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  • The Mill on the Floss
  • Written by George Eliot
    Introduction by Margot Livesey
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  • Written by George Eliot
    Introduction by Margot Livesey
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On Sale: November 03, 2010
Pages: 656 | ISBN: 978-0-307-76970-1
Published by : Modern Library Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

One of George Eliot's best-loved works, The Mill on the Floss is a brilliant portrait of the bonds of provincial life as seen through the eyes of the free-spirited Maggie Tulliver, who is torn between a code of moral responsibility and her hunger for self-fulfillment. Rebellious by nature, she causes friction both among the townspeople of St. Ogg's and in her own family, particularly with her brother, Tom. Maggie's passionate nature makes her a beloved heroine, but it is also her undoing.

The Mill on the Floss is a luminous exploration of human relationships and of a heroine who critics say closely resembles Eliot herself.

Excerpt

Chapter 1
Outside Dorlcote Mill

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, tinging 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 the 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.

And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must stand a minute or two here on the bridge and look at it, though the clouds are threatening, and it is far on in the afternoon. Even in this leafless time of departing February it is pleasant to look at—perhaps the chill damp season adds a charm to the trimly-kept, comfortable dwelling-house, as old as the elms and chestnuts that shelter it from the northern blast. The stream is brimful now, and lies high in this little withy plantation, and half drowns the grassy fringe of the croft in front of the house. As I look at the full stream, the vivid grass, the delicate bright-green powder softening the outline of the great trunks and branches that gleam from under the bare purple boughs, I am in love with moistness, and envy the white ducks that are dipping their heads far into the water here among the withes, unmindful of the awkward appearance they make in the drier world above.

The rush of the water, and the booming of the mill, bring a dreamy deafness, which seems to heighten the peacefulness of the scene. They are like a great curtain of sound, shutting one out from the world beyond. And now there is the thunder of the huge covered waggon coming home with sacks of grain. That honest waggoner is thinking of his dinner, getting sadly dry in the oven at this late hour; but he will not touch it till he has fed his horses,—the strong, submissive, meek-eyed beasts, who, I fancy, are looking mild reproach at him from between their blinkers, that he should crack his whip at them in that awful manner as if they needed that hint! See how they stretch their shoulders up the slope towards the bridge, with all the more energy because they are so near home. Look at their grand shaggy feet that seem to grasp the firm earth, at the patient strength of their necks, bowed under the heavy collar, at the mighty muscles of their struggling haunches! I should like well to hear them neigh over their hardly-earned feed of corn, and see them, with their moist necks freed from the harness, dipping their eager nostrils into the muddy pond. Now they are on the bridge, and down they go again at a swifter pace, and the arch of the covered waggon disappears at the turning behind the trees.

Now I can turn my eyes towards the mill again, and watch the unresting wheel sending out its diamond jets of water. That little girl is watching it too: she has been standing on just the same spot at the edge of the water ever since I paused on the bridge. And that queer white cur with the brown ear seems to be leaping and barking in ineffectual remonstrance with the wheel; perhaps he is jealous, because his playfellow in the beaver bonnet is so rapt in its movement. It is time the little playfellow went in, I think; and there is a very bright fire to tempt her: the red light shines out under the deepening grey of the sky. It is time, too, for me to leave off resting my arms on the cold stone of this bridge. . . .

Ah, my arms are really benumbed. I have been pressing my elbows on the arms of my chair, and dreaming that I was standing on the bridge in front of Dorlcote Mill, as it looked one February afternoon many years ago. Before I dozed off, I was going to tell you what Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver were talking about, as they sat by the bright fire in the left-hand parlour, on that very afternoon I have been dreaming of.

chapter ii Mr. Tulliver, of Dorlcote Mill, Declares His Resolution About Tom

“What I want, you know,” said Mr. Tulliver—“what I want is to give Tom a good eddication; an eddication as’ll be a bread to him. That was what I was thinking of when I gave notice for him to leave the academy at Ladyday. I mean to put him to a downright good school at Midsummer. The two years at th’ academy ’ud ha’ done well enough, if I’d meant to make a miller and farmer of him, for he’s had a fine sight more schoolin’ nor I ever got: all the learnin’ my father ever paid for was a bit o’ birch at one end and the alphabet at th’ other. But I should like Tom to be a bit of a scholard, so as he might be up to the tricks o’ these fellows as talk fine and write with a flourish. It ’ud be a help to me wi’ these lawsuits, and arbitrations, and things. I wouldn’t make a downright lawyer o’ the lad—I should be sorry for him to be a raskill—but a sort o’ engineer, or a surveyor, or an auctioneer and vallyer, like Riley, or one o’ them smartish businesses as are all profits and no outlay, only for a big watch-chain and a high stool. They’re pretty nigh all one, and they’re not far off being even wi’ the law, I believe; for Riley looks Lawyer Wakem i the face as hard as one cat looks another. He’s none frightened at him.”

Mr. Tulliver was speaking to his wife, a blond comely woman in a fan-shaped cap (I am afraid to think how long it is since fan-shaped caps were worn—they must be so near coming in again. At that time, when Mrs. Tulliver was nearly forty, they were new at St. Ogg’s, and considered sweet things).

“Well, Mr. Tulliver, you know best: I’ve no objections. But hadn’t I better kill a couple o’ fowl and have th’ aunts and uncles to dinner next week, so as you may hear what sister Glegg and sister Pullet have got to say about it? There’s a couple o’ fowl wants killing!”

“You may kill every fowl i’ the yard, if you like, Bessy; but I shall ask neither aunt nor uncle what I’m to do wi’ my own lad,” said Mr. Tulliver, defiantly.

“Dear heart!” said Mrs. Tulliver, shocked at this sanguinary rhetoric, “how can you talk so, Mr. Tulliver? But it’s your way to speak disrespectful o’ my family; and sister Glegg throws all the blame upo’ me, though I’m sure I’m as innocent as the babe unborn. For nobody’s ever heard me say as it wasn’t lucky for my children to have aunts and uncles as can live independent. Howiver, if Tom’s to go to a new school, I should like him to go where I can wash him and mend him; else he might as well have calico as linen, for they’d be one as yallow as th’ other before they’d been washed half-a-dozen times. And then, when the box is goin backards and forrards, I could send the lad a cake, or a pork-pie, or an apple; for he can do with an extry bit, bless him, whether they stint him at the meals or no. My children can eat as much victuals as most, thank God.”

“Well, well, we won’t send him out o’ reach o’ the carrier’s cart, if other things fit in,” said Mr. Tulliver. “But you mustn’t put a spoke i the wheel about the washin’, if we can’t get a school near enough. That’s the fault I have to find wi’ you, Bessy; if you see a stick i’ the road, you’re allays thinkin’ you can’t step over it. You’d want me not to hire a good waggoner, ’cause he’d got a mole on his face.”
George Eliot

About George Eliot

George Eliot - The Mill on the Floss
Mary Ann Evans was born on November 22, 1819, at Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England, the last child of an estate agent. During her girlhood, she went through a phase of evangelical piety, but her strong interest in philosophy and her friendship with religious freethinkers led to a break with orthodox religion. When one of these friends married in 1843, Mary Ann took over from his wife the task of translating D.F. Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1846), a work that had deep effect on English rationalism. After her father’s death she settled in London and from 1851 to 1854 she served as a writer and editor of the Westminster Review, the organ of the Radical party. In London she met she met George Henry Lewes, a journalist and advanced thinker. Lewes was separated from his wife, who had had two sons by another man, but had been unable to obtain a divorce. In a step daring for Victorian times, Mary Ann Evans began living openly with Lewes in 1854, in a union they both considered as sacred as a legal marriage and one that lasted until his death in 1878.

With Lewes’s encouragement, Mary Ann Evans wrote her first fictional work, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton,” for Blackwood’s Magazine in 1857; it was followed by two more stories published under the pseudonym George Elliot–“George” because it was Lewes’s name and “Eliot” because, she said, it was good mouth-filling, easily pronounced word.” At the age of thirty-nine she used her memories of Warwickshire to write her first long novel, Adam Bede (1859), a book that established her as the foremost woman novelist in her day. Then came The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), and Romola (1863). Her masterpiece and one of the greatest English novels, Middlemarch, was published in 1871-72. Her last work was Daniel Deronda (1876). After Lewes’s death George Eliot married John Walter Cross. He was forty; she was sixty-one. Before her death on December 22, 1880, she had been recognized by her contemporaries as the greatest living writer of English fiction.
Praise

Praise

"As one comes back to [Eliot's] books after years of absence they pour out, even against our expectations, the same store of energy and heat, so that we want more than anything to idle in the warmth."
--Virginia Woolf
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In the first scene in the novel, Maggie is set in opposition to her surroundings, her family, and the notion of what it means to be a Victorian woman. Examine the last four pages of the Chapter II of Book First. How is this juxtaposition highlighted, and through what means? What role does the narrator’s voice play in this introduction to our heroine?

Mrs. Tulliver is portrayed as a stagnant and passive woman. Examine her unraveling in Book Third, Chapter II, as her material possessions are taken away from her. What does this say about her identity and its relationship to the material things in her life? How does this relate back to the ideals about women presented in the beginning of the novel?

The contrast between fantasy and reality is a theme that permeates the entire novel. Examine the passage in Book Fourth, Chapter I which contrasts the ruins of castles along the Rhine with the “angular skeletons of villages on the Rhone.” How is reality portrayed here and in contrast, what is its relationship with fantasy? Is one an escape from the other or are they mere opposites? What does this passage suggest about the human need for fantasy? Is fantasy an escape or is it portrayed as oppressive?

How does this contrast between reality and fantasy or nostalgia relate to Maggie? In Chapter III of the same section above, Maggie laments the lack of fantasy and nostalgia in her own life and her desire for the “secret of life” (the paragraph that begins with “Maggie’s sense of loneliness…”) What answers does this passage offer to this question? Does Maggie accept them?

Compare Maggie and her dialogues with Philip to the Maggie during her romance with Stephen. How does the change in her mirror the turn of events in the novel? How and why do the two men affect her in such different ways? Is it merely their own personalities affecting Maggie, or is it something more internal in Maggie that the two men merely bring out in her?

Examine Maggie’s relationship with Lucy. The contrast between the two women are clear from the beginning of the novel. How does this contrast shift throughout the novel? How does Maggie’s opinion of Lucy change? How does the world that Maggie inhibits differ from Lucy’s world?

Representations of “home” vary from chapter to chapter throughout the book. Compare and contrast the multiple allusions to “home” and “nurture” and how they affect the various characters. For example, consider the passage at the end of Chapter III in Book Fifth, where “desire” is juxtaposed with “home” What does “home” represent for Maggie and how does her attitude toward it shift throughout the novel? (Consider the passage towards the end of the novel where Maggie exclaims “I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do.”)

Examine Maggie’s relationship with Tom. What does their conversations throughout Book Fifth suggest about gender? How does her relationship with Tom affect Maggie and her outlook?

Consider the ending of the novel. Why do you suppose the last chapter is titled “Final Rescue” even though the novel ends with Maggie and Tom’s tragic death? What does this suggest about the novel’s purpose? Looking back, how does this ending justify or explain Maggie’s journey throughout the novel?


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