Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Using the Lens of Keirsian Temperament Theory to Explain Character and Conflict in D. H. Lawrence's "The Horse Dealer's Daughter"

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Using the Lens of Keirsian Temperament Theory to Explain Character and Conflict in D. H. Lawrence's "The Horse Dealer's Daughter"

Article excerpt

Keirsian temperament theory is an elucidating critical lens through which to analyze character and explain the underlying motivations for a character's words and actions. The opening scene of "The Horse Dealer's Daughter," which depicts the Pervin siblings, Mabel and her three brothers, Joe, Fred Henry, and Malcolm, engaged in an irresolute discussion over their respective plans now that the family's horse trading business has finally collapsed, immediately presents the reader with a puzzle. Here Mabel is an uncommunicative young woman, almost completely isolated from her brothers. Mabel is so withdrawn that, when Dr. Jack Ferguson stops by the Pervin house, he barely takes notice of her. For her part, Mabel looks at Ferguson "with her steady, dangerous eyes, that always made him uncomfortable, unsettling his superficial ease" (445), but she barely speaks to him. At this point, Ferguson's connections to the Pervins are "superficial." This permits him to engage the family members, and especially Mabel, without much insight into the disarray of their lives. Such relationships do not demand that an individual draw on or reveal the deeper aspects of his or her own character. As a result, throughout this opening scene, Mabel's inner character remains a mystery to her brothers, to Ferguson, and to the reader.

The next scene, which shows Mabel in the village graveyard dutifully and lovingly taking care of her mother's grave, gives some further hints into the puzzle of Mabel's character, for here she is extending her caretaking role, but she does so now with obvious joy. Something more about Ferguson's character is revealed also when he passes by the village graveyard. At this moment, his "quick eye" spies Mabel at her task at the grave and "[s]ome mystical element was touched in him" holding him "spellbound" (448). These moments of mystical connection, like her face, are "portentous" to Ferguson whose sensitive and emotionally open character comes partially into view.

Nonetheless, as useful as these intimations are that Mabel and Ferguson harbor more complex personal characteristics, nothing quite prepares many readers for the momentous events that follow: (1) Mabel's attempt at suicide; (2) Ferguson's rescue of her from the pond even though he is a non-swimmer and afraid of the ugly pond water; (3) Mabel's conclusion that Ferguson's rescue of her must mean that he loves her; (4) Ferguson's surprising discovery that he does in fact love Mabel; and (5) his subsequent unpremeditated proposal of marriage. These events, as well as Mabel's and Ferguson's surprising actions, are as extraordinarily dramatic as the actions of the opening tableau are mundane. In order to understand and appreciate this story, the reader has to assemble a rationale for these unexpected actions and dramatic events, a rationale that will enable him or her to confirm the story's implied realism and to see Mabel's and Ferguson's actions as attempts to configure their lives in ways that are, to each of them, coherent, consistent, and understandable. Temperament theory, as developed by David Keirsey, provides a powerful critical lens that brings the actions of Mabel and Ferguson into clear and sharp focus. Keirsey's temperament theory enables the reader to see that, based on their respective temperaments, Mabel's and Ferguson's words and deeds, throughout the entire story, are indeed consistent, reasonable, and coherent attempts to deal with the events and conflicts in their lives.

Many of the excellent criticisms of "The Horse Dealer's Daughter" have focused on Lawrence's design of the story. (1) Other critics call attention to the symbolic content and structure. (2) Still others see it as a story of resurrection. (3) While very valuable, these articles have tended to underemphasize the importance of character to the design of the story and the dynamics of the plot. Of those critics who have mentioned character, some insist that the characters are themselves symbolic or representative of abstractions such as gender. …

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