By D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2012.
.......“The 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.
.......The 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 cheerless.
Mabel Pervin: Twenty-seven-year-old daughter of a deceased horse dealer. His death left Mabel and her brothers impoverished and jobless.
.......D. 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 characters.Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2012
.......When Joseph Pervin died, he left financial ruin to his three sons and daughter. His horse-dealing business went bankrupt, apparently because of the advent of mechanized transportation. Now, the children sit around the breakfast table discussing what to do next. But they fail to develop a plan.
.......The men sit smoking and reflecting. The woman, twenty-seven, looks sullen.
.......“She would have been good-looking,” the narrator says, “save for the impassive fixity of her face, 'bull-dog', as her brothers called it" (paragraph 3).
.......Joe Pervin the younger, thirty-three, looks out at the family's four draft horses passing on the road beyond the yard as the groom exercises them for the last time. It is as if the horses are part of Joe's body. Fortunately, his fiancée's father manages a nearby estate. He will give Joe a job. Then Joe will marry and become somebody else's "subject animal" (paragraph 7), the narrator says. Fred Henry, the second brother, is good with horses. But there will be no more horses now. He asks his sister, Mabel, what she will do. She does not answer.
.......Malcolm, the youngest brother at twenty-two, says she ought to go into nursing. Fred Henry suggests that she move in with her sister Lucy. Still, Mabel does not answer. Joe says she will have to make up her mind soon. Otherwise, she will have no place to lodge.
.......When a young physician named Jack Fergusson comes in wearing a cap, overcoat, and scarf, he exchanges greetings with the men. Mabel rises, collects the dishes, and takes them to the kitchen. Malcolm gets up to leave, saying will be catching an 11:40 train. After saying good-bye to Fergusson, he goes off with Joe, who is to drive him to the station in a carriage.
.......When Mabel returns, Fergusson asks whether she is going to her sister's. Mabel looks at him “with her steady, dangerous eyes, that always made him uncomfortable” (paragraph 76), the narrator says, then answers no.
.......Fred Henry again asks her what she intends to do, and again she remains silent. Her attitude irks him. Fergusson and Fred Henry—who will be relocating to Northampton, an industrial town in the English Midlands—agree to meet in the evening at a tavern to socialize. Fergusson then leaves through the back door, which opens onto a yard and the stables beyond.
.......At one time, the deceased Joseph Pervin had a thriving business in dealing horses. The house even had servants. But the business went sour and Pervin remarried “to retrieve his fortunes” (paragraph 95), the narrator says. When he died, he left his children nothing but debt.
.......Mabel had been the housekeeper for ten years. She was always confident and proud, for the money in the family made her feel secure.
.......“The men might be foul-mouthed, the women in the kitchen might have bad reputations, her brothers might have illegitimate children," the narrator says. “But so long as there was money, the girl felt herself established, and brutally proud, reserved” (paragraph 96).
.......After her Lucy (her sister) left, she had no female companionship. Only horse dealers and other men came by. Mabel's mother died when she was fourteen. When he was fifty-four, her father married again. “And then,” says the narrator, “she set hard against him” (paragraph 97). When she and her brothers became impoverished after her father's death, there were hard times. Now everything is gone. Only debt remains. But she is resolved to follow her own instincts; she will determine what is right for her. No longer will she have to look away in shame from passersby on the streets. No longer will she have to settle for the cheapest food at the grocery.
.......In the afternoon, she goes to the cemetery with a bag containing a brush, scissors, and sponge. There, she cleans her mother's tombstone and clips the grass. She takes satisfaction in this task. It connects her to her mother. Doctor Fergusson passes by on his way to consult with patients. When he sees Mabel, “some mystical element was touched in him” (paragraph 103). He stops to watch her. By and by, their eyes meet. He doffs his cap and walks on, carrying the memory of her look with him.
.......After ministering to office patients and then visiting patients in their homes, he takes a walk. Going from house to house to tend to the needs of working folk—consisting mainly of ironworkers and coal miners—wears him out. But being part of the lives of the people stimulates him. He hates the work—and loves it.
.......When he passes by the Pervin home, Oldmeadow, he sees a woman in black in the cold grayness of the twilight. It is Mabel. She is going toward the pond beyond her home. Why is she going there? He stops on a slope and watches. She pauses momentarily on the bank, then wades into the water. When the water level is nearly up to her shoulders, he can no longer see her in the gathering darkness. He runs to the pond—through hedges, over a field. After arriving at the bank a few minutes later, he thinks he sees her black figure under the water. He enters the pond. The bottom is soft, and he cannot swim. He is afraid. When the water is up to his chest, he reaches for the figure. Grasping her clothing, he slowly pulls her to shore. He ministers over the unconscious woman until she begins breathing. After wrapping her in his coat, he carries her to the house and lays her before the kitchen hearth. Although no one else is in the house, a fire is burning in the grate.
.......Her eyes open but she does not respond further. He gets blankets and wraps her in them after removing her clothing. Then he finds whisky, takes a swig, and pours some into her mouth. She awakens.
.......“What did I do?” she says (paragraph 125).
.......“Walked into the pond” (paragraph 126).
.......He begins to shiver. Perhaps his own health is now in jeopardy. His mind goes dark for a moment, but then he regains himself.
.......“Was I out of my mind?” (paragraph 127).
.......“Maybe, for a moment” (paragraph 128).
.......He asks where to find dry clothes.
.......She asks why he went into the water for her. He answers that he wanted to save her from doing “such a foolish thing” (paragraph 135). But she says she did the right thing. He wants to get into some dry clothes, but he cannot pull himself away. She sits up and asks who undressed her. He says it was necessary for him to do so.
.......“Do you love me then?” (paragraph 142). He can only stand and stare. He is in her spell.
.......She threw her hands around his legs, drawing him close and saying, “I know you love me, I know” (paragraph 145).
.......But he never before had notions of loving her. He saved her as a doctor and brought her into the house as a professional doing his job. He resents her imposition on him. Yet he does not move. He does not break away. She pulls him down to her. He both resists and yields. For a moment he looks away from her. When he returns his gaze, “the light was dying from her face, a shadow of terrible greyness was returning” (paragraph 151). Then he gives in, smiling and dropping down to her. She cries. He holds her close, feeling her tears on his neck.
.......“You love me?” (paragraph 157).
.......“Yes” (paragraph 158).
.......They kiss, and her eyes well with tears. She moves back and sits. He is uncomfortable with the newness of this love.
.......“I love you!” he tells her (paragraph 166).
.......Now she feels uncomfortable, and she tells him she is going to get him some dry clothes. But she stays long enough to kiss him again, then goes upstairs. A moment later, she tosses down the clothes.
.......He goes to the fire and puts them on.
.......It is 6 p.m. He should return to the office. He calls up to her that he is leaving. When she comes down, she is wearing her best dress and says she will make him tea. He insists he must leave but goes over and kisses her. She then says her hair smells bad.
.......“And I'm so awful, so awful. Oh, no, I'm too awful. You can't want to love me, I'm horrible” (paragraph 186).
.......He holds her in his arms and says he wants to marry her—“tomorrow if I can” (paragraph 187).
.......She tells him, “I feel I'm horrible to you” (paragraph 189).
.......But he insist that he wants her, speaking with “that terrible intonation which frightened her almost more than her horror lest he should not want her” (paragraph 190).
.......At the end of the story, are Mabel and Jack truly in love? Or is there another reason for their amorous behavior?
The Power of Primal Desires
.......Mabel 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.
The Effect of Heavy Industry and Technology on a Rural Town
.......The 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."
Lack of Drive and Ingenuity
.......Joe 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 3).
.......Mabel 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."
.......The 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 marry him.
.......The climax occurs when Dr. Fergusson yields to his emotions and vows his love for Mabel.
.......The 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.
Focus on the Eyes
.......Much 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."
.......Following 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 round the desolate breakfast table, attempting some sort of desultory consultation. (paragraph 2)Anaphora
The men might be foul-mouthed, the women in the kitchen might have bad reputations, her brothers might have illegitimate children. (paragraph 96)Metaphor
A flame seemed to burn the hand that grasped her soft shoulder. (paragraph 150)Metonymy
Then, in perpetual haste, he set off again to visit several cases in another part of his round, before teatime. (paragraph 105)Personification
It was a grey, wintry day, with saddened, dark-green fields. (paragraph 99)Simile
The horses were almost like his own body to him. (paragraph 7)Vocabulary
causeway (paragraph 99): Raised road or path; paved road.