, but of their soul; this is counter-intuitive to the human spirit. D.H. Lawrence presents, in his short story “The Horse-dealer’s Daughter,” two primary examples of persons who have been living in a death-in-life state and then experience a symbolic and transformative rebirth and renewal.
Initially it is through Mabel Pervin’s impassive behaviors that the audience can feel her detachment and distance from anything but the monotony of life. As her brothers speak to her, her verbal responses are far and few between (Lawrence, 2497-2498). She is in a mindless stupor enacting semi-automatic behavior: “Mindless and persistent, she endured from day to day. Why should she think? Why should she answer anybody?” (2501). There the nature of Mabel’s death-in-life state is revealed, but what is the cause? The audience learns there are two catalysts for Mabel’s death-in-life state one being the death of her mother when she was fourteen years old (2501). The speaker shares that Mable “lived in the memory of her (dead) mother”. Mabel’s state is ironically inspired by the fact of death itself.
Money used to be the only thing, after her mother’s death, that Mabel could invest emotion in and gain esteem from, but her father’s death has brought poverty and there is no money left (2500). “Now, for Mabel the end had come . . . and there was no way out,” this “end” mimics the ending of existence itself for Mabel, and there being no way out suggests that literal death is the only option: “. . . she seemed in a sort of ecstasy to be coming nearer to her fulfillment, her own glorification, approaching her dead mother, who was glorified” (2501). While Mabel is at her mother’s grave, the speaker describes that Mabel believes “the life she followed here in the world was far less real than the world of death she inherited from her mother”. She feels closer to her dead mother than she does to any living person. The actuality of death becomes appealing to Mabel, as eventually shown when she attempts to kill herself.
Unlike Mabel Pervin, Jack Ferguson can owe his death-in-life state to the monotony of human ritual workplace routine, but similarly to Mabel, Jack is also living his life vicariously through an indirect source. The reader is first introduced to the idea that Jack is living a mundane life when he makes eye contact with Mabel while she is at the churchyard: “He had been feeling weak and done before. Now the life came back into him, he felt delivered from his own fretted, daily self” (2502). Here, it is confessed that Jack does not feel as if he is living, in fact he continuously wishes to escape the lull of human routine: “Nothing but work, drudgery. . . It wore him out, but at the same time he had a craving for it. It was stimulant to him to be in the homes of the working people . . . the contact with the rough, strongly-feeling people was a stimulant applied direct to his nerves”. Jack is not experiencing for himself the very raw emotion of life he witnesses in his patients’ homes. His life, because of his human ritual which is his vocation, is a dissociation from emotionally invested aspects of life.
In correlation to Mabel and Jack’s death-in-life states Lawrence begins to use language that assists this theme: “It was grey, deadened . . . the dusk of the dead afternoon . . . the dead water . . . clasped dead cold . . . The dead cold pond . . .” (2502-2503). Parallel to Mabel and Jack’s predicaments nature is in its own death-in-life state as well, which is viewed as imperative in order for spring to bloom thereafter, implying that Mabel and Jack will experience some sort of transformation as nature herself experiences during transitions seasons.
Just as spring follows winter, a rebirth and renewal in love follow Mabel and Jack after many years of living life in mindless and unstimulating motions. Mabel is physically revived to consciousness because of Jack’s inherent sense of duty to help those he can, after she has a near-death experience. Mabel surfaces and reawakens after nearly facing death, she is overcome with newfound love, having been void herself of any kind of emotion previously. Jack’s rescuing Mabel is dangerous on her end because essentially she is born again, she is starting a new with the risks of giving too much of herself to something to the point where she has nothing left; she essentially is beginning a process that could end her exactly as her previous predicament attempted to, this is reflected in her final reflection to Jack’s marriage proposal which is one of unexpected aberrance. Jack faces dangers of his own by rescuing Mabel to a point where he now finds himself invested in a situation that deviates entirely from the rigidness of his human ritual. Jack struggles against his will to retreat from the very raw emotion his subconscious desires intensely, he is confronted with the stimulating emotion he has been witness to for so long; he cannot break away from Mabel because this is what he has always wanted: “It was horrible. He revolted from it violently. And yet—and yet—he had not the power to break away” (2505). He feels an initial resistance to loving Mabel; his human ritual has such a spell over him that even a human sentiment as strong as love is urged to be suppressed by his actual will. His subconscious wants to feel, wants Mabel more than his will believes it his duty to restrain himself, and yet the struggle between himself and his will is a testament to the detriment strict human rituals afflict upon the natural inclinations of humans, which D.H. Lawrence believes should be revered.
Again, the reader can find Lawrence’s strategic use of language, immediately deviating from dark to light after Jack’s revival of Mabel, using words like “live” and “life” as opposed to the previous example of “dead” and “deadening”: “He could feel her live beneath his hands . . . his life came back to him . . . It was as if she had the life of his body in her hands . . .” (2503-2504). The reader can tend to this distinction between Mabel and Jack’s death-in-life states and their renewal. The dark and light language contrasts just as starkly as Lawrence themes of isolation and love. Mabel’s near-death experience and Jack’s rescue is symbolic because Mabel emotionally rescues Jack, just as much as Jack physically rescues Mabel. They were both suffering from isolation prescribed by the concerns of mundane and superficial human rituals: Mabel’s was that of money and Jack’s was that of an overwhelming work life.
Mabel and Jack’s isolated worlds have come together in newly found love, a realization that the rawness of life is what preserves the desire to live. Through “The Horse-dealer’s Daughter” Lawrence’s argument is that everyday requirements and expectations, which society creates, can consume the human mind and create great distance between the depth of the human soul and the superficialities the mind feels it must tend to. This argument holds to the end even as Jack declares he wants to marry Mabel and her reaction is left open-ended to interpretation, but no doubt reflects Lawrence’s opinion of human rituals such as marriage: just like any other human ritual it is far too easy for one to give up themselves entirely too it, if they are not careful.
Lawrence, D. H. “The Horse-dealer’s Daughter.” The Twentieth Century and After. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: Norton, 2012. 2496-507. Print. The Norton Anthology of English Literature.