The first D.H. Lawrence story I read was "The Rocking-Horse Winner", a tale I found quite disturbing. His posthumous novella The Virgin and the Gypsy
, I think, is equally disconcerting in terms of imagery and implication.
Yvette is unhappy with her current situation. She’s a rector’s daughter and is forced to cope with Mater, her domineering grandmother, and spinster Aunt, who consider her the reincarnation of her treacherous Mother. All Yvette desires is to have some peace and freedom to pursue her goals. (Picture a combination of Isabel Archer and Ursula Brangwen.) She’s passionate, her main desire being to find someone with whom she could fall desperately in love. She’s not especially enamored with the boys she knows from the town; she’s unsatisfied. There’s a dominance issue: She feels that she has more power and influence over them than they have over her. But then, she meets the gypsy.
The power this gypsy holds over Yvette was what I considered disturbing and creepy. The moment he stares into her eyes, boring into them, she becomes mesmerized and no longer has any voluntary control over her actions. She becomes his pawn, to do with as he pleases. I can sort of understand this gypsy mystery and influence, from the stories my mom told me about the gypsy children she met when she traveled in Ireland. But the strange thing is the implication that he’s not a born gypsy. This was the life he chose after serving in WW1—his way of coping with the post-traumatic stress. Another thing I didn’t quite like, is that she knows he has a gypsy “wife” and children. When she asks him how many children he has, he again peers into her eyes and responds, “Say five” —basically insinuating five babies he knows of. To Yvette, this revelation is negligible and doesn’t seem to matter.
Another aspect of the book that was equally disconcerting is the book’s take on aging. Initially, the descriptions were fine, there was even some humor interspersed across the text. However, the descriptions of Mater become so increasingly surreal and macabre that it was rather hard to mentally visualize. And to tell the truth, I’m glad of it; it’s definitely not a picture I want to have in my mind’s eye. I recently read Hardy’s The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well-Beloved, a book that also describes aging and decrepitude, but in a completely different manner. Hardy adds humor to the descriptions, but there’s still respect there. Here, age is completely trashed.
Nevertheless, the ending is quite unexpected, and it redeemed the book for me. The little note and the visual picture it produces makes a great contrast to the image that’s portrayed across the novella. A great use of irony. Loved it!