D. H. Lawrence tried unsuccessfully to get the English Review to publish “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” written in 1917 and originally titled “The Miracle.” However, in 1921 he revised the story, retitled it “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” and included it in his second volume of short stories, England, My England (1922). The story was an immediate success and to this day remains one of Lawrence’s most anthologized pieces of writing, second only to “The Rocking-Horse Winner” (1926).
“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” begins with the disbanding of the Pervin family: Mabel Pervin and her three brothers, Malcolm, Fred Henry, and Joe, all must leave their home after their father has died and left them in debt. The Pervin brothers state openly what they intend to do with their futures; Mabel, however, is strangely silent about her intentions. Mabel’s sole connection to a family member is with her mother, who died when Mabel was just 14. Now, as a 27-year-old woman, Mabel still feels deep and worshiping love for her mother. Lawrence states simply that this intense love for her dead mother makes Mabel feel “her own glorification, approaching her dead mother, who was glorified” (143). Mabel’s intent is to follow her mother to the grave.
Little physical notice is taken of Mabel except by Dr. Jack Ferguson, a Pervin family friend, who finds Mabel’s “steady, dangerous eyes” emotionally unsettling (141). Present in this story is Lawrence’s interest in the development of the individual identity as it pertains to larger questions of community. Both Mabel and Jack Ferguson find themselves alienated in their respective communities; Mabel does not fit into her family, and Jack Ferguson does not feel comfortable in the “alien, ugly little town” of people for whom he cares (144). Mabel’s attempted suicide, by drowning, propels these two alienated people together. Dr. Ferguson rescues Mabel from the pond into which she has walked, although he cannot swim, out of duty as a medical man. After dragging her from the cold and murky waters, he resuscitates her, takes her back to her own house, undresses her in the kitchen, and wraps her naked body in warm blankets. When he gives her some brandy she comes into full physical consciousness and asks him the question that will change their lives forever: “Do you love me, then?” (148). The conversation between Mabel and Jack Ferguson, following this question, illustrates one of the recurrent themes in Lawrence’s stories, the complicated problem of defining the exact nature of love between men and women. Lawrence shows that love is what draws these two people together. However, in this story love has many meanings. Love is emotional desire, sexual passion, and possession of another person.
Mabel’s prolonged nakedness forces Jack to address his burgeoning desire for her. Finally, Mabel’s intense need for Jack’s love compels him to abandon the pretense of helpful doctor, to embrace his newfound love for her. Although there is final recognition between Mabel and Jack for their love of each other, this is a love story without a happy ending. At the moment that Jack declares definitively that he wants her, that he is even willing to marry her immediately, Mabel is “frightened . . . almost more than her horror lest he should not want her” (152). Lawrence was a writer who sought to represent human nature in all its complexities. Thus, in this story, love is imperfectly felt and experienced.
Delany, Paul. D. H. Lawrence’s Nightmare: The Writer and His Circle in the Years of the Great War. New York: Basic Books, 1978.
Harris, Janice Hubbard. The Short Fiction of D. H. Lawrence. New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1984.
Lawrence, D. H. England, My England and Other Stories. London: Penguin, 1995. Worthen, John. D. H. Lawrence: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993.