Short Fiction of DH Lawrence
Presentation of Sexuality in The Fox
Throughout D H Lawrence’s The Fox, the protagonist March is repeatedly represented as ‘a shadow’. This not only suggests March and Banford’s marginal status as unmarried women in a 1920s society, but represents a tension between what can be seen and what cannot. The presence of a shadow must automatically assume an absence of light. If this light is representative of March’s sexual epiphany, the construction of her gender is dependent on the influence of others, who produce this overarching ‘shadow’ that keeps March’s true sexuality in the dark. There is also a sense of what Butler describes as a ‘performance’ throughout the novel; March constructs her identity to portray different shadows, depending on the needs of the audience. Before Henry, her femininity had to be subdued to allow for a ‘more robust’ figure that could do a man’s work and run a farm (Lawrence, p.11). When Henry arrives, her identity, and thus femininity is dependent on a figure that demands a truly typical feminine sexuality. This perhaps prompts the question: does March’s sexuality ever truly ‘exceed’ her performances, or does it all remain an act?
Walt Whitman suggests that ‘the unseen is proved by the seen’. This suggests that outward actions are inevitably caused by inward psychology; the ‘seen’ is the truth of the ‘unseen’. Yet, Lawrence challenges both Whitman and Butler with this simplistic and direct link, proposing that outward actions can be a performance, subverting this idea that the ‘seen’ is a direct consequence of the ‘unseen’. This is complicated further through the blurred boundaries that occur in the space between the conscious and subconscious. When conscious, March can control how her public actions, and therefore how she ‘performs’ to both Banford and Henry. Yet, when she then becomes a ‘dreaming woman’ at night, it allows the fox – an undeniable symbol of male sexuality – to penetrate her subconscious. As March realises her sexuality when unconscious, it is questionable as to whether this can ‘exceed’ her externalised performance of gender. This symbol presents the process of March’s sexuality transitioning from masculine to feminine:
She stretched out her hand […] whisked his brush across her face, and it seemed his brush was on fire, for it seared and burned her mouth with a great pain. (Lawrence, p14)
An evolution in action can be seen here, and is extremely important to note. In reality, March’s interaction with the fox is accompanied with a gun, and he is her prey. In her dream, she subconsciously renounces the role of hunter in instead attempting to ‘[stretch] out’ to the creature. This implying not only a fundamental need for physical touch that Banford, as her friend, cannot sate but also curiosity in exploring her emerging sexuality. An undeniable tension also lies between the fox and his dream parallel. In reality, he is a physical representation of Henry’s patriarchal dominance. So, when this symbol –that originally could only exist in March’s waking hours –passes to the mental, it suggests an even greater authority in seeing what others cannot, and ultimately going beyond her conscious ‘performance’ to witness her true sexuality. Additionally, the motif of fire represents a passion that is limited in its expression through the medium of a dream. This concept of sudden, unexpected pain in being ‘seared’ is extended to pre-empt March’s future pain that is not ignited by repressed passion, but a disappointment in what is eventually found upon sexually awakening. To conclude, this concept of performance casts doubt on whether actions –the ‘seen –are an accurate representation of inner emotion, the ‘unseen’. It is possible that Lawrence suggests that March has performed this masculine role her entire adult life, and that this has consumed her outward identity. This would also imply that any realisation could only occur within the subconscious, as her outward identity seems fixed. Arguably, March’s sexuality exceeds any outward performance, as her epiphany occurs in her subconscious, where performance is seemingly impossible. Therefore, the ‘unseen’ cannot be proven by the seen if it is indeed a ‘performance’; thought will not translate directly to an action, but is instead altered, depending on which audience March is performing for.
Butler suggests that sexuality not only exceeds performance, but also ‘presentation’. Whilst seemingly extremely similar, they must first be differentiated. As previously stated, a ‘performance’ assumes a certain sense of untruth, whereas ‘presentation’ assumes a primitive, unaltered translation from private emotion to public action. Whilst March’s sexual epiphany begins in her dreams, she eventually portrays her sexuality aesthetically; as Whitman specifies, the seen does in fact become evidence of the unseen. In this instance, sexuality does not exceed presentation. There is a period of time between March’s internal realisation and her outward proclamation. This state of awareness means she holds a temporary power of knowing her true identity:
No, she was another being […] Now it came upon him. She had a woman’s soft, skirted legs, and she was accessible. (Lawrence, p.40)
It is assumed that March transitions from male to female. Yet, she is instead labelled as ‘another being’, presenting an elevation to an almost celestial identity, suggesting also a male superficiality in being enchanted by only the physical. Yet, this epiphany not only belongs to March, but Henry also. ‘It came upon him’, not her. The ambiguity of ‘it’ can be translated as almost a burden. In accepting March’s public show of womanhood, Henry must now fully accept the sexual responsibility of manhood; he is no longer merely a suitor, but a mate. Now that March is physically ‘accessible’ as a woman, it is suggested that Henry also sees March as surrendering her previous masculine independence. Lawrence’s choice of verb ‘accessible’ is almost violating; it implies that Henry takes pleasure in not only being now able to dominate her in a sexual manner, but her occupation as the wife role. She is now has ‘skirted legs’, synonymous with femininity, as opposed to masculine overalls that repel any sensual possibility. This vulnerability is continued in the sibilance of ‘soft, skirted legs’, mirroring the previous idea that sound can influence, as Henry’s ‘soft’ and ‘courteous’ tones do to May (Lawrence, p.16). This femino-centric identity is not only defined through what is worn, but constructed also through the absence of masculine wear. The act of physically adorning the dress strips March of the gun that she uses to protect the chickens− a collective symbol for women, including herself− from the fox. This focus on the aesthetic is a reminder that, despite March’s conflicting thoughts, her outward presentation as the perfect woman and wife is enough to sate Henry. Is then, a woman only a true woman if she declares it so publically? Therefore, this presentation of March’s gender is almost a social obligation. She appears as a woman, and Henry is wholly contented with this conclusion, even if she is unsure of her sexuality. Thus, her sexuality does not exceed presentation here; Henry sees what he wants to see, and not the sexuality that she truly presents.
Milne states that ‘Lawrence focuses on moments of individual recognition within conflicts of love and family.’ In The Fox, the focus extends to a society of three: March, Banford and Henry. In such an enclosed society, each of their genders and sexuality are constructed that assumes none of the social expectations present in wider twentieth century society. Throughout the novel, there are undertones of homosexuality; the possible relationship between March and Banford would traditionally be viewed as the ‘other’ in conventional society. Yet, in the boundaries of the novella, Lawrence constructs the definitions of normality wholly. It is only through Henry and March’s relationship that we then have a definition of love to compare their relationship to. March is separated from the narrator through the act of writing; she in turn temporarily exceeds the narration as she constructs her sexuality differently: I know what love means even in Jill’s case, and I know that in this affair with you it’s an absolute impossibility. (Lawrence, p.48) The transition between the narrator’s third person and March’s first suggests a new confidence in the protagonist. However, it is still questionable whether March can accurately understand what love ‘means’, despite her assertions of ‘[knowing]’; the established norms of ‘love’ are given by society. One is defined not only by how they feel, but how they should feel. Through detaching March from social expectation, ‘Jill’s case’ no longer becomes the homosexual ‘other’, but instead just another construction of love; the protagonist describes her moments of ‘individual recognition’ based on emotion, and not social expectation. There is therefore a certain truth in March’s assertion of ‘knowing’; she knows this version, her type of love. This contrasts with the remaining narration, where March actively lacks these moments of individual recognition in her relationships, concluding that ‘something was missing’ (Lawrence. p.50). Therefore, in this act of writing, March’s narrative temporarily displaces the narrator’s authority as key storyteller, allowing for this moment of recognition that truly comes from March, and not told through another. There is also a distinct difference in the language used: her relationship with Jill is seen as ‘love’, even if purely platonic, whilst her dalliance with Henry is an ‘affair’. The latter is ultimately associated with sin, whilst the former is seen as a pure, and good emotion. In suggesting the possibility of homosexuality, the boundaries between ‘love’ and ‘family’ are undeniably blurred. Yet, this is acceptable within an enclosed society through the realisation that the best existence may revolve around comfortable routine and not passion. Despite a suggested independence in the act of writing, March still seems to be influenced by Banford. The echoing of ‘impossible’ from the previous narration (Lawrence, p.27) almost suggests an inevitability in the marriage failing through a restriction of sexuality. March once again must exist as a character that adheres not only to the social norms of ‘love’, but what both Banford and Henry impose upon her. Therefore, this narrative only temporarily exceeds the sexuality constructed in the remaining narrative. Once March is once again being written about, as opposed to writing, she exists as the ‘other’ and her sexuality is once again be repressed.
Thus far, March’s, and subsequently Henry’s sexuality has been examined in terms of presentation. Yet, after they are presented, a conclusion must be considered. However March presents her sexuality, it appears any outcome is not enough. March attempts to satisfy both Banford and Henry, yet neither framework where she performs as masculine or feminine is enough to sate her need for ‘something more’. Arguably, this ‘something’ is not an issue that can be satisfied by a person. When it was only Banford and March, she was plagued by dreams of the fox. When Henry appears, March suddenly begins to conform to this over-exaggerated female image. This lack of satisfaction perhaps stems, once again, from lack of certainty, as Lawrence perpetuates throughout. March is not wholly this feminine ideal, and she is not wholly the ‘other’. Almost as if stemmed from Eve’s original sin, the only conclusion that can seemingly be drawn is the inevitable disappointment of women. Therefore, perhaps the only ‘something’ March can strive for is ‘the awful mistake of happiness.’
Lawrence, D. H., The Fox, the Captain, The Ladybird, ed. by Dieter Mehl (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)
Milne, D., ‘Lawrence and the Politics of Sexual Politics’ in The Cambridge Companion to D. H Lawrence, ed. by Anne Fernihough (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Whitman, W., ‘Song of Myself’, The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1995)
Dark Beginnings and Light Endings in Two Short Stories
The death of a man and the birth of a love affair are the subjects of two short stories by D. H. Lawrence and though their plots vary greatly, similar patterns of dark and light imagery, renewal and rebirth reinforce Lawrence’s theme of regeneration. In his short stories entitled “The Odour of Chrysanthemums” and “The Horse-dealer’s Daughter,” Lawrence makes use of dark and light image patterns to represent the stages of transformation undergone by Elizabeth and Mabel, the female protagonists of these two stories. Dark imagery illustrates the starting place of each woman – stale, stagnant, physically alive but nearly dead inside. Light imagery represents the finalization of their transformations – regeneration, rebirth. The tone of these stories correlates with the journey of their characters. Indeed, even more than correlation, the tone appears to represent directly the situation of Elizabeth in her story and Mabel in hers.
Elizabeth’s story begins with shadows. “Miners, single, trailing and in groups, passed like shadows diverging home” (2483). She tells her little son to come inside because “it’s getting dark” and when she looks over across the tracks, she describes the darkness “settling over the spaces of the railway and the trucks: the miners, in grey somber groups” and her husband is not in one of those groups, he does not come (2484-2485). Even something beautiful, like a bouquet of flowers, is portrayed negatively. When her daughter murmurs that they “smell beautiful,” her mother laughs and says, “No, not to me. It was chrysanthemums when I married him, and chrysanthemums when you were born, and the first time they ever brought him home drunk, he’d got brown chrysanthemums in his buttonhole” (2487). Her beginning is so dark that even a bunch of flowers is not able to brighten it.
Mabel’s story has a similarly dark beginning. The breakfast table is “desolate,” the dining room is “dreary” and “waiting to be done away with,” and Mabel is alone – she does not “share the same life as her brothers” (2496). Her brothers are irritable towards her, she does not answer them, she averts her eyes and one of them calls her “the sulkiest bitch that ever trod” and it is apparent that her mood is very dark. Her house is no brighter. It is described as “servantless” and desolate,” a home that she has kept together “in penury for her ineffectual brothers” for all the months since her father died (2499-2500). Her mood is bitter and her surroundings are bitter, so it is no surprise that her story begins so blackly.
Before she has reached regeneration but long after her desolate beginning, Elizabeth in “The Odour of Chrysanthemums” gains a little light in her life. When she hears of the death of her husband, she “lighted a candle and went into the tiny room” and the candlelight glitters while her mother in law moves to sit next to the lighted fire (2492). The room is dim, but not dark, as she and her mother in law begin to wash his dead body and Elizabeth embraces “the body of her husband, with cheek and lips” and when their work is finished, he appears to be “a man of handsome body, and his face showed no traces of drink. He was blond, full-fleshed, with fine limbs” (2494). The process is not a cheery one, but there are glimmers of light and hope as she takes care of her husband’s body and comes to terms with his death. The realization that her life will never again be darkened by worries about his drinking and his continual absence in the lives of her and her children is enough to begin the process of bringing her back to life.
The middle of Mabel’s story is brightened as well. When she goes to visit her mother’s grave, she arranges flowers around it and cleans the marble headstone in a “state bordering on pure happiness.” By cleaning and taking care of her mother’s grave, she feels intimately connected to her – more connected to her than to any of the live human beings in her life. When she leaves her mother’s grave and walks into the water in an effort to end her own life, she is saved by the doctor and, once again, we see the word ‘dim.’ He pulls her out of the water and looks across onto the “dim” world and when he gets her back to her house, there is a fire burning in the grate (2503). Though her surroundings are still dim, there are no longer completely dark; she has gained some bit of light. Because the doctor has saved her, it is understood that he feels some attraction to her, some connection to her; there is a possibility that she will experience the connection that she feels with her dead mother with a person who is actually alive. This possibility fills her story with hope.
The brightest imagery concludes Elizabeth’s story and is symbolic of her final rebirth. As she cleans and wraps the dead body of her husband, he is “clear and clean and white, beautiful as ever a child was made” (2495). She looks at his body with all of the smokey life gone from it and she understands that “they had met in the dark and had fought in the dark,” but this episode of her life is over (2495-2496). It is not the death of her husband that brightens her life; rather, it is the change in her mind, the realization that even though he was flawed, she had a husband with whom she would always be connected through their children. She no longer sees a man who is flawed, a man who was worn down by the daily grind of his life and work and who had turned to alcohol to find relief; she sees a changed man, a man who she had not understood while he was alive because she was too busy denying him and being angry with him. But now she sees a different man. She sees a man who will no longer disappoint her, but whom she will remember as the father of children and as a fellow human being struggling through a hard life. She had not loved him in life because she had never tried to know him, but this is all over now. All she has to focus on is life – her life and the life of her children and so, she covers him with a sheet and she peacefully sets about to “tidy the kitchen” (2496).
Similarly to the conclusion of Elizabeth’s story, D.H. Lawrence employs light imagery in the final moments of Mabel’s story when she is reborn. Light from the street lights shines through the windows and the doctor lights the gas with matches and she has on her best dress and her hair is tidy. They have kissed passionately many times because Mabel has come to realize that the doctor loves her. She knows that he loves her because he has saved her. He had been stagnant, isolated and had witnessed real, raw emotion only through his patients and their interactions with the people in their lives. He had lived vicariously through them. And Mabel’s only connection was with her dead mother. But they connect with each other. The doctor is finally directly involved with the emotion that he has always witnessed from the outside. And she has finally found the connection she had with the grave of her dead mother in a living, breathing human being. She is no longer alone, and neither is the doctor. These are two seemingly isolated individuals who have finally found one another. When they come up out of the water together, it is a kind of rebirth for the both of them and the romantic connection that follows only accentuates the awakening of these two individuals. As the two of them sit together in her house, the doctor stokes the fire and lights the gas to keep the room bright. As the room gets brighter, their intimacy seems to grow stronger. They hold each other and cry together. The doctor says that he has to go, but Mabel begs him to stay and he does. “I want you, I want you,” he tells her blindly (2507). The rescue and its aftermath has resulted in a human connection that neither Mabel nor the doctor has ever experienced before.
Throughout the course of both of these stories, the total transformation of two characters is witnessed. Elizabeth’s story is gloomy, broken and dark when we first meet her. But through the death of her husband, she learns to accept what she never had when he was still alive and thus she gives herself the chance to be reborn. The connection that she will always have to him through her children concludes her story with exceedingly bright light. Mabel’s story begins just as gloomily. She has no family, no friends and no life outside of tending to the grave of her dead mother. She has no light in her life. But when the doctor saves her and the two of them come up out of the water, they are finally able to leave their lives of isolation and to find comfort and company in one another. This connection awakens love in Mabel and the experience of this raw emotion transfigures her life. Though these two women have dark beginnings, their endings are indeed very bright.
Lawrence, D.H. “The Horse-dealer’s Daughter.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2496-2507. Print.
Lawrence, D.H. “The Odour of Chrysanthemums.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2483-2496. Print.
The Use of Allegory in D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Man who Loved Islands’
In D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Man who Loved Islands’, the plot is used as a vehicle for an allegory about different ideals in life – ‘community, marriage and independence’ (Franks 121), as represented by the three islands. Through the use of an allegory, Lawrence delivers a cautionary tale that goes beyond the plot of simply a man who lives on three different islands, warning against the ‘idealization of solitude’ (Son 156) and emphasizing that socialization is a necessary part of our humanity.
The first island, which represents a creation of the ideal community revolving around oneself, is a resounding failure. The problem with such a community is that Mr Cathcart sees the island community as ‘a world of his own’ (210), ‘the perfect place, all filled with his own gracious, blossom-like spirit’ (212-213), ‘Paradise’ (213). In essence, he sees the island as an idealization of a heaven on earth, and him playing God at the center of his utopia. He assumes a fantasized role as ‘the Master’ (214), ‘Our Saviour’ (215), and ‘the fount of this happiness and perfection’ (214) on this ‘Happy Isle’ (212). Thus, although there is a community around him, Mr Cathcart is not properly socialized into it, rather he focuses on minimizing or negating the other islanders, exerting his egotistic and self-centered vision and ideal, which is contrary to the spirit of community in the first place. Hence, it logically fails as his ideal conception of a community precludes the interests of the islanders, in fact, it is the lack of self-awareness in relation to other people that leads to the failure of his own perceived vision of this community. Thus, Lawrence underscores the need to respect the social order and equality of a community, and illustrates the physical alienation and ostracization that is the consequence of not doing so.
The second island represents the married life, which can be seen in the settling down of ambitions, when the man no longer attempts to pursue an ideal vision of his world. He sees the second island as a sort of refuge, ‘as if he and his few dependents were a small flock of sea birds [that] alighted on this rock’ (221). The rock is an image that speaks of settling down and stability in life, while the sea birds, which are migratory by nature, have found a resting place on this rock away from harsher climates. Here, it seems like he has attained some sort of happiness, when he thinks to himself ‘I feel nothing or I don’t know what I feel. Yet it seems to me I am happy.’ (222) The island characterizes for him a slow transition from the ‘material island’ (212) to that of simple pleasures, ‘without desire, without ennui’ (222). Even as he attempts to publish his book, he realizes that the book for him is of no importance, as it represents ‘the race of progress’ (222), and he is more than happy to drop such a worldly pursuit and need for recognition. However, the love between him and Flora is characterized as ‘mechanical, automatic’ (223), and ‘driven from the will’ (224), it ‘shattered him, filled him with a sort of death’ (223-224). While the stability of the married life appeals to him, the passion that is lacking between both of them proves to negate all the happiness that he had found in this ‘new stillness of desirelessness’ (224). As a result, the island is now ‘smirched and spoiled’ (224), and he can longer stay on the island. In illustrating the island as a metaphor for married life, Lawrence seems to equate this stability and peace as true happiness in life, while warning against marriage in the absence of love, which proves to adequately negate the peace of the married life.
The third island represents a total renunciation of human civilization, in search for happiness. On this island, he indulges in his own idealized asceticism, ‘wanted so little’ (226), and his complete dissociation from people or even a reminder of them – ‘didn’t want trees or bushes, they stood up like people, too assertive’ (226-227). He finds happiness in the ‘great silence’ (227), which is not even to be broken by his own voice. As a ‘deathly cold’ (230) comes to inhabit the island, this meteorological coldness is an outward manifestation of his emotional coldness, even as he slowly loses all form of desire, and ceases ‘to register his own feelings’ (230). His predicament ironically parallels the journey of Jesus in the wilderness. He describes the satisfaction of being alone as ‘the bread of his soul’ (229), while Jesus renounces bread, which symbolizes worldly needs, in order to subsist on the word of God. The parallel starkly reveals his self-exile for what is – a misguided quest for solitude in pursuit of happiness, in contrast with Jesus’ denial of worldly desires and selfish needs.
However, at the end of the winter, it is suggested that he changes his desire for solitude when ‘Something brought him to’ (232). He inadvertently casts his gaze to the sea, searching for the ‘wink of a sail’ (232), although ‘he knew too well there would never again be a sail on that stark sea’ (232). The island has become ‘unrecognizable’, ‘foreign’ and ‘inaccessible’ (232). The diction that is used to describe the island is that of harshness, barrenness, lifelessness. While the frozen island is the manifestation of his deadened humanity, the ‘stark’, ‘lifeless’ (232) sea surrounding the island symbolizes the loss of society’s connection. Truly, the man has discovered the meaning of what really ‘feels like an island’ (210), one that is ‘[filled] with [his] personality’ (210), which is now cold, emotionless and lonely. The regret of his isolation and resulting hopelessness is encapsulated in ‘He turned’ (232), indicating that he has given up hope of returning to society. In such a poignant conclusion to the man’s journey, Lawrence reminds us of the dangers of the prolonged isolation, which is often motivated by an idealization of solitude, and that such a complete isolation is sometimes an irreversible process.
In the use of the allegory that utilizes the three islands to represent different ideals in life, Lawrence delivers an important didactic message emphasizing the necessity of social interaction and relationship in life. By calling attention to such themes, his narrative transcends the most literal aspects of its plot.
Lawrence, D.H. “The Man who Loved Islands.” The Oxford Book of English Short Stories. Ed. A.S. Byatt. New York: Oxford, 2009. 210-232. Print.
Franks, Jill. Islands and the Modernists: The Allure of Allusion in Art, Literature and Science. North Carolina: McFarland & Co., 2006. Print.
Son, Youngjoo. Here and Now: The Politics of Social Space in D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. London: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Unbridled: The Emotional Repression and Evolution of Women in “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter. ”
D. H. Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” is the story of Mabel Pervin, the daughter of a late horse dealer who has cared for her three brothers since the death of their mother. After the death of their father, the siblings are left in poverty and to figure out what they will now do. Mabel, the caretaking daughter, is described as being short, stoic, and sullen; the woman is so unemotional that her brothers compare the impassivity of her face to that of a bulldog. In the course of the story, Mabel is watched by a family friend, Dr. Jack Fergusson, as she visits her mother’s grave and then attempts to drown herself in a pond. After the doctor resuscitates Mabel after her attempted suicide, Mabel becomes wildly passionate towards the man, causing him to realize that he is in love with her despite the fear she causes him. It is Mabel’s transition from apathy to emotion, and what causes this change, that is of interest in the story. Mabel’s unfulfilling life and obligation towards her family was the cause of her aloofness, and her brush with death and freedom is what causes her abrupt evolution into feeling. If Mabel had not been expected to act as the caregiver of the family because she is the daughter, then she would have most likely not attempted suicide.
From the beginning of the story it is evident that any personality Mabel might have had once has been squashed down by the weight of her brothers’ characters. The author spends nearly the first half of the story describing in detail the personality of each of the brothers and offering meaningless dialogue between them despite their brief presence in the story. This allows the audience to regard Mabel in the same fashion that her family does: with little consideration. In the very first sentence, Joe Pervin, the oldest of the Pervin siblings, asks Mabel what she plans on doing now that they have have lost their means of income and, “without listening for an answer,” (557) the man turns away from Mabel, not actually interested in the answer she might give. The brothers discuss her fate and what they would do in her position as if she was not there because they do not really see her, “They had talked at her and round her for so many years, that she hardly heard them at all.” (557) It is as if Mabel is the idea of a person to them, rather than actually having autonomy. This depersonalization has caused Mable to become out of touch with her emotions; she is trapped under the obligation of caring for the Pervin brothers, stuck in servitude, “keeping the home together in penury for her ineffectual brothers,” and because of this she does not have the means to take care of herself emotionally. (558) Without support from others, the men of the Pervin family obviously cannot take care of themselves; first, the children relied on the mother of the family to tend to their needs, but once the mother passed on, Mabel took up her mantle. All because she was the next female in line in the family. Starting at age fourteen, for ten years Mabel was bridled and worked like one of her father’s horses by her family until she finally gave up. Saddled with the load of her brothers’ business failure and poverty, Mabel decided to free herself from their servitude. She saw no other way out of her unfulfilling and meaningless life except for death.
Because of her mother’s death, Mabel perceives death as freedom. If her mother died and left someone else her burden, why can Mabel not do the same? Mabel thinks highly of her mother because she knows intimately what her mother endured in her life. They were both chained to the role of caregiver, and as she goes to visit her mother’s grave for the last time we see a glimpse of Mabel’s first emotion, “she seemed in a sort of ecstasy to be coming nearer to her fulfillment, her own glorification, approaching her dead mother, who was glorified.” (560) There is no glory in Mabel’s image as she is now because she is living in “the world of death she inherited from her mother.” (561) When Mabel walks into the pond, she is completely aware of what she is doing; she means free herself into the same ecstacy and glory that her mother has attained. Yet, Dr. Fergusson interferes. Instead of a drowning, Mabel’s excursion into the water becomes a baptism of sorts; in walked a repressed, unfeeling woman and out came one with life and passion. When Mabel awakes after her rescue, there is an immediate difference in her. Before, the doctor did not even acknowledge Mabel in passing, but after he finds that he feels “that her power was stronger than his.” (563) Mabel now has a substance to her that she did not have before; once she decided to give up her burdens and do something for herself, she metamorphosed into a person with actual feeling.
Where once Mabel was aloof and unattached to the world around her, after her resuscitation she is now overflowing with emotion. She awakes to find Dr. Fergusson caring for her and asks him if he loves her with more feeling than she has had in story and looks at the doctor, “with flaring, humble eyes, of transfiguration, triumphant in first possession.” (565) From this description, she is showing passion, curiosity, shyness, and delight all at once. Mabel then embraces the man and kisses him with so much fervor that, “He was afraid, even a little horrified.” (566) Her newfound presence holds the doctor captive and inspires emotion he did not know he had for her, showing that her emotional evolution was so complete that it affects others as well. Once the doctor relents to Mabel’s embrace, she cries. Finally unsaddled of her emotional repression, she is able to express all the frustration and sadness that she has kept inside herself. In her last line of dialogue in the story, Mabel admits to the doctor, “‘I feel awful. I feel awful.’” (568) Even though she is not happy, she still finally can feel.
In conclusion, “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” is a story of a woman who has been so over-burdened with the problems of others that she is unable to recognize her own internal problems and emotional turmoil. Thankfully, this is a happy story, and the protagonist lives to become emotionally fulfilled despite her attempted suicide. If Mabel Pervin had not been charged with the duty of caring for her family from such a young age she would not have had to endure the strife that she did go through. It is unfair that a girl should have to tend to the needs of men much older than herself, and this fact is demonstrated admirably in this story.