Study Guide

The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

The Horse Dealer's Daughter Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The three Pervin brothers, left destitute by their late father, sit smoking and talking around the breakfast table in the family ranch house. They badger their sister, Mabel, whom they call “bull-dog,” asking what she intends to do with her life now that they all must leave the ranch; she answers them as always, with stony silence. Dr. Jack Fergusson, a physician and friend of the brothers, calls. As he sits talking with them, he becomes intrigued by the gloomy, proud, and strangely detached sister.

Later, while walking about making his rounds, Fergusson sees Mabel in the cemetery, where, clad in black, she is tending her mother’s grave. He follows her to a pond and, with continuing fascination, watches her walk into and finally disappear under the murky water. He runs after her, drags her out of the pond, and takes her home. There, he undresses her, rubs her skin dry, and warms her next to the hearth fire.

Mabel awakens in a daze, recognizes the doctor, and asks him what she has done. Realizing her nakedness beneath the swaddling blankets, she asks him, “Do you love me, then?” and becomes certain of the answer herself: “You love me. . . . I know you love me, I know.” The doctor, who “had, really, no intention of loving her,” is horrified at her words and her kisses, yet he feels overwhelmed and must embrace her and admit that her words are really true. Mabel’s joyful assurance of his love soon passes, however, and she sobs, “I feel I’m horrible to you.” “’No, I want you, I want you,’ was all he answered, blindly, with that terrible intonation which frightened her almost more than her horror lest he should not want her.”

The title, “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” suggests that the protagonist is Mabel, but actually she shares the center with Fergusson. At the crucial moment, however, this strange love story, recounting the emergence into passion of both these characters, gives the lead to Mabel. She and Fergusson come to their union from opposite directions, Mabel from the “animal pride” of the Pervins, Fergusson...

(The entire section is 856 words.)

The Horse Dealer's Daughter Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” resembling such fairy tales or folktales of transformation as “Cinderella” or variations on themes of “The Ugly Duckling,” treats a sullen country girl whose condition is wonderfully altered from humble (or ugly) to attractive and marriageable. Mabel Pervin’s transformation also resembles that of tales concerning Princess Aurora or of Snow White, in which a maiden and her world are cast under a spell (or curse), only to revive, along with the revival of life everywhere, upon the magic of a lover’s kiss. As a psychological tale, Lawrence’s story also resembles coming-of-age rituals, in which the protagonist moves from sexual latency to mature fulfillment, from sterility to fecundity, from passivity to vitality.

At twenty-seven, with a fixed expression on her face described as “bull-dog,” Mabel first appears to be an unattractive spinster; worse, she suffers from a depression that brings her to the verge of suicide. Her mother dead, her father and her brothers indifferent to her, she is the drudge of an otherwise all-male household. The men enjoy a vital, jovial connection through their drinking and hearty companionship. Yet Mabel, symbolized by the draught horses tied head to tail, is as captive as a brute animal, in spite of her slumbering, subdued animal strength. Like the horses, she seems to be asleep—helpless to demonstrate her vitality.

When Dr. Jack Ferguson, a friend of the Pervins, especially of Mabel’s boisterous brothers, views her wading into the water moments before she submerges into...

(The entire section is 645 words.)