Quarry Bank Mill, Part 3

Manchester/Bath UK Journal Day 3

Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Manchester, UK

Does a space become liminal because we expect it to?  That is to say, does this space represent North and South to me, and others (see photograph from the Mill shop), because it is one of the few working Industrial Revolution Mills?  Or because Elizabeth Gaskell’s uncle, Dr. Holland, was the Doctor here?  Or because the mill owner and his wife were both Unitarians, in Manchester at the same time as Gaskell and her husband, so they most likely knew each other?  Because all I could feel at this Mill while I walked around was Elizabeth Gaskell, was the nineteenth century, was the liminal spaces in that I walked where once she, or those who inspired her, walked.

I wonder if I will feel this in Bath, walking down streets Jane Austen once walked.  What does Literary Tourism mean in this context?  Does it mean I am exploring them, or exploring me?  “Through the Critic’s Eyes” is an important component of my research project, so thus, it must be important that I am seeing them through my eyes.  As someone who has read all of the texts, who knows all of the works and biographies, as someone who purchased 78GBP worth of books and textiles made at the Mill, because my knowledge of Gaskell and of Austen identifies me.  It defines me, both as who I am and who I should and shall be.

There is a space in the Mill where you see the oldest part of the Mill, stick your head in a window and look up.  I cannot describe the smell without talking about Victorian.  That smell defines the Victorian era for me: slightly musty, very much composed of oil and iron, and old.  Brought to life at this Mill is the Victorian Era.  A time when we can see the Industrial Revolution taken hold.  A time in which Gaskell wrote North and South about the trials of Mill Workers and of Mill Owners, and the woman who would unite the two as only she could.

There is history here.  I walked on wooden floors where Mill Workers walked well into the 1950s.  I saw machines from various points of history, some working, some not.  I stood in the Weaving Room and heard only a fraction of the sound that the weavers themselves would have heard.  The belch of industry.  The roar of the machines themselves.  The floors vibrated and shook with the horror and the marvel of what they housed. 

Elizabeth Gaskell knew these things from living in Manchester.  She based so much of North and South on what she saw surrounding her that it is only assumed she knew of Quarry Bank Mill. She knew of Styal and the village, the apprentices her uncle doctored.  But more importantly, she knew the materiality of the Mill.  The sound, the worker, the very textiles made.  Gaskell’s obsessions with fashion and clothing are obsessions I understand, as I find myself in the unique academic position of working with fashion and literature.  But more importantly, Gaskell understood where the items came from.  She had an idea of the material culture before her, and what it meant for every person involved in it: the worker, the factory owner, the consumer.  This is the angle I wanted to find.  The material culture angle.  What does it mean to understand a space as an author, and to see that space as functioning in all the ways it should?  In seeing a Mill and turning it into a novel about Mills, their owners, their products, their consumers?  Further, to make that into a love story for the ages?

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