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The Lost Girl (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

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The Lost Girl is the story of Alvina Houghton, the daughter of an English draper with more imagination than sense, who falls in love with an Italian player in an itinerant variety act. Despite herself, she is attracted by his animal sexuality, and she abandons the mediocrity of a town and people that never understood her father's dream, to marry her lover and move to Italy to live with him. In the background of a remote mountain village, with ...
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The Lost Girl (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview


The Lost Girl is the story of Alvina Houghton, the daughter of an English draper with more imagination than sense, who falls in love with an Italian player in an itinerant variety act. Despite herself, she is attracted by his animal sexuality, and she abandons the mediocrity of a town and people that never understood her father's dream, to marry her lover and move to Italy to live with him. In the background of a remote mountain village, with the tremors of war steadily encroaching into their daily lives, they must resolve their relationship.

The Lost Girl is D. H. Lawrence's only contribution to ever win an official literary tribute during his lifetime. It is a crucial step, in Lawrence's personal and artistic journey of looking for an alternative to the mindless industrialization of the West, of breaking the wall of Victorian prudery and sentimentality, of propounding and frankly portraying his belief in sexual freedom—taking along both the serious student and the merely curious into the workings of his genius.
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Meet the Author


Born in Nottinghamshire, England, D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was the author of a remarkable array of novels, stories, poetry, literary criticism, and travel writing, including the novels Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

Biography

Born in Nottinghamshire, England, D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) was the author of a remarkable array of novels, stories, poetry, literary criticism, and travel writing, including the novels Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, and Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      David Herbert Richard Lawrence. Called "Bert" by his family. Jessie Chambers and Lawrence H. Davison are pseudonyms.
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 11, 1885
    2. Place of Birth:
      Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England
    1. Date of Death:
      March 2, 1930
    2. Place of Death:
      Vence, France

Introduction

The Lost Girl by D. H. Lawrence is the story of Alvina Houghton, the daughter of a small industrial English Midlands town draper with more imagination than sense, who falls in love with an Italian player in an itinerant variety act. Despite herself, she is attracted by his animal sexuality, and she abandons the mediocrity of a town and people that never understood her father's dream still less the bold venturings of his now impecunious "old-maid" offspring, to marry her lover and move to Italy to live with him. In the background of a remote mountain village, with the tremors of war steadily encroaching into their daily lives, they must resolve their relationship. In 1920, eight years after beginning The Lost Girl, D. H. Lawrence rewrote and completed the novel. Largely disregarded and dismissed by critics, it remains his only contribution to ever win an official literary tribute (the James Tait Black Memorial Prize) during his lifetime. The Lost Girl is an important document, a crucial step, in Lawrence's personal and artistic journey of looking for an alternative to the mindless industrialization of the West, of breaking the wall of Victorian prudery and sentimentality, of propounding and frankly portraying his belief in sexual freedom?taking along both the serious student and the merely curious into the workings of his genius.

Novelist, poet, playwright, painter, D.H. Lawrence has left behind a veritable vault of literary criticism, travel books, philosophy texts, essays, and letters, many of which were published posthumously. In all these writings, the reader of Lawrence may discern the workings of a mind that errs, if anything, on the side of too much intellectual argumentation even as he propounds his theories for the supremacy of an instinctual life.

David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, a small English Midlands industrial town. He was the fourth of five children. His father, Arthur Lawrence, was a coal miner given to drink, while his mother, Lydia Beardsall, came from a bourgeois background. Lawrence won a scholarship to Nottingham High School, later working as a clerk at a surgical appliance's factory, and then for four years at the British school in Eastwood as a pupil-teacher (an apprentice who taught the lower forms and was himself educated by the Head). After attending Nottingham University, he worked as a teacher at Davidson Road School, Croydon. From an early age Lawrence wrote poetry and fiction, but it was Jessie Chambers' (his girlfriend at the time) initiative that launched his literary career.

The early part of The Lost Girl with its focus on James Houghton's disappointment in marriage and in business is a reworking of an old Lawrencean concern: the troubled relationship between his parents, and his response to this relationship. We see a detailing of his Oedipal emotions in novels such as Sons and Lovers, which he finished writing in 1912, when he began The Insurrection of Miss Houghton (the first version of The Lost Girl). He set that aside to begin work on The Sisters (later to be divided into The Rainbow and Women in Love).

Years later, in 1919, physically suffering from influenza and emotionally sick with the hounding of the Press for charges of immorality, the Lawrences moved from England to Italy. Here Lawrence was to begin writing Mr. Noon and Aaron's Rod, but, more important, he reconceived his old manuscript. The similarity in the description of The Lost Girl's Italian setting and their place of stay that winter has been widely noted: Ciccio's home Pescocalscio is Picinisco in the province of Ceserta. Further, in the novel, Alvina Houghton, first through her affair and then through marriage is lost to "mediocre" Woodhouse society. Lawrence's penchant for the autobiographical allows us to read how Alvina's experiences and choices may quite easily be the exaggerated workings of his own mind as he tried during this time to grapple with his ever-growing hatred of the moribundity of English life.

In the same vein, studies show that the character of Alvina Houghton was based on the daughter of George Henry Cullen, who in turn was the model for James Houghton. Cullen, the neighborhood grocer and draper, also ran a cinema and other businesses. Flossie, his daughter, a one-time nurse, likely helped to care for Lawrence's mother. She also used to accompany a four-piece band on the piano for the silent films at the Langley Hill Cinema.

On publication in 1920, the responses to The Lost Girl were mixed. Edward Garnett announced The Lost Girl to be "firm in drawing, light and witty in texture, charmingly fresh in style and atmosphere." While a few other articles endorsed this claim, such reviews were uncommon.

Many of Lawrence's contemporaries and critics, such as Edward Shanks and Virginia Woolf, observed The Lost Girl's similarity to Arnold Bennett's Anna of the Five Towns. The latter, the first of Bennet's "Five Towns" novels, was started in 1896 and published in 1902. It is the story of a girl controlled by her miserly widower father who comes into a fortune and must choose between two men. Despite the wildly popular status of Bennett's realistic and Dickensian detailed descriptions of the Staffordshire Potteries, almost all critics of Lawrence saw the superficial similarity between the two novels as disadvantageous to him. Woolf (1920), for instance, notes that the character of Alvina is lost beneath the details about her, to the point where she becomes unreal. Middleton Murry (1920) further corroborated Alvina's "unreality" by commenting on Lawrence's failing imaginative capabilities.

But, in 1930, following the death of Lawrence at the age of forty-four, in Vence, France, the obituarists regarded The Lost Girl, in addition to Sons and Lovers, as one of his "best." Indeed, both E. M. Forster and Arnold Bennett predicted the popularity of Lawrence with future generations. Bennett went so far as to say in the London Evening Standard: "He is not yet understood, even by the majority of his admirers, but he will be, and meanwhile his work must accept injustice."

As with the rest of Lawrence's works, the quarrel among the critics in relation to The Lost Girl persists: Some regard it as a masterpiece, while others view it as a passive acceptance of the very Midlands life that he had professed to hate and a failure of his imaginative genius. But more important, even the critics who recognize the failure of his technique in large part often pay homage to evidence of Lawrence's genius. Their ambivalence has kept the debate alive. Undoubtedly, the debate over issues of morality and pornography clouded for a very long time the very real contributions of Lawrence's revolutionary spirit. F. R. Leavis' nod of approval and inclusion of Lawrence among the "great tradition" of English writers and Lawrence's subsequent vindication in the case against Lady Chatterley's Lover have exposed him to a new generation of readers. Indeed, those earlier objections now seem nothing more than coy and hypocritical.

Typically read as a thematic parallel to Lady Chatterley's Lover that promotes the primacy of the sensual life over the intellectual one, The Lost Girl underscores through the choices of its heroine, Alvina Houghton, how one may lose oneself only to find oneself again, that is, be reborn.

We see in this novel, for instance, that Lawrence continues to be concerned with issues of both class and sexuality. The novel juxtaposes the fiery naturalness between Alvina and Ciccio with the mechanicalness between a minor character like Mrs. Tuke, who can't even imagine why she married her Tommy. Even James Houghton, Alvina's father, who was the "crème de la crème of Woodhouse society" and married the "daughter of a Derbyshire squire," following the birth of his daughter in the second year of their marriage, "decamped to a small, half-furnished bedroom at the other end of the house where he slept on a rough board and played the anchorite for the rest of his days." Meanwhile, his wife developed heart disease as a consequence of "nervous repressions." By contrast, Alvina (much like the Brangwen sisters in Women in Love) hates her father's house and longs to escape, especially after her first thwarted attempt.

In 1912, Lawrence had declared his belief in the primacy of the blood. His letter to Ernest Collings, written in 1913, further stated his belief: "my great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect." This assertion (one of many) by Lawrence underscores his belief in the supremacy of "blood-consciousness" over mental or intellectual consciousness.

Ciccio, a member of the visiting Natcha-Kee-Tawara group, serves as Lawrence's vehicle for this idea. Lawrence's increasing disillusionment with the English propelled his search for a redeemer (a Christ-like figure in some of his works). He looked to the darker races for an answer in many of his works, such as The Lost Girl and The Plumed Serpent. Even his short novels and stories like St. Mawr and "The Princess" explore the idea of a dark stranger. In The Lost Girl, Ciccio, as a southern Italian, represents the dark stranger. He also represents this concept as a member of a Native American troupe. The latter representation, though fake (all the members of the group are Europeans), is especially funny in that it successfully fools Miss Pinnegar, who exclaims, "Exactly like Indians." Then she screams and runs back "clutching the wall" as Ciccio passes close and swishes her with his horse's tail. Such comic representation certainly makes the reader wonder if it is the actual "darkness" or the mere appropriation of it that is enough for the working out of Lawrence's idea.

Disillusioned by English life, his attempts at forming an utopian community, Rananim, and an anti-war party having failed, a despairing and increasingly misanthropic Lawrence set out on his travels to Italy, Capri, Sicily, Malta, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico to search for a society where he could find a better balance between the blood and the intellect. His turn to Italy is especially reminiscent of E. M. Forster's similar turn in Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905). Both writers highlight the sterility of English life, but their attempts at a cultural intermingling seem disharmonious.

The Lost Girl also develops a variant on a typical (Christian paradox) representation of the lost-and-found theme. While we see Alvina and Ciccio lose sight of each other and what they share, that focus is brief. More important, the novel uncovers the conventional social mores of a provincial mindset within which an individual may be considered lost or even fancy oneself so.

Lawrence as usual is concerned with human relations on multiple levels: one's relationship with oneself, one's relationship with another (of the same or different gender), and one's relationship with nature. His proclamation of himself as the champion of women, in particular, has not sat well with many critics. The potently antagonistic response by many American feminists has virtually erased Lawrence from the list of "must read" books on many American campuses. Certainly, Lawrence's lifelong concern with the "woman question"?as though there is only one woman and only one question?remains the focus of this novel. The Lost Girl forwards his essentialist beliefs regarding women as explained in some of his essays (such as "Cocksure Women and Hensure Men," "Do Women Change?" and "Matriarchy") and letters. Biographical information on his relationships with Jessie Chambers, Helen Corke, Alice Dax, Louie Burrows, as well as published memoirs of Jessie Chambers, Ada Lawrence, Middleton Murry, and Frieda Lawrence, to name a few, also continue to fan the flames on any discussion of his fictional representations of women. Following this pattern, The Lost Girl has been read in terms of the relationship between Lawrence and Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of Lawrence's former modern-languages tutor, whom he eloped with six weeks after meeting in 1912 and later married in 1914. Lawrence's endings seem to present contradictions between a woman's aspiration to be independent and her need for a man to fulfill her sexually, indicating that one goal is subservient to the other. Yet his female characters retain their independence of thought even as they subsume their sexual being.

On the one hand, Alvina must come to grips with herself through her relationship choices. On the other, Ciccio struggles for balance in his relationships with both Alvina and Gigi. The man-man relation that we see so well developed in Women in Love, however, is not really pursued in The Lost Girl. Lawrence's commitment to the concept of brotherhood nonetheless remains unmistakable. Finally, the soul-destroying English Midlands town that seems to be representative of death is contrasted to the openness of the Italian mountainside. The insides of houses and buildings there might be dirty and pitiable but the outside seems to invite poetry: "[T]he outside world was so fair. Corn and maize were growing green and silken, vines were in the small bud. Everywhere little grape hyacinths hung their blue bells."

The symbolism of living death runs through the novel: in Alvina's mother, Woodhouse (suggestive of a coffin), even England that appears like a "long, ash-grey coffin slowly submerging." Alvina must also submerge herself, she must die in order to live, much like the phoenix?Lawrence's personal symbol of regeneration.

Many continue to read The Lost Girl, as well as Lawrence's other works, in relation to the details of his life. Indeed, it is difficult to do anything but in light of the quantity of biographical materials available about him, as well his own evidently consuming interest in his self. But one cannot, indeed one must not, forget to read the novel as a work of art with a life of its own and within his larger body of work. In Lawrence's own words: "The novel is the highest form of human expression so far attained. Why? Because it is so incapable of the absolute. In a novel, everything is relative to everything else, if that novel is art at all. There may be didactic bits, but they aren't the novel."

While John Worthen (Cambridge, 1981), in his close editorial study, restored the original punctuation and some missing passages from The Lost Girl, the novel still suffers from the very Victorian, repeated directive remarks of the narrator in the first part. They are distracting and intrusive, never allowing the reader to walk within the coils of Lawrence's tale. So it is a relief that the latter half of this novel returns to his customary style, when the tale begins to tell itself?settling more comfortably into the intensity of language that is poetry at its best, and that is the hallmark of the early Lawrence. Bit by bit, it inveigles the reader into the eye of his argument as does the serpent into its gaze.

At the end, Alvina Houghton says to Ciccio who must go to war: "If you make up your mind to come back, you will come back. We have our fate in our hands." It is unclear whether Lawrence himself believed this statement. Certainly, we may speculate that The Lost Girl may have been (in the tradition of Arnold Bennett) the marketing attempt of this most controversial English novelist of the twentieth century to "come back" from the specter of oblivion to which the upholders of provinciality wanted to relegate him. If so, the latter half of the novel mercifully fails to do it justice. And consequently, standing shoulder to shoulder with friends and critics, such modern literary giants and thinkers as E. M. Forster, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Virginia Woolf, and others, Lawrence leaves behind a legacy of the persisting troubled relationship that literature holds with society and an important thread to be unraveled in the pattern of his artistic vision.

Anju Kanwar is Assistant Professor of English at Albany State University. She is the author of The Sound of Silence, a feminist critical study on Lawrence's short fiction.
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2008

    a great classic

    I never write reviews but I was so amazed by this novel that I had to. It starts of a little slow and in so doing allows you to really understand the characters... but then the events and the action pick up. Very advanced and beautifully written. Left an excellent loose end for me to wonder about long after I finished reading.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2013

    Slow but recommend the read

    It is by 21st century stards, almost painfully slow. I recommend reading this on a wintery day when the power is out or it will seem to go on forever. It was written in a time of transition when life moved slowly, but a whole nrw age eas about to start.

    Just one thing -- what kept me going was to find out how it all comes out, but we are left without an outcome! It's like reading Edwin Drood! Rather unsatisfying.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted May 10, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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