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"The Mill."
Page Count
Word Count
Newmen Monthly
Publication Year
Document Types
Film & Television
Girlhood, Sexual Exploitation

Often cited as one of Bates's best stories, this lengthy tale, in eight numbered "sections," relates the predictable tragedy of a young girl in service, sexually exploited by her employer and sent home pregnant.

The girl until the final page seems "incapable of pain, even of emotion at all...Her eyes were remarkable in their everlasting expression of mute steadfastness, the same wintry grey light in them as always, an unreflective, almost lifeless kind of light." Only on return does she think tenderly of the employer's son (the sole supportive presence in her life) and feel the pain of her situation: "Her eyes...registered the suddenness and depths of her emotions. They began to fill with tears. It was as though they had come to life at last."

Bates noted the inspiration for Alice in the daughter of a traveling greengrocer who called on his family (The Blossoming World, pp. 86-87): "It seemed to me a face moulded out of yellow clay: a face born to tragedy. I believe it is true that Hardy saw his Tess only once and also in a cart, in a country lane, and from that fleeting experience, haunted also by a face, created his celebrated novel. Soon I was to create mine shaping it into a story called The Mill, a story that was not only far and away the best thing I had written up to that time but the story that firmly and beyond doubt established my reputation as a writer of stories and revealed me at long last as a fully conscious writer, wholly aware of what I was doing, a master of the craft I had worked at so relentlessly and intensely."

Baldwin (1987, p. 115) notes the additional inspiration of a ruined mill near Rushden, and says that the story's theme was "so forbidding...that H.E. had trouble placing it with a magazine." An interchange (quoted in part in Baldwin (1987) and otherwise in letters at the Harry Ransome Center) of letters with Geoffrey Wells (who wrote under the name Geoffrey West) reveals that it was placed with a journal called Newmen Monthly. Bates submitted a rough proof to Wells on May 10, 1935, and on reading his complaint that the story was too bleak, Bates wrote that "it's a study in emotionlessness! Of two kinds of emotionlessness, the girl's and the Hollands', and the effect they have when they touch each other." Bates would later note that the editor of the journal in which it first appeared never paid him for the story ("The Gentleman at the Party"). The title page of Best Short Stories of 1936, English and American further supports that the story was first published in Newmen Monthly, although no extant copies of any issues of the journal have been located.

An adaptation for the television series "Country Matters" was aired in August 1972.

In a review of a subsequent work, David Garnett comments on the story in the New Statesman and Nation (May 9, 1036).

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