The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

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Student Question

What do Mabel and Fergusson realize about their growth as characters in "The Horse Dealer's Daughter" paragraphs 113–142?

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In the short story "The Horse Dealer's Daughter" by D. H. Lawrence, three men and a woman, the sons and daughter of a formerly well-to-do horse dealer, meet in the kitchen of their home after their father's death. Once the horse ranch was prosperous, but now it is lost to debt, and they all have to move elsewhere. The three brothers are coping well enough, but Mabel, the daughter, is in despair. Since her mother died, she has cared for the household of her father and brothers, even as their fortunes declined and they fell into poverty, and now she has lost her sense of identity and doesn't know where to turn.

Jack Fergusson is the local doctor and a family friend. He sympathizes with their plight, but he doesn't see what he can do to help. He later observes Mabel at the churchyard as she visits her mother's grave. After he spends time at his clinic, he sees her again. He watches as she walks into a muddy pond, obviously intent on drowning herself. Fergusson runs to rescue Mabel, even though he is apprehensive because he can't swim. He pulls her out of the water and gets her back to her house, where he removes her wet clothes, wraps her in blankets, and gives her some whiskey.

As Fergusson revives and warms Mabel, the two of them realize that they are in love. Mabel realizes it first, but instead of telling Fergusson that she loves him, she repeats over and over that he loves her, as if attempting to convince both of them that it is true. Eventually Fergusson comes to the realization for himself, and he admits that he does love her.

Mabel's character changes because her suicidal despair gives way to hope. When she realizes that Fergusson loves her, she has a reason to live. Fergusson's character changes because he acquires depth that he has never had before. He has been content to work hard caring for the rough people living in the area, but after he falls in love with Mabel, he feels an emotional need that is almost frightening in its intensity.

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