The Horse Dealer’s Daughter by D.H. Lawrence, 1922
The magic trick:
The unhappy happy ending
I don’t want to ruin the story for those who haven’t read it, so please stop reading now to avoid spoilers.
The story wants to be a classic country romance. Man saves woman. They fall in love. Live happily ever after. On the surface that is how the narrative plays out. But Lawrence is far too tied to grim reality for anything so capricious to take hold of his story.
The reader is very much left with a strange sour feeling at the end of the story – the purported Hollywood ending. The doctor is drawn to Mabel, it’s true, but it seems to be as much lust as love, as much a sense of responsibility as romance. Mabel, meanwhile, wants to be happy. She wants this to be the happy ending. But that’s just it. She wants it to be the case. Is it actually the case? Probably not. She demonstrates throughout the story a desire for voice, a sense of control over her own life. And here is this new relationship, its origins lie in an act of censuring of her power. Yes, he saved her life, but it’s also true that the doctor rejected her decision and corrected it. She is left asking him over and over for reassurance. This is not the control she sought. This will not end well. For either of them.
That, my friends, is not your standard Hollywood ending. It’s far better than that. And that’s quite a trick on Lawrence’s part.
‘Am I out of my mind now?’ she asked.
‘Are you?’ he reflected a moment. ‘No,’ he answered truthfully, ‘I don’t see that you are.’ He turned his face aside. He was afraid now, because he felt dazed, and felt dimly that her power was stronger than his, in this issue. And she continued to look at him fixedly all the time. ‘Can you tell me where I shall find some dry things to put on?’ he asked.
‘Did you dive into the pond for me?’ she asked.
‘No,’ he answered. ‘I walked in. But I went in overhead as well.’
There was silence for a moment. He hesitated. He very much wanted to go upstairs to get into dry clothing. But there was another desire in him. And she seemed to hold him. His will seemed to have gone to sleep, and left him, standing there slack before her. But he felt warm inside himself. He did not shudder at all, though his clothes were sodden on him.
‘Why did you?’ she asked.
‘Because I didn’t want you to do such a foolish thing,’ he said.
‘It wasn’t foolish,’ she said, still gazing at him as she lay on the floor, with a sofa cushion under her head. ‘It was the right thing to do. I knew best, then.’