The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

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In "The Horse Dealer's Daughter," how does the third person narrative voice affect the story?

Quick answer:

The third person perspective suits the effect of the story because it provides a broad view of events and appeals to readers who prefer realism. The story’s structure is also realistic, as the plot focuses on Mabel’s life, although she is not a typical woman.

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D. H. Lawrence chose a third person narrator for this story. Writing in the third person, the author works within realism by providing a broad view of both major characters’ experiences and insights into their actions. Mabel emerges as the protagonist, a sympathetic figure in contrast to her insensitive brothers. Once Doctor Fergusson enters the story, the reader also learns elements of his position. Rather than looking inside her mind as she decides on suicide, an external view of her actions is provided. The doctor witnesses her walking into the pond and rescues her.

The limitations on the third person perspective also add suspense to the story. We are not privileged to learn about Mabel’s prior emotional attachment to Fergusson but are left to surmise how and when her feelings developed. Similarly, we do not learn if he had begun to love her earlier or even if, as she flatly states, he does love her at the point when he pulls her out of the water. Back at the house in front of the fire, the perspective shifts to Fergusson because of the intensity and suddenness of his feelings. Whereas he began as a minor character, he claims a major place at the end.

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The short story "The Horse Dealer's Daughter" by D. H. Lawrence tells of a family of four children whose father has just died. Since he was in debt, they are losing their house and property. The three brothers have ways to cope, but the sister, Mabel (the daughter of the horse dealer), is depressed and desolate. She goes to visit her mother's grave and then walks into a pond to drown herself. A young doctor named Jack Fergusson, who had stopped by their house earlier, observes Mabel going under the pond water, saves her, and carries her back to the house. Then, when he revives her, she insists he loves her, and he returns her love.

It is true that this story is told from the third-person point of view. Lawrence uses this perspective because his intention is to delve deeply into the thoughts and motivations of various characters in turn. However, Lawrence does not employ third-person omniscient point of view, in which readers can see the thoughts of all the characters at once, but rather third-person limited point of view, which he shifts from one character to another according to need.

The first part of the story is told from the viewpoint of some of the brothers: first Joe and then Fred Henry. Lawrence does this so that readers can see Mabel as they see her: a seemingly emotionless, impassive, and inscrutable woman. They can't figure her out, and they have no idea how emotionally shattered she really is. This section sets up the background of the story and makes Mabel a somewhat mysterious figure.

The viewpoint then switches to Mabel. It tells how, after her mother died, she tended the house, and how the recent poverty has born heavily upon her spirit. It follows her to the graveyard, where she feels secure and close to her mother.

After this, the viewpoint shifts to the doctor. It follows his sensations and emotions in depth as he spots Mabel at the graveyard, watches her walk to the pond and submerge herself, rescues her, and yields to her overtures of love. Lawrence does this so that readers will become deeply invested in the rescue and the love story as it unfolds.

Finally, at the end, Lawrence draws back a bit from the doctor's mind and focuses on the couple together in the first shyness of their love, establishing a closing glimpse of their budding relationship to end the story.

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The narrative choice chosen by Lawrence in this story adds to the effect of the tale as it allows him to focus on the key theme of his story, which is the strength of passion and how it overpowers our reason. The use of the omniscient narration means that Lawrence is not confined to any one character, as he would be if he had chosen third person limited or first person. As he is exploring the passion that springs up between Mabel and Ferguson, it is important that he is able to switch back and forth between these two central characters and explore how this passion develops and expresses itself in both of them. Consider the following quote, which comes from the very end of the story:

"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 choice of omniscient narrator in this story thus allows Lawrence to explore intimately and with full psychological knowledge the thoughts, feelings and reactions of both central characters as they experience them, and also to depict the often contradictory feelings as they struggle against the passion that is overpowering them. The above quote is a great example as it points out the paradox of Ferguson's words, which are on the one hand indicative of love, but on the other hand, through the manner of their intonation, which is "terrible," undercut that love and make Mabel scared about what he really is thinking. Such subtleties would be different if a different narrative perspective were adopted.

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