"The Horse Dealer’s Daughter" by D.H. Lawrence

02Jan05

Perhaps I’ve been thinking too much about the ocean in my womb, but the relationship between Mabel and Jack in this story reminded me of Wiccan concepts of the god and goddess. Within the story Mabel is associated quite strongly with death. She thinks of “this life she followed here in the world [being] far less real than the world of death she inherited from her mother,” which might have led to her suicide attempt. And, to be a little frivolous, she kills the conversation at the beginning of the story with her refusal to answer certain questions. Jack, as a doctor, is associated with life and he rescues Mabel from her suicide attempt. In this way, they are complementary (like the god and goddess).

But Mabel, though more strongly associated with death, can also create life—at least in Jack. When Jack sees Mabel walking toward the pond, “His mind suddenly bec[omes] alive.” When Mabel regains consciousness from her suicide attempt, Jack feels “as if she had the life of his body in her hands” and he feels “his heart hurting him in a pain that was also life to him” when he holds her sobbing body. Often in feminist Wicca, the goddess is associated with both life and death—it’s a menstruation thing. Indeed, Mabel’s submersion in the pond and its earth-smelling water connects her further to this Wiccan concept of the goddess, which celebrates the life and decay of the earth. The decay—the stench of the water—characteristically disgusts Jack, as a feminist witch would say. According to feminist Wiccan thought, men have defined the messier parts of womanhood (menstruation, childbirth) as….well, messy. And wrong. Here comes the sappy, feminist part….perhaps by submerging herself in the earthy water, Mabel was attempting to embrace symbolically the ickier parts of her femininity, but Jack pulls her back into the world of male-defined femininity.

As in The Rainbow, Lawrence emphasizes that humans’ aloneness becomes resolved through a connection between a man and a woman. Mabel and Jack achieve this connection and enter another spiritual plane of sorts. But at the end of the story, they have returned from this alternate plane and Mabel doubts the fortitude of that connection. There is also an idea of connection in this life/death stuff. Jack describes a “pain that was also life to him,” which Mabel created, blending a more deathly concept (pain) with life.

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