The Lost Girl

The Lost Girl - D.H. Lawrence
The Lost Girl - D.H. Lawrence. The Modern Library

Published first in 1920, D.H. Lawrence's sixth novel The Lost Girl won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction that year. Following nearly the same lines as his fourth novel  The Rainbow (1915), The Lost Girl tells the story of Alvina Houghton, a girl from a middle-class English family, who is driven by her individualistic urge to choose a mate for herself while familial influences secretly thwart her choice.

As her family assets including her ancestral abode, the Manchester House, are lost, Alvina must cope with more bitter sufferings: her parents' death and her own staggering will to live.

Discovering Psychology in Relationships

Lawrence can be admired for his penetrating psychological insight, a quality that reveals the characters' motivation. Reading The Lost Girl reinforces this aspect of his writing by taking a slightly different angle towards the psychology of relationships. Alvina Houghton is in her late twenties and her dreams of finding an ideal match are at odds with the demands of her parents.

Alvina's urge to love is subordinate to her family's manipulations. They seem to offer her options, but they then use language laden with innuendoes so that she is forced to abide by their will. Questions like "Do you love him sufficiently?" and cautions like "You would be entirely unprotected" are enough to force doubt and fear in the mind of a home-bred girl.



Like The Rainbow, Lawrence prescribes individuality as the sole alternative for treating the urge of one's being when love fails to soothe its invisible wounds. Alvina Houghton's decision to get trained as a maternity nurse is aimed at coping with familial and social influences as she gains in pride and individuality.

The smoldering spirit of revenge does not allow her to leave the town for a fortune, even though she gets only four cases to treat.

Subjectivity Play

Lawrence plays with the determination of his heroine when the readers share the death news of her mother and her motherly maid Miss Frost. Passivity and helplessness cause a setback to Alvina's confidence and hence the fear that our young lady will yield to the choice of her father with whom she is now dependent.

However, Lawrence's protagonists are strong-headed and hard-to-tame. Despite liking Albert, Alvina refuses to go on walks with him, as she grows more nonchalant. While this appears like self-defeating behavior on Alvina's part (given her position), it is more expressive of the need for a particular kind of detachment when relationships become uncertain. And, here, love steps into the story, with the arrival of a group of Italian-theater artists, and Alvina falls for Ciccio.

With her father's death, we are disposed to believe the conflict of Alvina and the world has come to an end. It does. But a new conflict sets in, as her individualistic impulse is alarmed by the overwhelming influence of Ciccio's love and her passion for him: "It was utterly dark and she knew he smiled...

He intended her to be his slave, she knew."

Reconciliation

Unlike Ursula Brangwen of The Rainbow, Alvina Houghton is better oriented toward reconciling her helpless dependence on love and the obdurate urge of independence. Her most powerful weapon in maintaining her stance is hope and positivity. In answer to Miss Pinnegar's notion that everyone has the right to the fruits of his/her work, Alvina says, "It doesn't matter, so long as you've enjoyed working and striving."

The Lost Girl is a good example of the way D.H. Lawrence plays paradox on the titles of some of his works. The position of his heroine declines in the worldly sense throughout the book from the loss of her family and assets, and we have reason to call her "the lost girl." But then she is continuously gaining in the more abstract qualities of her existence.



After marrying Ciccio, Alvina comes to live a peasant-style life in her husband's native village in Italy. When Ciccio is ordered by the government to fight against Austria, we discover the essence of Alvina's character. About Ciccio's return, she says: "If you make up your mind to come back, you will come back. We have our fate in our hands."

With a heart full of love for her husband and her spirits up in hope of their security, it is not difficult for the reader to decide whether or not Alvina Houghton is the lost girl.