The Lost Girl

Source: D.H. Lawrence, The Lost Girl (London: Martin Secker, 1920), pp. 128-132

Text: The Endeavour was successful – yes, it was successful. But not overwhelmingly so. On wet nights Woodhouse did not care to trail down to Lumley. And then Lumley was one of those depressed, negative spots on the face of the earth which have no pull at all. In that region of sharp hills with fine hill-brows, and shallow, rather dreary canal-valleys, it was the places on the hill-brows, like Woodhouse and Hathersedge and Rapton which flourished, while the dreary places down along the canals existed only for work-places, not for life and pleasure. It was just like James to have planted his endeavour down in the stagnant dust and rust of potteries and foundries, where no illusion could bloom.

He had dreamed of crowded houses every night, and of raised prices. But there was no probability of his being able to raise his prices. He had to figure lower than the Woodhouse Empire. He was second-rate from the start. His hope now lay in the tramway which was being built from Knarborough away through the country – a black country indeed – through Woodhouse and Lumley and Hathersedge, to Rapton. When once this tramway-system was working, he would have a supply of youths and lasses always on tap, as it were. So he spread his rainbow wings towards the future, and began to say:

“When we’ve got the trams, I shall buy a new machine and finer lenses, and I shall extend my premises.”

Mr. May did not talk business to Alvina. He was terribly secretive with respect to business. But he said to her once, in the early year following their opening:

“Well, how do you think we’re doing, Miss Houghton?”

“We’re not doing any better than we did at first, I think,” she said.

“No,” he answered. “No! That’s true. That’s perfectly true. But why? They seem to like the programs.”

“I think they do,” said Alvina. “I think they like them when they’re there. But isn’t it funny, they don’t seem to want to come to them. I know they always talk as if we were second-rate. And they only come because they can’t get to the Empire, or up to Hathersedge. We’re a stop-gap. I know we are.”

Mr. May looked down in the mouth. He cocked his blue eyes at her, miserable and frightened. Failure began to frighten him abjectly.

“Why do you think that is?” he said.

“I don’t believe they like the turns,” she said.

“But look how they applaud them! Look how pleased they are!”

“I know. I know they like them once they’re there, and they see them. But they don’t come again. They crowd the Empire – and the Empire is only pictures now; and it’s much cheaper to run.”

He watched her dismally.

“I can’t believe they want nothing but pictures. I can’t believe they want everything in the flat,” he said, coaxing and miserable. He himself was not interested in the film. His interest was still the human interest in living performers and their living feats. “Why,” he continued, “they are ever so much more excited after a good turn, than after any film.”

“I know they are,” said Alvina. “But I don’t believe they want to be excited in that way.”

“In what way?” asked Mr. May plaintively.

“By the things which the artistes do. I believe they’re jealous.”

“Oh nonsense!” exploded Mr. May, starting as if he had been shot. Then he laid his hand on her arm. “But forgive my rudeness! I don’t mean it, of cauce! But do you mean to say that these collier louts and factory girls are jealous of the things the artistes do, because they could never do them themselves?”

“I’m sure they are,” said Alvina.

“But I can’t believe it,” said Mr. May, pouting up his mouth and smiling at her as if she were a whimsical child. “What a low opinion you have of human nature!”

“Have I?” laughed Alvina. “I’ve never reckoned it up. But I’m sure that these common people here are jealous if anybody does anything or has anything they can’t have themselves.”

“I can’t believe it,” protested Mr. May. “Could they be so silly! And then why aren’t they jealous of the extraordinary things which are done on the film?”

“Because they don’t see the flesh-and-blood people. I’m sure that’s it. The film is only pictures, like pictures in the Daily Mirror. And pictures don’t have any feelings apart from their own feelings. I mean the feelings of the people who watch them. Pictures don’t have any life except in the people who watch them. And that’s why they like them. Because they make them feel that they are everything.”

“The pictures make the colliers and lasses feel that they themselves are everything? But how? They identify themselves with the heroes and heroines on the screen?”

“Yes – they take it all to themselves – and there isn’t anything except themselves. I know it’s like that. It’s because they can spread themselves over a film, and they can’t over a living performer. They’re up against the performer himself. And they hate it.”

Mr. May watched her long and dismally.

“I can’t believe people are like that! – sane people!” he said. “Why, to me the whole joy is in the living personality, the curious personality of the artiste. That’s what I enjoy so much.”

“I know. But that’s where you’re different from them.”

“But am I?”

“Yes. You’re not as up to the mark as they are.”

“Not up to the mark? What do you mean? Do you mean they are more intelligent?”

“No, but they’re more modern. You like things which aren’t yourself. But they don’t. They hate to admire anything that they can’t take to themselves. They hate anything that isn’t themselves. And that’s why they like pictures. It’s all themselves to them, all the time.”

He still puzzled.

“You know I don’t follow you,” he said, a little mocking, as if she were making a fool of herself.

“Because you don’t know them. You don’t know the common people. You don’t know how conceited they are.”

He watched her a long time.

“And you think we ought to cut out the variety, and give nothing but pictures, like the Empire?” he said.

“I believe it takes best,” she said.

“And costs less,” he answered. “But then! It’s so dull. Oh my word, it’s so dull. I don’t think I could bear it.”

“And our pictures aren’t good enough,” she said. “We should have to get a new machine, and pay for the expensive films. Our pictures do shake, and our films are rather ragged.”

“But then, surely they’re good enough!” he said.

That was how matters stood. The Endeavour paid its way, and made just a margin of profit – no more. Spring went on to summer, and then there was a very shadowy margin of profit. But James was not at all daunted. He was waiting now for the trams, and building up hopes since he could not build in bricks and mortar.

The navvies were busy in troops along the Knarborough Road, and down Lumley Hill. Alvina became quite used to them. As she went down the hill soon after six o’clock in the evening, she met them trooping home. And some of them she liked. There was an outlawed look about them as they swung along the pavement – some of them; and there was a certain lurking set of the head which rather frightened her because it fascinated her. There was one tall young fellow with a red face and fair hair, who looked as if he had fronted the seas and the arctic sun. He looked at her. They knew each other quite well, in passing. And he would glance at perky Mr. May. Alvina tried to fathom what the young fellow’s look meant. She wondered what he thought of Mr. May.

She was surprised to hear Mr. May’s opinion of the navvy.

He’s a handsome young man, now!” exclaimed her companion one evening as the navvies passed. And all three turned round, to find all three turning round. Alvina laughed, and made eyes. At that moment she would cheerfully have gone along with the navvy. She was getting so tired of Mr. May’s quiet prance.

On the whole, Alvina enjoyed the cinema and the life it brought her. She accepted it. And she became somewhat vulgarized in her bearing. She was déclassée: she had lost her class altogether. The other daughters of respectable tradesmen avoided her now, or spoke to her only from a distance. She was supposed to be “carrying on” with Mr. May.

Comment: David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was a British novelist who was considerably hostile towards the cinema. The Lost Girl tells of the frustrated Alvina Houghton, whose draper father James is poor in business and tries his luck with a cinema in his Midlands town of Woodhouse. Mr May is the cinema manager and projectionist. Alvina plays the piano for the films and variety performers that feature as part of the programme. She eventually strikes up a relationship with an Italian performer, Ciccio, from a travelling show her father sets up following the cinema. Lawrence’s view of cinema entertainment probably says more about Lawrence than it does about cinema.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive (1925 edition)

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