While this was a library book, you’ll all be glad to know it was obtained in the legal way and not the ‘shoving it in my bag and looking innocent’ way, as in times past. I’m pretty sure the Head Librarian at Sheffield Library must be a descendant of D.H. Lawrence as they have multiple copies of all of his books, positioned in prominent places throughout. I enjoyed Lady Chatterley’s Lover (my review is here) and this one sounded vaguely similar, so I picked it up the other day.
In post-war East Midlands, in a home dominated by their difficult grandmother and aunt, Yvette and Lucille are two sisters struggling to bring joy into their lives. Their mother, having run off in scandal, leaves the two to suffer a dysfunctional family life and oppressive domesticity. But one day, Yvette meets a free-spirited gypsy and his family, awakening her sexual desires and compounding her disenchantment.
It confuses me that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned when this one wasn’t. In my opinion, The Virgin and the Gypsy is far more explicit. It’s true that nobody physically has sex in this book, but the sex scenes in LCL were so vague and undetailed (I almost sound disappointed there…) that they may as well not have bothered. Apparently though, the gypsy in this book has Super Virgin Sense as he can’t seem to look at Yvette without pointing out once more, that she is, in fact, a virgin. Not only that, Yvette acts in a way that would have been decidedly scandalous for a girl of her age in those times (hell, even in our times!) but apparently that was considered fine for the viewing public…
I did like the book, although it’s a little strange. The general concept is that Yvette feels constricted by her privileged yet mundane life, and wishes to be a free spirit like a group of gypsies she happens across one day. Her father was above and beyond weird though – he’s scared that she has the flamboyant tendancies that made his wife leave her and turns into a snarling monster when she mentions a couple of her acquantaince who live together unmarried.
The rector looked at her insouciant face with hatred. Somewhere inside him, he was cowed, he had been born cowed. And those who are born cowed are natural slaves, and deep instinct makes them fear with prisonous fear those who might suddenly snap the slave’s collar round their necks.
It was for this reason the rector had so abjectly curled up, who still so abject curled up before She-who-was-Cynthia: because of his slave’s fear of her contempt, the contempt of a born-free nature for a base-born nature.
Yvette too had a free-born quality. She too, one day, would know him, and clap the slave’s collar of her contempt round his neck. But should she? He would fight to the death, this time, first. The slave in him was cornered this time, like a cornered rat, and with the courage of a cornered rat.
It’s so wonderfully written that you can feel the venom between every word, but it seemed to come from nowhere. The father is perhaps one of the most artfully described characters in the whole of fiction – he’s a weak person and so abuses those around him to make him feel strong; however, he also needs to be loved so abides to the whims of his daughter and mother. It adds up to the most confused Rector I’ve ever seen and it’s wonderful.
At first I found the ending a little unsatisfying, but now I think it fits perfectly. The story is about Yvette’s search for who she really is, and her encounter with the gypsy ends in exactly the right way. It will shape who she may be in the future, but without leaving her with any regrets. It was a little dramatic though. I mean, the plot flows quite slowly and then suddenly whooooooosh. Ah, you know you’re having an articulate day when all you can do is make funny noises in a review. Sorry…
I’m not sure if it comes across or not, but I really enjoyed this book. Obviously it’s written in the same style as LCL, but it’s actually a very different book. Given the choice (and apparently the British censorship board of the 1930s disagreed with me) though, I’d rather see Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the shelves of a school library than this one!