The Rocking-Horse Winner

The Rocking-Horse Winner

"The Rocking-Horse Winner" is a short story by D. H. Lawrence. It was first published in July 1926 in "Harper's Bazaar" and subsequently appeared in the first volume of Lawrence's collected short stories. It was made into a film under the same title in 1950, directed by Anthony Pelissier and starring John Mills and Valerie Hobson.

Plot summary

The story describes a young middle-class Englishwoman who "had no luck". Though outwardly successful, she is haunted by a sense of failure; the family's lifestyle exceeds its income, and unspoken anxiety about money permeate the household. Her children, a son Paul and two younger sisters, sense this anxiety.

The rocking-horse magically gives Paul advance knowledge of the winners of important races such as Ascot. Paul's uncle, Oscar Cresswell, and Bassett, the gardener and Cresswell's former batman, both place large bets on the horses Paul names. After further winning, Paul and Oscar arrange to give the mother a gift of five thousand pounds, but the gift only lets her spend more. Disappointed, Paul tries harder than ever to be lucky, and we learn that his secret is to ride his rocking-horse until he "knows". As the Derby approaches, Paul is determined to learn the winner.

Paul faints and remains ill through the day of the Derby. Informed by Cresswell, Bassett has placed Paul's bet on Malabar, at fourteen to one. When he is informed by Bassett that he now has 80,000 pounds (equivalent to 2006's 3 million pounds or 6 million U.S. dollars), Paul says to his mother:

"I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I'm absolutely sure – oh absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!"
"No, you never did," said his mother.
But the boy died in the night.


W. D. Snodgrass offered a Freudian interpretation of the story in "The Hudson Review" in 1958. His interpretation hinged on the resemblance of "luck" to "lucre", and the vaguer resemblance of both to "love." Snodgrass argued that Paul's desire "to be lucky" represents an oedipal desire to replace his father in his mother's life.

Standard edition

"The Woman who Rode Away and Other Stories" (1928) edited by Dieter Mehl and Christa Jansohn, Cambridge University Press, 1995,pp 230-243, ISBN 0-521-22270-2


*How To Read Literature Like A Professor Thomas C. Foster

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