What does D.H. Lawrence say about love in his short story, "The Horse Dealer's Daughter?"

1 Answer | Add Yours

booboosmoosh's profile pic

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

Posted on

In D.H. Lawrence's short story, "The Horse Dealer's Daughter," the speaker first mentions familial love. Mabel has known no love from her brothers—they have treated her as if she were invisible. However...

…she lived in the memory of her mother, who had died when she was fourteen, and who 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.

Mabel's love for her mother is seen as the narrator describes the special pains she takes in caring for her mother's gravestone. When finished, she is "in a state bordering on pure happiness."

The reader can infer by Dr. Jack Fergusson's reaction at the sight of Mabel in the cemetery that she has somehow clutched at the strings of his heart, for he is not only "spellbound," but he also feels "delivered from his own fretted self."

There was a heavy power in her eyes which laid hold of his whole being, as if he had drunk some powerful drug…now new life came back into him...

Certainly he seems to at least care for Mabel as he ventures into the foul water of the pond after her—afraid because he cannot swim, but still moving forward. Then the doctor returns Mabel to her empty home and does what he can "to bring her round," warm and safe. Mabel realizes that Fergusson has undressed her and in that moment, she asks:

Do you love me, then?

He does not answer, but she declares over and again that he does. She looks at him with "flaring, humble eyes of transfiguration…"

Fergusson is taken aback. He is totally out of his element:

He had never thought of loving her. He had never wanted to love her. When he rescued her and restored her, he was a doctor, and she was a patient. He had had no single personal thought of her.

Mabel's talk of love is "distasteful to him, a violation of his professional honour." Even as he is horrified and revolted, he does not have the strength to pull himself from her fierce embrace: in fact, he is powerless to do so.

Fergusson becomes the essence of contradiction: for as horrified as he is, and as much as he desires nothing but to resist her, he cannot. And she continues to insist that he loves her.

He had a horror of yielding to her. Yet something in him ached also.

When Mabel begins to doubt his feelings toward her, the look in her eyes is frightening to him—there is "a look of death behind the question." That look is more than he can bear and his resistance melts. He feels an agony in his heart as if it has broken, but he knows that he would never be able to let her go. This time when she asks him if he loves her, he says he does.

The word cost him a painful effort. Not because it wasn't true. But because it was too newly true.

They sit in front of the fire, considering each other. Jack Fergusson is experiencing something totally alien to him: he is amazed to discover "That this was love!" He feels exposed: he might be ridiculed if others knew. 

As he prepares to leave, to go back to the surgery, Mabel brings Fergusson dry clothes while castigating herself for what she has done, feeling so horrible that she is certain he could not possibly love her. However, the doctor cannot look back at the life he had before he loved her because he has been strangely transformed, even though he seems totally unprepared. Mabel is frightened by this change in her life, something she had never expected, having resolved as she had walked to the cemetery that she would soon be joining her mother in death. However, she is a contradiction as well: as frightening as it is to her to hear his repeated assurances, the fear is not as great as "her horror lest he should not want her."

The reader can understand from the story that loving parents is very different from romantic love. Lawrence presents an excellent argument that nothing can really prepare one for falling in love or being loved. We might also infer that love could be all around us and we might not even recognize it for what it is. Additionally, Lawrence may see the state of love to be a contradiction: while finding oneself in the midst of love is scary and disconcerting and perhaps something to be avoided at all costs, it is also impossible to imagine life without it—without the very thing that is both compelling and terrifying. Lawrence may be telling the reader that the frenzy of love also causes great fear, for it seems to have a life of its own and robs the person in love of coherent thought and self-possession. And from Lawrence's description, love is impossible to resist; once accepted, it changes one forever.

Contrary to popular fairytales, Lawrence's vision of love does not include roses and lace. It is more like a roaring, wild beast that brings both fear and exhilaration in its wake, taking hold with claws that one may shy away from, but also may desperately want. 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,979 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question