The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

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Student Question

Describe Dr. Jack Fergusson's relationship with the family in The Horse Dealer's Daughter.

Quick answer:

Dr. Jack Fegusson in The Horse Dealer's Daughter is a young, average-looking man who is on friendly terms with the Pervin siblings, especially one brother, Fred Henry. He is sorry they are leaving because they are his only friends in town. By the end of the story, he unexpectedly finds himself in a loving relationship with Mabel Pervin.

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In this D. H. Lawrence novel, Jack Fergusson is initially presented as the town physician. He visits the Pervin siblings on their farm to bid them all farewell as they prepare to leave for good. They are four adult children, three men and one woman, whose parents are deceased. Later Fergusson regrets their imminent departure, thinking that they are “the only company he cared for in the alien, ugly little town.”

Fergusson is described as “a young man...of medium height” with a “rather long and pale” face; when he arrives “his eyes looked tired,” which is soon explained as connected to his having a cold. There is no indication that Jack has a special relationship with anyone in the family. While he converses with all three brothers, he is on friendlier terms with Fred Henry; the two say they will miss each other. His conversation with Joe seems a bit strained, as Joe may be challenging his authority as a doctor.

During this visit, Jack asks “Miss Pervin” if she plans to move in with her sister. The only clue to their relationship is the statement that Mabel has a “steady, dangerous eye, that always made him uncomfortable….” Merely saying “no” to his question, she provides no further information. Her brothers continue uninformed about her plans. Fergusson is interested by Mabel’s silence and “perfectly impassive face.”

Much of the characterization of Mabel is provided after she parts company with her brothers and Jack. The narrator says that she is “proud” and understands that she is in control:

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

Jack feels an inexplicable connection with Mabel. Because his surgery is near the church, where she next goes to visit her mother’s grave, he sees her walking along the road. He senses that Mabel has a power over him that enlivens him from the lethargy caused by the cold. After she passes out of sight, he remembers her

looking at him with slow, large, portentous eyes. It was portentous, her face. It seemed to mesmerize him. There was a heavy power in her eyes which laid hold of his whole being, as if he had drunk some powerful drug.

Later that evening, Jack’s witnessing Mabel’s suicide attempt is partly a matter of coincidence. He happens to see her while he is finishing his rounds of patient visits. He wonders why she is out walking in the dark. After he rescues her, he feels fear because her power is increasing.

He was afraid now, because he felt dazed, and felt dimly that her power was stronger than his.

Mabel interprets his interference in her action as constituting love. Although he had rescued her in his capacity as a doctor, his heart soon melts despite himself.

He never intended to love her. But now it was over. He had crossed over the gulf to her, and all that he had left behind had shriveled and become void.

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