Written by Michèle St-Pierre
the marriage plot in "the horse dealer's daughter"
Fairytales always presented the same basic ideas: a beautiful girl, a prince charming and a wedding as their ultimate union. D.H. Lawrence’s work, however, showed the tensions between husband and wife, not their perfect life. He showed that marriage sometimes hides the passion between men and women. A good example is his short story “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” where two characters decide too hastily to get married. This text will compare this story’s plot with the traditional marriage plot. It will discuss the similarities and the differences in the reason for the marriage and its effects.
A traditional marriage story is one where a boy saves a girl, where they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. There are some similarities with this storyline and that of “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” In the exposition, the author reveals the two future lovers as not being close at all. The doctor barely speaks to the young woman. He even looks intimidated when she answers his question. Yet, she seemed to have aroused his curiosity as he “watches her interestedly all the while” (Fiction 100, p. 894). Mabel, the protagonist, is a very silent and distant woman who lost everything when her family broke up. Having nothing in common with her three brothers, who don’t seem to have any respect for her, she is alone, penniless and soon to be homeless. It feels like she can’t escape her fate and goes into the lake to commit suicide. It could have all ended there for her if it wasn’t for Dr. Jack Fergusson. This young doctor is left with nothing but his work when his only friends, Mabel’s brothers, have to leave town. He is alone and strained by work when he sees her disappearing into the lake. When he realizes that it is Mabel Pervin, he once again shows some emotions, “his mind suddenly became alive and attentive” (Fiction 100, p. 897). At that moment, without thinking, he goes into the water to save her. Considering that he can’t swim, it might be considered very illogical and compulsive, characteristics that some people might relate to love. After he brings her back to consciousness, she just stares at him blankly trying to understand what happened. It is only when she learns that he undressed her that she asks unexpectedly if he loves her. After juggling with mixed emotions for a while, he tells her he loves her and, in the end, asks her to marry him. It is easy to see that on the surface, it is the same plot as that of the traditional marriage story. He saves her, they fall in love, they get married.
If we take a look beneath the surface, we can see that the author didn’t necessarily follow that plot line perfectly. He added a modern twist to it, writing against the grain. First, when he saves her, is it really out of love or only because he’s a doctor and he feels the need to save people? The fact that he shows interest because it is her going down might only be related to the fact that he knows she is going through a rough phase in her life and might do something foolish. Also, when she asks about his feelings, she starts grabbing and kissing him. He becomes entrapped in her story. He is confused because he only took care of her because he was a doctor and now he is starting to respond to her, breaking the doctor-patient relationship. It seems like she is really persuasive because he suddenly realizes that he loves her. If we take a closer look, there isn’t an indication anywhere that Mabel really loves him, she never stated that. It could lead the reader to think that it’s in her best interest to find a husband with a good job so she can save herself and have a great life. When he proposes to her, it is also a good thing for him since he wouldn’t be alone anymore. It is as if they are “falling in love” not because they really love each other, but because it would be a good thing for both of them. It also seems that what they really feel is desire. They are kissing, touching each other and everything happens so fast. Instead of just having sex with her, as it would be appropriate in this context, he is a good guy and asks her to marry him. The ending doesn’t show that they will live happily ever after either. It shows her starting to have doubts about herself and the way he feels. After getting married so fast, it looks like a forecast for difficult times ahead.
In conclusion, the basic idea of “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” resembles the traditional plot for a marriage story. However, the fact that the entrapment forces feelings of love, that they both have motives and that the story is more about desire shows that the author preferred to write against the grain in this story. In this modern era, marriage isn’t necessarily the perfect solution for a beautiful life as it is presented in old fairytales.
Pickering, James H. (Ed). Fiction 100: An Anthropology of Short Fiction, 10th ed. New Jersey: Person Education, 2004.