The Horse Dealer's Daughter
by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

course9-book Lawrence has a penchant for symbolism—literary and archetypal. In this work he includes both, weaving them so skillfully into the storyline you are unaware of them, except that their power is inescapable.

Even the title is symbolic: a reference to the father and the daughter, who resembles her father in important ways—she is her father's daughter, as the saying goes.

The story is dark and gloomy, stark even, but its richness is revealed when we come to understand its deeper symbolism. The atmospheric gloom stands in contrast to the warmth of the kitchen fire.

Much of Lawrence’s work is concerned with powerful women and their emasculating potential. In Sons and Lovers, (1913), a semi-autobiographical work, the young hero struggles against his loving but domineering mother. This story reflects a similar concern.

1. The men in this story are not "masters of the situations of life"; they have allowed events to control them—like the horses outside in the courtyard being led to their exercise. Brother Joe, in particular, is connected to horses. It’s fun to pick out all the horsey references.

2. Mabel refuses to acknowledge her brothers’ questions: her silence is a form of control. Mabel reflects the Cinderella motif (a motif found in hundreds of stories around the globe): like Cinderella of the Brothers Grimm folktale, Mabel has been debased; also, she's obsessed with her mother’s grave, preferring the world of death to life. Like Snow White, another folktale heroine, she comes fully alive, achieving womanhood, through erotic contact.

3.Jack is attracted to Mabel, but also fears her, at the beginning and end of the story. He, too, is brought to life by love—but he is also brought to heel. The end of the story shows who is in control: Jack, like Mabel’s brothers, will become a “subject animal.” The clothes incident is most telling—she is clearly in charge.

4. The rescue is a symbol of sexuality. Archetypicallyl, women are associated with earth and water. Jack must enter the water to save Mabel, and the description of his going in is graphic. He goes in reluctantly: he can’t swim, is frightened, and loses his balance, becoming completely submerged. The rescue episode is a foreshadowing of what happens later in the kitchen.

5. Lawrence believed that our sexuality and animal instincts reflect our authentic selves, more so than our social trappings and pretensions. He also believed women have tremendous power over men: in this story, Mabel is the true daughter of her horse dealer father, a man whose life’s work was to subjugate huge, unwieldy animals. Look out Jack.

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