Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, May 21, 2010

"The Rocking Horse Winner" By D. H. Lawrence

"The Rocking Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence (1926, 10 pages)

It has been a long time since I have read anything by David Herbert Lawrence (1885 to 1930).   I have read most of his major novels.   In fact I was once lucky enough to visit his range home in Taos, New Mexico, USA (now a museum) where Lawrence lived for two years after leaving England for a kind of odyssey. His most famous, though not most highly regarded, novel is Lady Chatterley's Lover which is still on the banned list in some places.   Several  things sort of stimulated me to want to read his perhaps most famous short story "The Rocking Horse Winner".   In doing a bit of research on Ford Madox Ford for my read along I discovered that FMF helped Lawrence become established as a writer and had a great regard for his talent.   Additionally I have been reading some wonderful stories by Katherine Mansfield and I learned she had a relationship with D. H. Lawrence which may have been a romantic one,  in which his wife Frieda had a part.   Mansfield was the model for one of the characters in Women in Love.   I am also in the process of discovering for myself the short story as a literary art form.    A few days ago I did a Google search on "best short stories of all time".   Of course I got lots of hits.   On a Manchester Guardian (culturally a better read than the London or NY Times-IMO) article on 10 top stories this one was listed.   I found a web page where I could read it on line so I decided to make it my next short story.

"The Rocking Horse Winner" is set in England in the 1920s in a middle class home, back in the days when the middle class had servants.   The atmosphere of the family seems to be what in the day might have been called "genteel poverty".   The expenses of the family often outrun the income of the father and a constant anxiety over money permeates the household.   As the story opens we see into the mind of the mother of  the family:
There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck. She married for love, and the love turned to dust. She had bonny children, yet she felt they had been thrust upon her, and she could not love them. They looked at her coldly, as if they were finding fault with her. And hurriedly she felt she must cover up some fault in herself. Yet what it was that she must cover up she never knew. Nevertheless, when her children were present, she always felt the centre of her heart go hard. This troubled her, and in her manner she was all the more gentle and anxious for her children, as if she loved them very much. Only she herself knew that at the centre of her heart was a hard little place that could not feel love, no, not for anybody. Everybody else said of her: "She is such a good mother. She adores her children." Only she herself, and her children themselves, knew it was not so. They read it in each other's eyes.
The son in the family, Paul, begins to obsessively  ride a wooden rocking horse, almost as if he is possessed or is trying to drive the voices in the house out
And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money!
There is a local horse racing track near the family home and one of his uncles is an enthusiast.   Somehow the names of the winners of soon to be held horse races come to Paul as he rides the horse.   He rides himself almost into a trance, rocking back and forth as if in contact with another world.   Here is what he would do after his ride:

When he had ridden to the end of his mad little journey, he climbed down and stood in front of his rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright.
"Now!" he would silently command the snorting steed. "Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!"
And he would slash the horse on the neck with the little whip he had asked Uncle Oscar for. He knew the horse could take him to where there was luck, if only he forced it. So he would mount again and start on his furious ride, hoping at last to get there.

The family comes into a 5000 pound inheritance (very quick research puts this as well over 100,000 pounds today (about 6.5 million Filipino pesos).   Sadly this made things even worse in the house

The voices in the house suddenly went mad, like a chorus of frogs on a spring evening. There were certain new furnishings, and Paul had a tutor. He was really going to Eton, his father's school, in the following autumn. There were flowers in the winter, and a blossoming of the luxury Paul's mother had been used to. And yet the voices in the house, behind the sprays of mimosa and almond-blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: "There must be more money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money. Oh, now, now-w! Now-w-w - there must be more money! - more than ever! More than ever!"
This is not the end of the story.   I will let interested  readers discover it themselves.    When you read the last paragraph read the first one again.

I read that some place Freudian interpretations on this story.   Maybe  because of the reputation of Lawrence they see a sexual element in the riding of the wooden horse.   I think this is pushing things but I concede it might be an approach one could take.  I think this may also come from this being a frequently read in school by  young adults short story.   For sure the story is an attack on a society in which self esteem comes from what you own.   I enjoyed reading it and endorse it.   I do not see it as truly great literature and think in part its enduring popularity comes in part from its "teach- ability".     I could see students and others trying to figure out the what is really going on with all that obsessive hobby horse riding!    It is worth the short amount of time it will take to read it for sure.


nicole said...

I was quite taken with this story when I read it a year or so ago, but I sort of have phases like that with Lawrence where his language really works on me.

Traxy said...

Really interesting to read! :) Great post! I read this short story today, and you just reminded me that maybe I should've added to my review that things start going downhill as well.