Horse Dealer's Daughter" is a short story centering on the psychological
effects of changing times on people in a small town rural England.
The story first appeared in the April 1922 issue of The English Review,
a literary magazine published in London.
time is winter. The action takes place in the early 1920's in and around
a home at the edge of a small English town. The landscape is dreary and
Twenty-seven-year-old daughter of a deceased horse dealer. His death left
Mabel and her brothers impoverished and jobless.
At thirty-three, Mabel's oldest brother. He expects to get a job with the
steward of a neighboring estate after he marries the steward's daughter.
Fred Henry Pervin:
Mabel's second-oldest brother.
Dr. Jack Fergusson:
Friend of the Pervins.
Groom: Man who tends
draft horses for the Pervins.
H. Lawrence wrote the story in third-person point of view, structuring
the story as follows:
First part of
the story: Omniscient third-person point of view focusing on all the
Second part of the story:
Omniscient third-person point of view from the perspective of Mabel Pervin.
Third part of the story:
Omniscient third-person point of view from the perspective of Dr. Jack
the end of the story, are Mabel and Jack truly in love? Or is there another
reason for their amorous behavior?
can argue that love has indeed struck them—like a thunderbolt, à
la Romeo and Juliet. But a close examination of Lawrence's narrative suggests
their father died, the four Pervin children depended on him for work, security,
and shelter. He provided everything, including servants. The children had
only to follow, to comply, to obey. In this respect they were like the
four draft horses (paragraphs 4-6) following their groom. But when their
father died, they lost their source of security and income. Mr. Pervin's
business probably declined and went bankrupt because of the advent of mechanized
transportation (cars, trucks).
the story begins, the Pervins are without a guide—without a “groom"—and
have no sense of direction. When Joe watches the draft horses go out for
exercise for the last time, it becomes clear that he himself is a draft
animal, a follower who depends on others. The narrator says, "The horses
were almost like his own body to him. He felt he was done for now. Luckily
he was engaged to a woman as old as himself, and therefore her father,
who was steward of a neighbouring estate, would provide him with a job.
He would marry and go into harness. His life was over, he would be a subject
animal now" (paragraph 7).
course, he was always a “subject animal," as were Fred Henry and Malcolm.
They walked in the gait that their groom established. But Mabel sees herself
as self-sufficient and sure of herself. She does not even answer when her
brothers question her. But she is like them in one respect: she depended
on her father—or, more specifically, his money. "However brutal and coarse
everything was, the sense of money had kept her proud, confident," the
narrator says. "The men might be foul-mouthed, the women in the kitchen
might have bad reputations, her brothers might have illegitimate children.
But so long as there was money, the girl felt herself established, and
brutally proud, reserved.
with her father gone, she cannot formulate a definite plan for her future.
The job prospects for her are dismal in a town of coal miners and iron
workers. Her only inclination is to visit the grave of her beloved mother.
In the churchyard cemetery, the narrator says, “she always felt secure
. . . Once under the shadow of the great looming church, among the graves,
she felt immune from the world." Now, without the security her father provided,
she wants to return to the loving security her mother provided. And so
she decides to drown herself in the pond.
lo, young Dr. Jack Fergusson is passing by and rescues her. Fergusson is
a reserved man enslaved to his work in the dull, working-class town. He
hates the drudgery of it, but he also likes the excitement of being part
of the people's lives. After he removes Mabel's wet clothes, wraps her
in blankets, and revives her at the fireplace, she thinks he loves her.
know you love me, I know," she says.
makes advances. He does not know what to do. He had rescued her out
of his sense of duty as a doctor. That is what doctors do: save lives.
However, her advances do arouse him. The narrator assesses the situation:
"He very much wanted to go upstairs to get into dry clothing. But there
was another desire in him. And she seemed to hold him. His will seemed
to have gone to sleep, and left him, standing there slack before her. But
he felt warm inside himself. He did not shudder at all, though his clothes
were sodden on him."
his emotions take over, they embrace, and he ends up telling her he does
in fact love her.
she gets dry clothes for him, she says, "My hair smells so horrible. And
I'm so awful, I'm so awful! Oh, no, I'm too awful. You can't want to love
me, I'm horrible.'
he insists that he loves her, saying, “ 'I want you, I want to marry you,
we're going to be married, quickly, quickly—to-morrow if I can."
doctor's emotions, it seems, have triumphed over his clinical, objective
logic. So the horse dealer's daughter apparently ends up with a new “groom"—a
bridegroom—who will provide for her as her father did, giving her security,
money, a home, a purpose in life. And the staid, reserved doctor ends up
acknowledging his primal instincts.
marry for many reasons; love is only one of them. Hence, we arrive at the
main theme: the power of primal desires, discussed
Power of Primal Desires
desires what all humans have desired since the age of cave dwellers: security,
a place to live, a caring presence. These are fundamental, primal desires.
Deprived of them, Mabel attempts suicide. After Dr. Fergusson rescues her,
she realizes that he can provide her needs. She then uses her whiles to
play to one of his primal desires: the desire for sexual fulfillment. Moments
later, he vows his love for her and wants to marry her.
Effect of Heavy Industry and Technology on a Rural Town
coal and mining industries apparently industrialized the small town where
the Pervins live, perhaps driving some of the genteel families away and
attracting farmers and other workers to the factories. Meanwhile, the automobile
began displacing horses, forcing many horse dealers, blacksmiths, and saddlers
out of business. The townspeople then had to retool their lives. Many families,
like the Pervins, no doubt had difficulty readjusting. Some chose to relocate.
Women like Mabel were not sure what to do. Dr. Fergusson hints at the upheaval
in the town when he says of the Pervins, "Another resource would be lost
to him, another place gone: the only company [companions] he cared for
in the alien, ugly little town he was losing. Nothing but work, drudgery,
constant hastening from dwelling to dwelling among the colliers [coal minders]
and the iron-workers."
thought her only option was to commit suicide. But after the doctor saves
her, she sees marriage in her future.
of Drive and Ingenuity
Pervin is still young. He could welcome the challenges of the future. Instead,
when the draft horses go out for the last time, "Joe watched with glazed
hopeless eyes," the narrator says. "The horses were almost like his own
body to him. He felt he was done for now. Luckily he was engaged to a woman
as old as himself, and therefore her father, who was steward of a neighbouring
estate, would provide him with a job. He would marry and go into harness.
His life was over, he would be a subject animal now." He is satisfied to
put on his father-in-law's feedbag. As for Malcom and Fred Henry, the author
does not say what awaits them. But like Joe, they are ineffectual (paragraph
is in conflict with the circumstances arising from her father's death.
There is no money. There is no security. There is, she thinks, no future
for her. Fergusson suffers a conflict between his emotions and his intellect.
His intellect urges him not to become involved with Mabel. As the narrator
says, “He had no intention of loving her: his whole will was against his
yielding. It was horrible." But his emotions conquer. “With an inward groan
he gave way," the narrator says, “and let his heart yielded towards her."
tone is serious and, at times, tense. The atmosphere is like the weather
and the unpromising future of the Pervins, bleak and cheerless. The atmosphere
is less dreary at the end of the story, when Dr. Fergusson asks Mabel to
climax occurs when Dr. Fergusson yields to his emotions and vows his love
fifth Pervin child, Lucy, lives elsewhere. Lawence does not explain why
she moved, but her name may hold a clue. Lucy comes from the Roman
name Lucia, derived from the Latin word for light, lux. It
may be that Lucy saw the light—that she and the other Pervin children were
becoming draft horses following their groom (as stated in the third paragraph
of An Interpretation) and decided to strike
out on her own. .
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on the Eyes
of the narration and communication in the story centers on the eyes. For
example, in describing Joe, the narrator says, "His face was red, he twisted
his black moustache over a thick finger, his eyes were shallow and restless
. . . Now he watched the horses with a glazed look of helplessness in his
eyes, a certain stupor of downfall."
paragraph 7, the narrator says of Joe, "Then, with foolish restlessness,
he reached for the scraps of bacon-rind from the plates, and making a faint
whistling sound, flung them to the terrier that lay against the fender.
He watched the dog swallow them, and waited till the creature looked into
his eyes. Then a faint grin came on his face, and in a high, foolish voice
won't get much more bacon, shall you, you little b - - ?"
are other passages focusing on the eyes.
The dog faintly wagged its tail,
the man stuck out his jaw and covered his pipe with his hands, and puffed
intently, losing himself in the tobacco, looking down all the while at
the dog with an absent brown eye. The
dog looked up at him in mournful distrust. (paragraph 22)
He was of medium height, his
face was rather long and pale, his eyes
looked tired. (paragraph 43)
"Not as I know of. Damn your
I hope not. Why?" (paragraph 53)
Mabel looked at him with her
steady, dangerous eyes, that always
made him uncomfortable, unsettling his superficial ease. (paragraph 76)
Fred Henry stared after her,
clenching his lips, his blue eyes fixing
in sharp antagonism, as he made a grimace of sour exasperation. (paragraph
She need not pass any more darkly
along the main street of the small town, avoiding every eye.
As he hurried now to attend
to the outpatients in the surgery, glancing across the graveyard with his
quick eye, he saw the girl at her task
at the grave. She seemed so intent and remote, it was like looking into
She lifted her eyes,
feeling him looking. Their eyes met.
And each looked again at once, each feeling, in some way, found out by
the other. He lifted his cap and passed on down the road. There remained
distinct in his consciousness, like a vision, the memory of her face, lifted
from the tombstone in the churchyard, and looking at him with slow, large,
portentous eyes. It was portentous,
her face. It seemed to mesmerize him. There was a heavy power in her eyes
which laid hold of his whole being, as if he had drunk some powerful drug.
Below Oldmeadow, in the green,
shallow, soddened hollow of fields, lay a square, deep pond. Roving across
the landscape, the doctor's quick eye
detected a figure in black passing through the gate of the field, down
towards the pond. (paragraph 107)
He seemed to see her in the
midst of such obscurity, that he was like a clairvoyant, seeing rather
with the mind's eye than with ordinary
sight. Yet he could see her positively enough, whilst he kept his eye
attentive. He felt, if he looked away from her, in the thick, ugly falling
dusk, he would lose her altogether. (paragraph 108)
He stood on the bank, breathing
heavily. He could see nothing. His eyes
seemed to penetrate the dead water. Yes, perhaps that was the dark shadow
of her black clothing beneath the surface of the water. (paragraph 112)
She was breathing regularly,
her eyes were wide open and as if conscious,
but there seemed something missing in her look. (paragraph 119)
He had begun to shudder like
one sick, and could hardly attend to her. Her eyes
remained full on him, he seemed to be going dark in his mind, looking back
at her helplessly. (paragraph 126)
"Was I out of my mind?" she
asked, while her eyes were fixed on
him all the time. (paragraph 127)
She felt the blankets about
her, she knew her own limbs. For a moment it seemed as if her reason were
going. She looked round, with wild eye,
as if seeking something. He stood still with fear. (paragraph 138)
"Who undressed me?" she asked,
her eyes resting full and inevitable
on his face. (paragraph 139)
She looked up at him with flaring,
humble eyes, of transfiguration, triumphant
in first possession. (paragraph 144)
He had been staring away at
the door, away from her. But his hand remained on her shoulder. She had
gone suddenly very still. He looked down at her. Her eyes
were now wide with fear, with doubt, the light was dying from her face,
a shadow of terrible greyness was returning. He could not bear the touch
of her eyes' question upon him, and
the look of death behind the question. (paragraph 151)
A sudden gentle smile came on
his face. And her eyes, which never
left his face, slowly, slowly filled with tears. He watched the strange
water rise in her eyes, like some slow
fountain coming up. (paragraph 152)
Then, as it were suddenly, he
smelt the horrid stagnant smell of that water. And at the same moment she
drew away from him and looked at him. Her eyes
were wistful and unfathomable. He was afraid of them, and he fell to kissing
her, not knowing what he was doing. He wanted her eyes
not to have that terrible, wistful, unfathomable look. (paragraph 155)
When she turned her face to
him again, a faint delicate flush was glowing, and there was again dawning
that terrible shining of joy in her eyes,
which really terrified him, and yet which he now wanted to see, because
he feared the look of doubt still more. (paragraph 156)
After the kiss, her eyes
again slowly filled with tears. (paragraph 160)
She looked up at him, and behind
her tears the consciousness of her situation for the first time brought
a dark look of shame to her eyes. (paragraph
She looked at him again with
the wide, strained, doubtful eyes.
H. Lawrence's attention to the eyes helps to convey the inmost feelings
of characters in some instances. In other instances, it enhances the mysterious
and sometimes unsettling behavior of Mabel. In addition, it calls attention
to the fact that a good deal of communication between human beings is nonverbal
and that glaring eyes can sometimes communicate more meaning than words. .
are examples of figures of speech in the story. For definitions of figures
of speech, see Literary Terms.
The three brothers
and the sister sat
consultation. (paragraph 2)
She would have
good-looking, save for the impassive fixity
"bull-dog", as her
called it. (paragraph 3)
a massive, slumbrous
and a stupidity which held them in
The men might
be foul-mouthed, the women in the kitchen might
have bad reputations, her brothers might
have illegitimate children. (paragraph 96)
went regularly to church, she attended
to her father. And she lived in the
memory of her mother, who had died when she was fourteen, and whom she
had loved. She had loved her father,
too, in a different way, depending upon him, and feeling secure in him,
until at the age of fifty-four he married again. And then she
had set hard against him. (paragraph 97)
would not cast about her. She would
follow her own way just the same. She would
always hold the keys of her own situation. (paragraph 98)
A flame seemed to
burn the hand that grasped her soft shoulder. (paragraph 150)
Comparison of Dr. Fergusson's
sensation to a burn.
Then, in perpetual
haste, he set off again to visit several cases in another part of his round,
before teatime. (paragraph 105)
Use of cases to
It was a grey, wintry
day, with saddened, dark-green fields. (paragraph 99)
The fields are sad.
The horses were
almost like his own body to him. (paragraph 7)
Comparison of the horses
to Joe's body
He watched the strange water
rise in her eyes, like some slow fountain coming up. (paragraph 152)
Comparison of the rising
water in her eyes to a fountain
99): Raised road or path; paved road.
79): Thick, soft fabric of cotton or silk.
106): Coal miners.
101): Stone sloped to carry water away.
8): Screen in front of a fireplace.
99): Factories for melting and casting metals.
6): Person who tends horses.
17): Snout; nose and jaws.
post (paragraph 2):
149): Ecstatic; enthusiastic.
11): Coolness; composure.
176): Room off the kitchen for cleaning and storing pots, pans, dishes,
and utensils and for preparing food.
shire horses (paragraph
4): Draft horses; horses that pull loads.
14): British term for housemaid.
7): Person who manage a large estate or household.
trap (paragraph 58):
Questions and Essay Topics
Write a short psychological
profile of Mabel. Include passages from the story—as well as Internet and
library research wherever necessary—to support your thesis.
Write a short psychological
profile of Dr. Fergusson. Include passages from the story—as well as Internet
and library research wherever necessary—to support your thesis.
To what extent did D. H. Lawrence
base the setting of the story on the environment in which he grew up?
Does Dr. Fergusson feel obligated
to marry Mabel in order to prevent her from again attempting suicide?
Do you believe Mabel and Fergusson
will live happily ever after?