Thursday, May 11, 2017

"The Horse Dealer's Daughter" (1922)

Read story by D.H. Lawrence online.

It's possible I was in the wrong mood for D.H. Lawrence, this story, or both, but its tedium was thick. The horse dealer's daughter—Mabel, by name—is an only daughter of 27, with two older brothers and one younger. Their mother died long ago, their father more recently. After his death the siblings ran his horse dealing business into the ground. The story takes place on the eve of their giving up the estate, having lost it. Now it's a matter of moving out. Mabel refuses to answer any of her brothers' questions about what she plans to do next. The second-oldest son, Fred Henry, is close friends with the village doctor, Jack Fergusson, who comes by to say goodbye. Fred Henry's and Fergusson's goodbye is so tender I caught myself wondering if they were gay, which is doubtful. I don't think it's consciously intended that way. Mabel is bereft by all these turns of event, starting even many years before with the death of her mother. She visits the cemetery and lovingly tends her mother's grave. All this takes place on the same day. Fergusson sees her at the cemetery, and she notices him too. Later, Mabel tries to drown herself in a pond. Fergusson sees what she's doing and comes to her rescue, nearly drowning himself in the process, as he can't swim. She is unconscious when he gets her out of the water. He takes her to her place, undresses and dries and treats her, with his clothes still full of the muck and stink of the pond water. She awakes. They have a conversation. Suddenly they are consumed by passions for one another, declare their love, and plan to be married in a day or two. It's the kind of fictional passage that really has to be carried by the language, or at least set up better. To me, last night, Lawrence failed on both. I think his language is rarely up to his scenarios, certainly not here, with stultifying descriptive details and too many murky points about their intense emotional states. Obviously it's about passion, to practically a demented degree, but it also seemed evasive about the sources. It could have been the overwhelming circumstances of an extraordinary day for either or both. It could have been Fergusson getting a good look at Mabel's body while he was caring for it. It could have been feelings Fergusson had for Fred Henry jumping siblings to Mabel. It could have been anything. Now they're getting married. It goes from screamingly dull to weirdly repulsive just like that. I'm sure it's not intended any such way. But it hasn't aged well, at least not for me.

Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of Loudon Wainwright's "Strange Weirdos," homely pastoral, love disrupting the prosaic, mundane, awkward tedium of everyday life.