The Horse Dealer’s Daughter by D.H. Lawrence
In The Horse Dealer’s Daughter by D.H. Lawrence we have the theme of doubt, reliance, connection, desperation, escape and security. Taken from his Selected Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lawrence may be, at the beginning of the story, exploring the theme of doubt. Through the narrator the reader learns that Mabel is unaware of what she will do now that her father has died. Despite her brothers appearing to have organised their lives (after their father’s death) Mabel’s future remains in doubt. Though she has the opportunity to leave the village and live with her sister, Lawrence never tells the reader whether Mabel will pursue this option, rather there is a sense that Mabel, if anything remains unsure as to what direction her life will take. It is only at the end of the story that the reader gets a clearer picture as to what Mabel’s plans may be.
Lawrence also appears to be exploring the theme of connection. It is while Mabel is tending to her mother’s grave that the reader senses that Mabel is making a connection with her mother. The reader is aware that as Mabel is cleaning her mother’s grave ‘she came into a subtle, intimate connection with her mother.’ It is possible that Lawrence is suggesting that Mabel longs for her mother and the life she lived when her mother was alive, when Mabel would have been taken care of. This is not the only occasion in the story whereby Lawrence suggests that Mabel has made a connection (with somebody who is dead). The reader also learns that after her mother’s death Mabel looked after her father, the connection between both of them remaining strong till Mr Pervin remarried again. It is also noticeable that Jack in some ways feels connected to Mabel after he has saved her life. Lawrence going as far as telling the reader that if anything Jack has fallen in love with Mabel.
There is also some symbolism in the story which may be significant. The fact that Lawrence describes the water in the pond as ‘dead’ and the fact that Mabel tries to kill herself by drowning in the pond suggests that Lawrence symbolically is using the pond to symbolise death (or at least a death of sorts). It is by trying to kill herself that Mabel’s life is rejuvenated or as some critics suggest Mabel goes through a rebirth, something the reader discovers when Jack proposes to marry Mabel at the end of story. Mabel’s attempt to kill herself in many ways can also serve to highlight the desperation that Mabel feels because she no longer has the security of her father or mother to protect her.
Lawrence also uses a lot of animal imagery in the story particularly when it comes to describing Mabel’s brothers. The reader learns that Joe, as he is watching the draught horses being led out of the yard by a groom, feels ‘the horses were almost like his own body’. By comparing the horses to Joe’s body and having them led by or following the groom Lawrence may be suggesting that Joe too will end up following someone. Something that is more obvious when the reader realises that Joe is marrying a woman whose father will be able to look after him. Just as Joe relied on his father, he is now reliant on someone else.
Lawrence also likens Fred Henry to an animal, telling the reader that ‘if he was an animal, like Joe, he was an animal which controls, not one which is controlled.’ However it is also noticeable that Lawrence tells the reader that (Fred Henry) ‘was not master of the situations of life.’ This line is significant as it suggests that like Joe, Fred Henry is reliant on others. However the person who appears to be most reliant on others is Mabel. Not only was she reliant on her mother and father to provide her with security but now that both are dead Mabel appears to be reliant on Jack to provide her with security. It is possible that Lawrence is highlighting to the reader the reliance or dependency that many women like Mabel (working or lower class women) had at the time the story was written on the male to provide them with security.
The ending of the story is also interesting. Though some critics argue that Mabel undergoes a rebirth in the story (having found love with Jack) it is more likely that Mabel will marry Jack not out of love but rather to escape from the possibility of a poverty stricken life that may await her now that her father is dead. Though Jack appears to have fallen in love with Mabel, there is no clear sign at least from Mabel that this love is reciprocated. At no stage in the story does Mabel tell Jack that she loves him, if anything Jack appears to be the vessel that will provide some security to Mabel’s life. Again it is possible that by writing the story, Lawrence may have been highlighting to the reader the reliance that some women had on men to provide them with security, again at the time the story was written.