OWL Magazine Korea

David Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”

“If it comes out of the deep soul of man, there is no such thing as bad.”

This is a statement by the writer David Herbert Lawrence, who emphasized human relations and primitivism. He made efforts in his works to illuminate primitive “human relations.” He strongly believed that the essence of human relations lay in “sexual” relationships.

David Lawrence lived from 1885 to 1930, a time characterized by conservatism, where active expression of female sexuality was often taboo. Therefore, some later people evaluate David Lawrence as a “writer ahead of his time” by about 100 years. Unfortunately, he did not receive recognition as a writer during his lifetime, and his works were considered obscene. He even faced legal battles under the pretext of “obscenity.”

“Born between a miner father and a teacher mother, David Lawrence”

David Lawrence was born between a miner father and a teacher mother. As a result, he experienced identity confusion between the two starkly different parental figures. He naturally inherited knowledge and refinement from his mother and initially focused only on refined things.

However, later on, he recognized the importance of coarseness inherited from his father while rebelling against tradition. The combination of refinement and coarseness in his works allowed both elements to be found.

“A work where refinement and coarseness are simultaneously revealed, ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter’”

In the work “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,” these two elements are simultaneously revealed. Because contrasting values are simultaneously presented, this work is sometimes considered grotesque.

At the center of the story is a child of a horse dealer, particularly focusing on a daughter named “Mabel.”

The story begins with the fallen descendants of a horse dealer gathering to discuss how they will live in the future. Their father, Joseph Pervin, was once a competent horse dealer but has become ignorant. After their mother’s death, Mabel pours her affection on her father, but he remarries, causing a rift in their relationship.

After their father’s death, the household deteriorates, and even the last remaining horses are sold. Mabel’s three brothers, Joe, Fred, Malcolm, urge Mabel to go to her sister Lucy’s house. The affection and care between siblings can hardly be found in their appearance.

Doctor Jack Fergusson visits their house. Although Jack pretends to have no interest in Mabel, he continues to stare at her, showing signs of interest. While Mabel visits her mother’s grave and cleans the tombstone, Jack, who happens to be nearby, sees her, and they make eye contact. Jack feels a strange sensation.

While attending to other patients and preparing to go elsewhere, Jack witnesses Mabel attempting suicide by jumping into a pond. He jumps in to save her. After barely rescuing Mabel from the pond, Jack lays her down in her house, wraps her in a blanket, and gives her whiskey to revive her.

Revived after drinking whiskey, Mabel suddenly asks Jack if he loves her, catching him off guard. Mabel continues to say, “You love me,” and kisses his legs. Unsure if he truly loves her, Mabel sheds tears, evoking sympathy from Jack, who eventually falls in love with her for real.

“Various symbolic elements in the work”

Several elements appear in the work, each symbolizing something:

  • Pond: Space of death and rebirth – Mabel decides to die but experiences rebirth as she comes out alive, developing desire for Jack in the process.
  • Horses: Symbol of virility, sexual desire, wealth – Scenes where Mabel’s brothers, Joe, Fred Henry, Malcolm, are often compared to animals (perhaps implying their bleak future).
  • Whiskey: Awakening agent that opens their eyes to each other.
  • Wet clothes: Symbolizes the shedding of Mabel’s gloomy past.

“Modernist work”

This work is classified as a modernist work, which emerged during the modernist era. One of the representative characteristics of modernist works is “Art for Art’s Sake.” It was a time when authors wrote for themselves rather than for the masses.

Furthermore, it emphasized subjective truth and sought to break away from tradition after World War I. Unlike the realism literature that valued “ideas, reason, morality” that had been popular until then, modernist works focused on “emotion, physicality, and sexuality.”

These elements are also present in this work, “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” In a way, Lawrence, as a writer, can be considered to have given birth to modernist works. The interplay of “love and hate,” where two elements intertwine and fluctuate, is a characteristic of modernism and a feature of this work.

“The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”

  • Author: David Lawrence (David Herbert Lawrence)
  • Publication Date: 1922