellers’ fire. Her stay stretches to having a meal, she loosening her hair in the sun which has come out. “Her will had departed from her limbs, he had power over her: his shadow was on her.” As for the male protagonist, “(He) was aware of one thing only, the mysterious fruit of her virginity, her perfect tenderness in the body.” An invitation to go into his caravan to wash her hands becomes short-lived, owing to the arrival of a well-to-do couple in a car. The woman is awaiting a divorce from her husband, a former army major, under whom, it later emerges, the gypsy served in the war as “one of the common men, the Tommies.”

In time the couple drive Yvette home, fearing that there might be snow coming, her bicycle on the back of their car. More themes of class are introduced, the major has a wealthy “Jewess” wife, she preferring a younger man, the situation being almost the mirror image of the lot suffered by the rector. The couple ‘living in sin’ are resident nearby, which enables Yvette to visit them. She finds them not just interesting, but open and honest, while her father cannot bring himself to entertain any such notion. Upon returning home and discussing the pair with her older sister, Yvette asks “What is it… that brings people together? People like (the local couple), for instance? and Daddy and Mamma, so frightfully unsuitable?- and that gypsy woman who told my fortune, like a great horse, and the gypsy man, so fine and delicately cut? What is it?” The loose reply she receives from Lucille is, “I suppose it’s sex, whatever that is.

The girls’ banter carries on, neither however speaking from much experience. Yvette’s thoughts turn to the gypsy while she and her sister exchange more views. Another lengthy and intensely intimate conversation occurs later between the stricken damsel and her unmarried friends, touching upon love, marriage, and passion, the older woman somewhat hypocritically opining that a love affair with someone like the gypsy would be “monstrous”, questioning what Yvette would “think of herself! – That’s not love! That’s – that’s prostitution!”

Equally, the rector’s view of the not yet divorced couple is condemnatory, viewing them as immoral. “A young sponge going off with a woman older than himself, so that he can live on her money! The woman leaving her home and her children!” His own religious background and marital failure colours his assessment, while his daughter finds the pair “so solid, you know, so honest.” Her father is infuriated to learn that she has visited the couple’s cottage on two occasions and the unfortunate Yvette is made to send a letter to her only allies, citing her father’s disapproval.

Now, cut off from her friends with whom she felt a bond, Yvette explores her feelings: “She wanted, now, to be held against the slender, fine-shaped breast of the gypsy. She wanted him to hold her in his arms, if only for once, for once, and comfort and confirm her. She wanted to be confirmed by him, against her father, who had only a repulsive fear of her.” Her complex and mixed-up thoughts consume her: wanting revenge against her father, denigrating her matriarchal grandmother, also her aunt, regarded as poisonous, indeed anybody other than a soul who is truthful, however ‘common’ or ‘low’ that person might be.

Paperbacks – Avon Book Company, US (1946) and Penguin movie tie-in, UK (1971)

On a subsequent occasion she sees the gypsy again. “Once he came to the house, with things to sell. And she, watching him from the landing window, refused to go down. He saw her too, as he was putting his things back into his cart. But he too gave no sign.” At that time her conflicted mind prevented her from making any decision. “Almost she could have found in her heart to go with him, and be a pariah gypsy-woman. But she was born inside the pale. And she liked comfort, and a certain prestige.” Later, in the spring while out cycling, Yvette happens upon the gypsy coming out of a cottage, leading to a friendly and animated conversation. However, she learns that he plans to break camp before long and move to the north.

Soon, on a sunny March day, Yvette’s family, all but grandmother, having gone out for the day, Yvette is musing in the garden, her thoughts straying to the gypsy, but being suddenly interrupted: “She heard somebody shouting, and looked round. Down the path through the larch-trees the gypsy was bounding. …She heard the scream of the gypsy, and looked up to see him bounding upon her, his black eyes starting out of his head. ‘Run!’ he screamed, seizing her arm.” As would be quickly revealed, a nearby dam had burst under the strain of the swollen spring river. As “..a new great surge of water came mowing, mowing trees down even” the stricken pair made for the house, the very rectory where Yvette felt imprisoned. The rushing flood waters fill the ground level of the house, overwhelming the grandmother, her hand seen disappearing beneath the deluge.

On an upper floor, hopefully now at a safe point, her rescuer bids Yvette to cast off her sodden garments, the icy water liable to cause her to freeze to death. The drenched man, shivering, tugs off his clothes as well. With the stairs gone and much of the house engulfed, both figures stand naked, the man urging that they should take to the bed in the room, now their place of sanctuary. Huddled together, their bodies warm up and the pair fall asleep.

The following day, the gypsy having departed, Yvette’s father has come back and people are fearful that the rectory will collapse, requiring the young woman to be led to safety outside, down a ladder. As time passes, after Yvette’s grandmother’s funeral, she receives a short letter: “Dear Miss, I see in the paper you are all right after your ducking, as is the same with me. I hope I see you again one day, I come that day to say goodbye… (but) the water give no time, but I live in hopes. Your obdt. servant Joe Boswell. And only then she realised that he had a name.”

Strangely the ‘bedroom scene’ is as brief as ever it could be and, given Lawrence’s later expansive sexual scenes in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, perhaps there could have been an intention on the part of the author to develop further the then undiscovered novella. The short, almost whimsical, tale culminates in the bonding of a young woman whose sensual dream might be about to become a reality. Only four decades after the story’s publication would a filmed adaptation boldly flesh out the final physical encounter to render it a sexual one.

In Lawrence’s own and original version, the final twist adds a note of sadness, unrequitedness, as if he wanted to end on an honourable note, having covered sufficiently the blossoming spirit of Yvette. Her independent mind resonates well with the will of young people today, they sometimes confronting similar, but updated, societal constraints. Against a background of propriety, morality and sexuality, Lawrence’s figures, their conversations and situations are perfectly drawn, painting scenes as real as if they had actually happened almost a century ago.