The Horse Dealer's Daughter

by D. H. Lawrence

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What does "The Horse Dealer's Daughter" suggest about love and gender relations?

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Lawrence's story raises some interesting questions about love and gender relations.

First, Mabel's strength of character stands in contrast to her brothers, although, as men, the brothers are better able to find situations after the collapse of the family horse trading business. Mabel's agency is limited primarily to running the house and to her own internal life, which she carefully regulates. Her silence and impassiveness are products of this sort of emotional discipline, which the men in the story seem to lack.

This discipline comes at a cost for Mabel, however, who resolves to commit suicide rather than ask others for help. The "love" between Mabel and Jack that develops after Jack saves her from drowning is the result of Mabel finally revealing the desperation and fear of loneliness that has haunted her since the death of her mother. Her vulnerability causes Jack to realize, in an instant, that he does love her. Love in this sense is a kind of expression of an almost primitive fear. One reason Mabel loves Jack because she senses he can protect her.

There is also the sense that Jack owes Mabel his love, since she has exposed herself to him, both emotionally and physically. For Mabel, there is a direct link between Jack's undressing her and his attachment. Her question, once she realizes that he has seen her naked, is "Do you love me then?" suggests something transactional. Sex, or the idea of sex her nudity suggests, is like a powerful current between the two. When Jack rescued her, "he had no single personal thought of her," yet her need draws him in and forces him to succumb.

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This is an interesting love story as Lawrence incorporates the elements of the darkness of love in this tale of Mabel and Jack Fergusson. Mabel is seen dressed in black, tending her mother's grave, in an otherworldly scene, "Mindless and persistent, she seemed in a sort of ecstasy to be coming nearer to her fulfillment." Shortly after, she walks into the still lake. Paradoxically, the near drowning incident does bring Mabel to an unsuspected fulfillment, that of her relationship with Jack. Yet, there is no love between them when Fergusson proposes marriage. Jack, in saving her life, is bound to Mabel through the act and this is amplified by his removing her clothes and rubbing her dry. Metaphorically, she is snatched from death, yet the question looms if their marriage could be a rebirth for Mabel.This love appears more than fated; it is as if neither character has a choice in the matter as Jack says, "I want you...we're going to be married, quickly,quickly." Perhaps Lawrence tells us that many relationships between men and women happen, perhaps without rhyme or reason or even love.

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