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.
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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 […]