The Virgin and the Gipsy by DH Lawrence (written 1926, published 1930) from The Virgin and the Gipsy & Other Stories (Wordsworth Classics, 2004)
Somewhere near Papplewick in (north) Nottinghamshire lives a vicar and his two daughters. Sharing the house is an elderly, blind mother and a sour spinster of a sister. The grand/mother is referred to as the “Mater” because she’s a domineering matriarch. The family have a collective dislike of the vicar’s former wife, and will only refer to her as She-who-was-Cynthia, who was the sort of person not willing to be bossed around by a mean-spirited old lady.
The two daughters, Lucille and Yvette, both in their early 20s, have far too much of their mother in them to be considered lovely by the rest of the family. One day, the sisters and their friends are driving past a gipsy/gypsy camp and stop to have their fortunes told. Everyone has their fortunes told so everyone can hear what’s being predicted, except for Yvette who follows the old lady into a caravan, and she won’t speak of what’s divulged within the walls.
Not that it really matters, because the actual story, after much ado, is about Yvette laying her eyes on a man in the gipsy camp. Sexual attraction ensues, because this is D.H. Lawrence, after all, and Yvette is haunted by the gipsy’s searching look for a number of chapters before finally coming into contact with him due to a most unfortunate event. Not that it resolves anything.
The thing about this novella, which was published after the author’s death, is that it takes a while to get going. To begin with, it’s about the background of the family, and how the Mater dominates every aspect of their life, so you think that’s what it’s going to be about. Then focus shifts, to the girls, and it takes them some time to get going and actually meet the gipsy of the title, and that’s when the story really starts.
And then there’s a cataclysmic bit at the end, and then it’s over and you’re left with a sort of “huh” feeling (your mileage may vary), and you wonder what the point was. Some sort of deep-seated symbolism, probably. Lawrence was big on those. Problem is, I’m not. So what I read is a story about a horrid old dictator, a cowed vicar, a highly-strung aunt and a couple of selfish girls who prance around and one of them takes a shine to a mysterious gipsy. Basically, a bunch of dislikable characters I don’t really care about what happens to them. Oh, and the gipsy. He’s probably the only character that doesn’t rub me entirely the wrong way. (Nice bloke, good with horses.)
Oh well, at least it’s not dragged out into a big novel. Just a shame that Lawrence is a world-renowned author from Eastwood in Nottinghamshire (about 15 minutes down the road, give or take) and I really, really, really want to like his works, but most of the time he writes about characters I find it very hard to have any sort of sympathy with, doing things that make little or no sense, and being stroppy about it at the same time, and shrouded in preachiness and/or heavy symbolism. And I simply don’t like it. I try to, because I like it that he’s from my adopted county … but most of the time, I find his writings dull and tedious.
The Virgin and the Gipsy isn’t dull, per se, but it’s definitely tedious. 2 out of 5 candlesticks.