The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

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Student Question

What are the conflict, complication, change moment, and resolution in "The Horse Dealer's Daughter"?

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Critic Jeffrey Mayers writes of D.H.Lawrence's "The Horse Dealer's Daughter,"

His conscious debt to literary tradition enhances rather than diminishes his originality.

Clearly, Lawrence draws from biblical, classical, Shakespearean, and Romantic literature in his tale of the impassive, reserved Mabel who dwells in the "world of death...inherited from her mother," attempting to drown her self like Hamlet's Ophelia, and the Miltonian God-like Fergusson who figuratively breathes life back into Mabel. Also, as in Goethe's Elective Affinities, like the character Edouard,who rescues Ottolie from having jumped from their boat in order to punish him for his indifference, Fergusson undresses Mabel, and when she regains consciousness, she spontaneously flings her arms around him in a passionate declaration of love for his selfless,loving action.

Here, then, are the requested elements of the story:

  • Conflicts

The struggles of this story are both internal and external. The external conflicts involve the fact that the Pervins are faced with penury and the loss of their home and horse-dealing business. Mabel must find another place to live, as must the brothers. The internal conflicts involve the seemingly "impassive and inscrutable" Mabel, who decides that without money, she has no pride left and will join her adored, dead mother, and Dr. Jack Fergusson, who is torn between his "hatred for the hellish hole" of the industrial place he serves and his love for the coarse, inarticulate, emotional men and women of the village. 

In addition, both Mabel's and Fergusson's recognition of love involve internal and external conflicts. Once Fergusson rescues Mabel, he is torn between not wanting to love and his physical and emotional desires for her. Mabel, too, feels a little awkward after she wraps herself and finds dry clothes for the doctor; she offers to make him tea, which is what English characters seem so often to do when they do not know what else to do. [Please read the resolution for better clarification on this last point]

  • Complication

The complication comes when Fergusson makes his rounds, but notices Mabel walking into the pond, submerging herself in her attempt to drown. He, then, rushes to the pond and rescues her. 

  • Moment of Change

Mabel's change appears to be spontaneous; however, she has probably loved the emotionally recalcitrant Fergusson all along as suggested in the first time their eyes meet in the story at the Previn home as he looks into

...her steady dangerous eyes, that always made him uncomfortable, unsettling his superficial ease.

Also, he, too, has been attracted to her all along as evinced when the doctor tips his hat as he passes by the cemetery where Mabel kneels before her mother's grave: 

Their eyes met. And each looked again at once, each feeling in some way found out by the other.

This encounter, then, is a subtle beginning to the change that is momentous when Mabel regains consciousness and grabs Fergusson around the legs in a servile position, declaring, "You love me. I know you love me...." Fergusson's change occurs just prior to Mabel's action as, after she asks, "Do you love me then?" Fergusson, immobile, stares at her as his "soul seemed to melt." Then, with her declaration of love and her impassioned overtures, he finally gives in to his desire and love for her, 

...with an inward groan, he gave way, and let his heart yield towards her....

Fergusson, then, also drops to his knees, and "pressed her face against his throat."

  • Resolution

Both Mabel and Fergusson are resurrected into life through their passion and love. However, the reader is left with a certain uncertainty with Lawrence's last lines,

"I feel awful. I feel awful. 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.

While there is redemption through water (Mabel's resurrection from the pond, Fergusson's "baptism" and his remaining wet as he undergoes his own spiritual transformation), apparent in the story's conclusion is also Lawrence's belief that love is a form of submission [Fergusson "groaned"]. The heretofore impassive Mabel is discomfited as she realizes that she has wrought this submission upon the man, who is uncomfortable with his new submissive position. How interesting, then, that Lawrence ends his narrative with a new conflict!

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