Gaskell on the Waterfront Leisure Labour and Maritime

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Gaskell on the Waterfront Leisure Labour and Maritime Space in the Mid Nineteenth. Rob Burroughs,Leeds Metropolitan University UK, As a writer of place Elizabeth Gaskell s critical and popular reputation is based on her fictions of the. city provincial town and countryside Coastal settings and seafaring characters nonetheless recur. albeit often in the margins in both her novels and shorter fiction and in Sylvia s Lovers 1863 the. maritime sphere is central Recent studies have examined Sylvia s Lovers and the mutiny subplot of. North and South 1855 in the context of eighteenth and nineteenth century naval history d Albertis. Dissembling Fictions 103 36 Peck 131 39 Morse Lewis On the whole though when critics note. Gaskell s interest in sailors and the sea they tend to do so in biographical terms of the nautical careers. of male members of her immediate family above all her elder brother John Stevenson a merchant. seaman apparently lost at sea when she was 18 Whereas Gaskell is routinely credited with deliberate. and conscientious examination of urban society and history criticsassociate her writing of the. maritime sphere with the realm of the personal even the unconscious Deidre d Albertis for instance. writes that through the mysterious disappearance and remarkable return of sea voyagers Gaskell. sought to repair imaginatively a rupture in her own family that could never be healed or if the. letters we possess are any indication directly spoken of again d Albertis 2007 Life and Letters. 18 see also Bonaparte 29 30 195 96 Hyde Uglow 54, The biographical line of criticism is helpful in identifying some of the personal reasons for. Gaskell s literary preoccupation with mariners and their environs It furthermore begins to detect. Gaskell s understanding of the sea as liminal space enabling deep reflective thought away from the. material transience of industrialized places Even the sailor as a figure of disappearance and return is. transitory in contrast to the waters on which he travels Of course such an understanding of the sea. was not Gaskell s alone Nor did it stem purely from her private intuitive grief It was rather informed. by various long standing cultural constructions of the sea as well as more recent cultural and material. developments In this chapter I situate Gaskell s writing on the waterfront in the cultural history of. seaside tourism in the mid nineteenth century of which Gaskell s own holiday experiences provide. valuable illumination I recall the social debates that attended the rise of the beach holiday and. examine their particular significance for women Turning the spotlight away from the sailor heroes. and onto the waterfront peoples and individuals they leave behind I argue that in Gaskell s writing. the waterfront shapes not only men s but also women s lives its construction as liminal space. enabling the latter to experience to some extent moments of self contemplation and even self. assertion which are limited in other locales,Gaskell s Sailors. Sailors abound in Gaskell s fiction Yet whether it is Will Wilson in Mary Barton 1848 Poor. Peter in Cranford 1853 Frederick Hale in North and South Frank Wilson in The Manchester. Marriage 1858 or Charley Kinraid in Sylvia s Lovers they make sudden exits They furthermore. often make ill fated or incomplete returns Peter comes home late in life Hale must live in exile. Frank and Kinraid return to find their lovers have seemingly abandoned them and their former homes. are alien to them Suicide proves the only release for Frank Seamen s romantic dispositions and. melodramatic forms of self expression push them to the margins of narratives in which more cerebral. characterisation takes precedence Wilson s yarn spinning and salt water colloquialisms leave him. humorously at odds with Job Leigh but give melodramatic eloquence to his testimony at his cousin s. trial the Byronic portrait of the mutineer Hale contrasts his sober pragmatic sister Kinraid s. melodramatic heroism is pitched against the tragic self abnegating emergence of Philip Hepburn as. the hero in the final volume of Sylvia s Lovers Seafaring exploits moreover are generally described. in sailors yarns or in textual fragments that lack the authority attributable to other characters. reported speeches or the words of a narrator Hale s mutiny for example recorded in biased. newspaper reports that are glossed by his grieving mother or Frank s account of his shipwreck For. all their magnetism then Gaskell s sailors are illusory heroes Painted in romantic and melodramatic. hues they feel unrealistic and outmoded as Stefanie Markovits has said of Hale 480 If as Patsy. Stoneman argues the domestic sphere is crucial to the formation of positive nurturing masculine. identity in Gaskell esp 50 53 then the mobility and consequent lack of belonging of these. characters explains their peripheral status stalling characterisation and fragmented narratives The. sailor returns home and experiences the uncanny only to become an embodiment of the uncanny. The focus of Gaskell s maritime writing is the coastal society from which the traveller. departs As sailors disappear beyond the representational horizon their communities and loved ones. remain in narrative focus It is significant for example that in a novel so concerned with labour. exploitation as Mary Barton the reader learns almost nothing about maritime work Rather the. emotional travails of seafarers mothers such as Alice Wilson and Mrs Sturgis receive attention To. some degree the absent mariner finds his way into the home and the main plot through the. reminiscences of loved ones but his function there is to highlight a lack or absence in the domestic. realm The upshot is that Gaskell especially in her condition of England fictions contributes to. what Allan Sekula describes as the forgetting of the sea as a space of ongoing capitalist exchange in. mid nineteenth century literature and art as the condition of England was defined in terrestrial terms. Perhaps this concern with sailors families and waterfront communities rather than sailors. deep sea journeys explains why with the exception of John Peck s Maritime Fiction Sailors and the. Sea in British and American Novels 1719 1917 2001 studies of maritime literature and culture have. said next to nothing about Gaskell Research in this field continues to overlook cultural production at. the water s edge Indeed in her efforts to read maritime literature on its own terms not as allegories. of society on dry land Margaret Cohen arguably under emphasizes the importance of the littoral in. many of the texts examined in The Novel and the Sea 2010 Concentrating upon the representation. of seafaring craft Cohen s work and other new Oceanic studies of literature tend to recycle and. expand upon long established definitions and canons of maritime literature in which first hand. experiences of deep sea voyaging are privileged Inevitably the focus of this field is upon masculine. perspectives traditions and societies To comprehend what Gaskell offers to this field entails drawing. upon the work of cultural historians such as Isaac Land and Paul A Gilje that highlights the primacy. of the waterfront as a space in which not only men but also women lived and worked with and wrote. about the sea,To the Seaside, In the years that Gaskell wrote many of the British waterfront spaces to which she travelled were. undergoing economic social and cultural change as parts of the coast were transformed into places. of recreation par excellence 1 In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century the main reason. besides work for travel to the seaside had been curative but while the health benefits of a beach. holiday continued to be claimed in resort advertising in the middle of the 1800s increasingly the coast. was identified as a place for pleasure The spread of the railways made the shore accessible to the. growing number of urban dwellers enabling the increase in middle class tourism from around the. 1840s 2 The beach then promised release and refreshment to self consciously industrious Victorians. jaded by urban living This recreational mobility was conceived of as an antidote to bounded. responsible sometimes even dreary existence in the home yet the extent to which it genuinely. afforded such a release is debatable That the railway allowed holidaymakers to travel in greater. numbers more often and for shorter spells even day trips is a clue that the coastal getaway was. not immune to those forces of industrialisation massification acceleration standardisation. routinisation that it was intended to evade Moreover the kinds of recreational escape that the beach. offered were carefully delimited Mid nineteenth century writings about coastal recreation warn. against indolence by promoting amateur scientific antiquarian and sporting activities alongside. aesthetic appreciation of the sublime natural environment Such pastimes were envisaged not only to. keep middle class minds healthily busy but also to enable continuing spiritual development beach. combing guides by Charles Kingsley and Phillip H Gosse promoted themes dear to contemporaries. such as the way the natural world revealed close connections between religion science and art. Hassan 32 They maintained the identification of the sea as a profound space as close an. approximation of the infinite as the visible physical world can provide which Christopher Connery. traces back to ancient times 508 Religious and aesthetic contemplation allowed for restfulness. while nonetheless meeting the demand for self improving activity. See Walton Hassan 31 42 Payne, This chapter confines its discussion to the middle class demand that drove the expansion of seaside tourism.
in the mid nineteenth century For discussion of the increasing mid to late nineteenth century demand for. coastal recreation among the working classes and anxious middle class responses thereto see Walton 25 40. 188 90 On the broader impact of the railways on British society see the chapter in this volume by. John K Walton finds however that while improving commentators stressed the need for. robust and educative activity m ost middle class holidaymakers in most mid Victorian resorts spent. their time on the beach promenade and pier surrounded by their children M ost of the time was. devoted to the idleness which was deplored by the serious minded 166 67 On the typical middle. class family seaside holiday of the mid nineteenth century the mother and children would take. extended leave at the coast with the paterfamilias joining them at weekends Children would spend. much of their time in the company of nannies Walton 24 Domestic arrangements tended to be. upheld Walton comments that perhaps the most important function of the seaside holiday was to. display the stability and affluence of the Victorian middle class family 41 Even so if Gaskell s. experiences are at all representative holidaying at the seaside afforded middle class women some. degree of remedial distance from the strictures of domesticity and thus a space for contemplation. Gaskell s personal correspondence offers glimpses of her particular balance of responsibilities work. and amusement at the seaside The Gaskells took several family holidays on the British coast above. all at Morecambe Bay on England s North West shores Gaskell writes anxiously on occasion of the. need for a coastal holiday to replenish the health of her husband or one of her daughters Of one trip. Gaskell states to her daughter Marianne one object of our summer change is health 3 Elsewhere. she writes of her forthcoming holiday with her daughters we shall remain for six weeks and all get. as strong as horses 4 But the beach also was sought for pleasure In personal correspondence she. describes the fishing village of Silverdale a little dale running down to Morecambe Bay with grey. limestone rocks on all sides which in the sun or moonlight glisten like silver 5 which became the. Gaskell s regular holiday home Uglow 146 fondly if condescendingly as a primitive departure. from modernity Silverdale is described as so wild a place and a charming primitive desert that. catered only for the rudest and most primitive life you ever met with 6 It provided chances for the. Gaskell to Marianne Gaskell Late April 1852 in Letters L120. Gaskell to Charles Eliot Norton 10 and 14 May 1858 in Letters L394. Gaskell to Lady Kay Shuttleworth 16 July 1850 in Letters L120. Gaskell to Norton 10 and 14 May 1858 p 504 Gaskell to F J Furnivall 17 June 1858 in Letters L399. Gaskell to Harriett Bright June 22 1858 in Further Letters 294 95 Silverdale was nonetheless always. enjoyed in contrast to one trying holiday at Sea Scale West Cumbria where severe weather made the rented. accommodation feel rather too rickety See Gaskell to Marianne Gaskell 9 October 1857 in Letters L376a. children to learn country interests and ways of living and thinking 7 It was furthermore a place in. which her straight laced husband was able to unwind 8. The Gaskells partook of typical Victorian seaside pastimes such as sightseeing sketching and. walking The company of one or more of her children and sometimes their nannies her husband. extended family or friends not to mention correspondence with absent loved ones and acquaintances. meant that for Elizabeth Gaskell domestic obligations were always in tow Correspondence by. Gaskell and her circle suggests the writer experienced similar struggles to find free time on holiday as. Gaskell on the Waterfront Leisure Labour and Maritime Space in the Mid Nineteenth Century Rob Burroughs Leeds Metropolitan University UK As a writer of place Elizabeth Gaskell s critical and popular reputation is based on her fictions of the city provincial town and countryside Coastal settings and seafaring characters nonetheless recur

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