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The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

The Mill on the Floss (1860)

by George Eliot (Author)

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I can’t remember exactly when I first read The Mill on the Floss – it was certainly a very long time ago, and unusually for me I had actually remembered a little of the ending of the novel. I am usually rather bad at remembering plot details of books I read a very long time ago. So although virtually nothing of the story that precedes the dramatic ending had remained with me I had I think retained a vague sense of the novel. That is probably why I chose it over other George Eliot novels to add to my classic club list.

First published in 1860 – its themes are those of all human beings, marriage, love, society and of people struggling against the circumstances in which they find themselves. In the character of Maggie Tulliver, it is tempting to see something of the young Marian Evans herself. Maggie struggles against the confines of others expectations always looking for acceptance, she’s clever and imaginative.

The Mill on the Floss is the story of the Tulliver family of Dorlcote Mill, and particularly of siblings Maggie and Tom Tulliver, the only children of the owner of Dorlcote Mill. The nearby village of St Oggs and the River Floss in Lincolnshire are fictional, but for me are very reminiscent of those small rural communities of Hardy’s pastoral novels. When we first meet them; Tom is about twelve and Maggie nine. Mr Tulliver is an uneducated man who has by hard work made a success of the mill which his father and grandfather had before him. The Tullivers are a family, who now have some money, a nice home, and are respected members of their community. As the novel opens Mr Tulliver is declaring how he wants his son to succeed to more than mill owning, and expresses a desire for Tom to have an education. His plan is to send his son to live with and be educated by a young clergyman at King’s Lorton.

Even as a child Maggie is spirited little thing, very bright, she feels things very deeply. From early childhood her world has had at its centre her adored big brother and her affectionate father. Maggie can’t help but exasperate her mother, whose rather more genteel, better married sisters are quick to criticise and raise eyebrows at what they consider bad behaviour.

“In books there were people who were always agreeable or tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt: it seemed to be a world where people behaved the best to those they did not pretend to love and that did not belong to them. And if life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie? Nothing but poverty and the companionship of her mother’s narrow griefs—perhaps of her father’s heart-cutting childish dependence. There is no hopelessness so sad as that of early youth, when the soul is made up of wants, and has no long memories, no super-added life in the life of others; though we who look on think lightly of such premature despair, as if our vision of the future lightened the blind sufferer’s present.”

tom andmaggieThe Mill on the Floss is also a wonderful evocation of childhood in the early nineteenth century (taking place across a ten year period starting approximately in the 1820’s). George Eliot understood beautifully the trials, tribulations and tiny tragedies of childhood; there are some wonderfully tender scenes between Maggie and her older brother, her loyalty to him something that will drive many of her future decisions.

Maggie is desolate when Tom leaves to begin his education under the tutelage of the reverend Mr Stelling. Here Tom meets Philip Wakem, the son of Mr Tulliver’s great rival. An uneasy friendship develops between Philip and Tom, who although not always comfortable with one another for a time learn to get along. Maggie, on a visit to her brother, finds in Philip someone who likes, respects and values her. Maggie and Philip pledge themselves the very best of friends, although it is afterwards, several years before the two meet again.

Mr Tulliver’s fortunes at Dorlcote Mill change rapidly when the poor man loses a lawsuit, for which Mr Tulliver holds Mr Wakem, Philips father, entirely responsible. Both Maggie and Tom must leave school, return home and help their distraught mother deal with, what is for her, the terrible, shaming consequences of her husband’s bankruptcy. Tom vows to work for one purpose, to pay off all his father’s creditors, get back the respect the Tulliver name once enjoyed and take ownership once more of Dorlcote Mill.

“We don’t ask what a woman does; we ask whom she belongs to.”

As women so often are in these nineteenth century works – Maggie is judged harshly and found wanting by the society in which she lives. While men are able to set their shoulder to the wheel of hard work and redress the wrongs of the past, a woman is allowed no mistake, not even one that really was not of her making. When Maggie finds herself loved by two men, she struggles both with her own feelings and her loyalty to those she loves. The river, the course of life is a fractious beast, and it is the Floss that takes Maggie in a direction deemed too far to come back from, and it is the river ultimately that determines everything.

“Let a prejudice be bequeathed, carried in the air, adopted by hearsay, caught in through the eye,–however it may come, these minds will give it a habitation; it is something to assert strongly and bravely, something to fill up the void of spontaneous ideas, something to impose on others with the authority of conscious right; it is at once a staff and a baton.”

The Mill on the Floss is quite simply a brilliant story, sometimes that is enough, but of course there is a richness to the character, setting, themes and language of the novel that makes this a classic. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Sep 14, 2015 |
The protagonist is Maggie Toliver, a dark-haired, blue-eyed, wild-haired, wild child. The story begins when she is about 9-10 years old and she is quite troublesome to her family. As the story progresses and her family becomes poorer and finally homeless the book tells of Maggie's resilience. The book does an excellent job of telling Maggie's story and her tempestuous relationship with her brother and mother as well as her love for the hunchback, Philip. There is nothing happy in this book, although it was a good story. I think it takes place in about the 1820-1860's in England. ( )
  tess_schoolmarm | Aug 30, 2015 |
I read this a little too long ago to quite remember it well. I have an image of the mill being swept away by the end of the novel but I don't remember what it all meant.

I remember there was a sentence about a third of the way through the novel describing the state of the marriage between an aunt and uncle of the protagonist. The sentence was about a page long and started out indicating that the uncle was in the garden and as in a long spiral seemed to draw out the psychology of the marriage between the aunt and uncle and the aunt's philosophy of marriage and the uncle's manner of coping with his wife. It left me delirious. Twice in my life when I have walked into a book store that stocked "The Mill of the Floss" I have looked for and found this sentence. It bolsters me to still be entertained in rereading it even though I have no idea what the novel means. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
This is an epic Northern tale of a chalk and cheese brother and sister, Maggie and Tom Tulliver, trying to make their way in the world. Much of the time I feel they are both round pegs in square holes, neither cut out for what conventional life has in store for them. However brother and sisterly love seems to be the thread that binds them together thoughout their entwined and estranged lives to the dramatic climax of their story. ( )
  AmiloFinn | Jun 13, 2015 |
I finished it! Less than 24 hours until the book club meets and I've finished this 600-page odyssey. (Forgive me if I spend a little time congratulating myself.) Anyway, this novel is primarily a brother and sister story, as the trials of Tom and Maggie Tulliver are chronicled and explored. Maggie certainly emerges as the more sympathetic sibling (a bias of the author, perhaps?), but the influence of society and gender roles weighs heavily on both Tom and Maggie throughout the novel. Nevertheless, George Eliot brings this novel to a perfect close and I have never felt so satisfied with such a sad conclusion. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Apr 27, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (94 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eliot, GeorgeAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A. S.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daiches, DavidIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Livesey, MargotIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacNeill, AlysonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manning, WrayIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace. On this mighty tide the black ships -laden with the fresh-scented fir-planks, with rounded sacks of oil-bearing seed, or with the dark glitter of coal - are borne along to the town of St. Ogg's, which shows its aged, fluted red roofs and the broad gables of its wharves between the low wooded hill and the river-brink, tingeing the water with a soft purple hue under the transient glance of this February sun. Far away on each hand stretch the rich pastures, and the patches of dark earth made ready for the seed of broad-leaved green crops, or touched already with the tint of the tender-bladed autumn-sown corn. There is a remnant still of last year's golden clusters of beehive-ricks rising at intervals beyond the hedgerows; and everywhere the hedgerows are studded with trees; the distant ships seem to be lifting their masts and stretching their red-brown sails close among the branches of the spreading ash. Just by the red-roofed town the tributary Ripple flows with a lively current into the Floss. How lovely the little river is, with its dark changing wavelets! It seems to me like a living companion while I wander along the bank, and listen to its low, placid voice, as to the voice of one who is deaf and loving. I remember those large dipping willows. I remember the stone bridge.
Such things as these are the mother-tongue of our imagination, the language that is laden with all the subtle, inextricable associations the fleeting hours of our childhood left behind them. Our delight in the sunshine on the deep-bladed grass to-day might be no more than the faint perception of wearied souls, if it were not for the sunshine and the grass in the far-off years which still live in us, and transform our perception into love.
There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439629, Paperback)

Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother, a close friend who is also the son of her family's worst enemy, and a charismatic but dangerous suitor. With its poignant portrayal of sibling relationships, The Mill on the Floss is considered George Eliot's most autobiographical novel; it is also one of her most powerful and moving.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:30 -0400)

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Maggie Tulliver, passionate and imaginative, comes into conflict with the middle-class narrowness of the town of St. Ogg's and with her beloved brother Tom.

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14 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141439629, 0141198915

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