In D.H. Lawrence's, "The Horse Dealer's Daughter," what elements in the plot demonstrate the concept of realism?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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English Realism is the response by writers at the turn of the century against the Romantic literary movement that idealized life. The distinction between "romance" and "realism" is important. Romanticism does not refer to love stories. It refers to...

...escapism, wishful thinking, unrealism.

Realism was the opposite, referring to literature that was...

...'relevant to real life'...

Writers of English Realism were strongly affected by changes caused by the Industrial Revolution—such as oppressed women and children victimized by manufacturing, coal mining, etc.

"The Horse Dealer's Daughter" is about a family dissolving. The horse dealer's sons have options. His daughter Mabel does not—she is a young woman of grit and pride. At twenty-seven, little opportunity stands on Mabel's horizon, but she refuses to bow to her brothers' demands that she go to live with a married sister or become a nurse.

Mabel did not take any notice...They had talked at her and round her for so many years, that she hardly heard them at all.

Mabel has cared for her brothers, regardless of the kind of men they are. It has made her feel "established and brutally proud." She has no friends, her mother is long-dead, and now she really is alone. But...

She would follow her own way...She would always hold the keys of her own situation.

Jack Fergusson, a local physician, stops by to ask after the family. Jack, not the town's senior doctor, is a "mere hired assistant." He dashes about helping others. Though it is "work, drudgery...", Jack loves it, but his only connection to the town is Mabel's family, and they are leaving. He watches Mabel, "intrigued" by her quiet defiance, though she causes him some discomfort.

Later Mabel visits her mother's grave, and Jack watches her walk to the pond; she walks into the water, choosing to take her life. Jack pulls her out, but this is not a "romantic episode." The water is dirty and smells, and Jack, already sick, risks his own health. He saves her because he is a doctor.

In many ways, Jack is much like Mabel. They get satisfaction from the difficult lives they lead, but at the end of the day, each is alone. In the face of the changing world, perhaps symbolic of drastic changes to their society, they reach out to each other for salvation. Jack...

...never intended to love her...He had no intention of loving her: his whole will was against his yielding. It was horrible. And yet wonderful...With an inward groan he gave way, and let his heart yield towards her...he could never let her go again.

We find realism in that their actions are relevant to the world in which they live. In truth, we, too, are often unaware of what we want. Sometimes we are driven by aspects of ourselves that are not clear to us.

When Mabel looks at Jack and believes he saved her out of love, something comes alive in him—he is changed. And when she asks if he loves her...

"Yes." The word cost him a painful effort. Not because it wasn't true. But because it was too newly true, the saying seemed to tear open again his newly-torn heart.

Jack realizes that love is not soft or gentle, but something that "rips" one open. Mabel's reality is not a joy when Jack says he loves her. She is frightened as he says it, but more so with a...

...horror lest he should not want her.

Feelings laid bare, Mabel and Jack face the world with love that is not born of pixie dust and magic, but of fear, longing and revelation: this is realism.


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