The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

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Style and Technique

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“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” as is typical of Lawrence’s short fiction, has a strong sense of plot, and because the two characters are of almost equal importance to his antibourgeois theme, he adopts the technique of convergence, alternating his focus from Mabel to Fergusson and causing them to meet three times: at the Pervins’, at the graveyard, and finally at the pond, where the narrative brings them together and forces them for the first time to communicate. Lawrence accentuates the tension and feeling of inevitability by increasing the pace of the story: The first scene is leisurely, with a large cast, and the scenes following center on Mabel or Fergusson, sometimes both, and are briefer and given more to internal than to external description. They give way to the longest but most dramatically intense scene, that taking place at the pond and continuing beside the Pervin hearth.

Lawrence also illustrates here his pioneering attempts to use language, especially by means of metaphor, to communicate passionate inner states. In the beginning, the story is dominated by dimness and numbness: All the Pervins are “sullen”; the brothers’ glances are “glazed” and “callous”; they refer to Mabel as “bull-dog”; her emotions only “darken” her face, and she passes “darkly” through the town and goes “darkly” through the “saddened” fields and the “falling” afternoon to the shadow of the churchyard to her mother’s grave. It continues to fall while Fergusson watches Mabel move “in the hollow of the day” to the pond; as the water closes over her, the afternoon is “dead.”

Lawrence then makes metaphors of hope (with a suggestion of religious passion) dominate the rescue scene. Fergusson finds, after his own full descent into the pond water that “clasped dead cold round his legs,” that Mabel’s body has “risen” from the pond, and he himself “rose higher” carrying her out of it. Once by the fire, he drinks “spirits” and revives her instantly by pouring some into her mouth. His watch has stopped; his old spiritless life, dominated by schedule and exactitude, is over.

From numbness to this revival of awareness, Lawrence moves in the final scene to metaphors of heat as the true physical passion of his characters comes to life, from the warmth of the fire and the friction of Fergusson’s rubbing Mabel dry to the agony of his “burning” and “melting” heart. Throughout, the narrative conveys by means of its imagery the violent and contradictory nature of passionate love. Among all of Lawrence’s quests in his fiction, this was the most significant.

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