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The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot

As Maggie Tulliver approaches adulthood, her spirited temperament brings her into conflict with her family, her community, and her much-loved brother Tom. Still more painfully, she finds her own nature divided between the claims of moral responsibility and her passionate hunger for self-fulfillment. This edition of The Mill on the Floss offers the definitve Clarendon text with a new Introduction which deals with Eliot, Darwinism, and the intellecutal life of the period, as well as providing close textual analysis.

From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, March 01, 2003 10:17 PM I have just begun Book Four of this novel but Ann asked me if I would post a note to open the discussion. It sounds like many of us haven't finished yet, so let's just talk about it as we do. From what I've read, The Mill on the Floss is from Eliot's early period. And, it seems to be generally accepted that it is one of her best though not as complex as Middlemarch. As a story of children growing up amid adults who cannot be depended to care for them, it reminds me a bit of David Copperfield. However (though I love that novel), I am finding these characters in The Mill on the Floss to be infinitely more satisfying. In earlier comments, some have said that the female characters in this book are created masterfully. Do you think all of them are or just Maggie Tulliver? And, what do you think about the male characters? Is Tom Tulliver as layered as Maggie? What a theme of property and possessions! And, in contrast to it we have Maggie, the free spirt. Do you think this is the essential tragedy? But, in the middle of this theme which sounds all gloom and doom is Eliot's rapier sharp humor. This little nugget on clergymen is dripping with sarcasm: ...any of those low callings in which men are obliged to do good work at a low price were forbidden to clergymen: was it their fault if their only resource was to turn out very poor work at a high price? Besides, how should Mr. Stelling be expected to know that education was a delicate and difficult business? any more than an animal endowed with a power of boring a hole through rock should be expected to have wide views of excavation. Was there evidence of this kind of wit in Middlemarch or have I just forgotten? Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, March 02, 2003 07:51 AM I don't remember there being as much humor, Barb. But there certainly is here. I think Tom is very deeply layered. Poor boy was sent to the kind of "eddication" that would stifle anyone who loved the out-doors and horses and dogs. His father wanted a better life than a miller for him, and being a miller would have suited him just fine. It's interesting, that the father understood his "little wench" much more than he understood his son. So many of these British novels seem to revolve around money and inheritances and law. Can you imagine an American story where the main character goes up to someone and starts talking about how much each of them make a year? Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, March 02, 2003 04:18 PM I think all the main characters are deeply developed and I love that about Eliot. Her books are slow going but after you've finished them, you know the characters well. You can almost predict how they'll behave or react in any situation and when they do deviate from their basic personalities, you sit up and take notice in the very same way the other characters in the book do. Eliot is one of my all time favorite authors mostly for that reason. Beej
From: Jody Richael Date: Monday, March 03, 2003 01:06 PM I loved this novel and found it immediately engaging. (I have since started Middlemarch and find it much more difficult to stay interested in.) I can't recall the last book that I read which had the same degree of foreshadowing. I would need to reread it to catch them all but two significant events which were foreshadowed were: SPOILERS The river flooding and even Maggie's fate and also Maggie's winning the lover away from Lucy. Maggie had previously told Philip that she wanted to read a novel where the dark haired girl won the lover away from the light haired girl. In the introduction to my copy it said the penultimate section is considered controversial. Do they mean the penultimate book or chapter? I also found the gypsy episode interesting and would like to spend more time pondering that. Jody
From: Sara Chamberlin Date: Monday, March 03, 2003 07:00 PM Okay, my copy arrived today--quite swiftly, I must say, for free shipping--so I'll be able to join in (I hope) in a couple of days. Sara
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, March 03, 2003 10:58 PM I agree with you about the themes of money, inheritance and the law in British novels, Sherry. I think that money is a major theme in many American novels but our characters seem to have more mobility. Under all the wit of Jane Austen's novels, I find myself being very glad that I wasn't a woman or a person without family in that time. Eliot's characters in this novel seem to have more in common with many middle class people of the 20th century, at least, in their glorification of objects as the end all and be all. I actually have a feeling that this is a statement that could be debated endlessly. However, Mrs. Tulliver's attitudes about her possessions certainly reminded me of people I've known and of a few of my own, least favorite, qualities: The objects among which her mind had moved complacently were all gone; all the little hopes, and schemes, and speculations, all the pleasant little cares about her treasures which had made the world quite comprehensible to her for a quarter of a century, since she had made her first purchase of the sugartongs, had been suddenly snatched away from her, and she remained bewildered in this empty life. The Dobsons seem so hopefully mired in their desire to acquire and hold on to their money and property. However, I suppose Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver are not much different, just less successful. I did love Mr. Tulliver's attitude toward his sister though. Jody, I can't reply to your note yet because I haven't finished so I didn't read your Spoiler (thanks for giving the warning, btw). And, Sara, I'm delighted that you will be joining in! Barb
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 11:05 AM I am skimming my way through the book--read it several years ago--and agree that Eliot's wit is superb. As to the Dodson love of material things: I love the image of Mrs. Pullet, saving all her medicine bottles to be displayed when she is laid out! Another bit--well, maybe not of foreshadowing, maybe just good character development--is the portrayal of the young Tom, already with such fixed ideas about how the world should go, and so ready to mete out punishment to those who unwittingly violate them (not least little Maggie), absolutely incapable of self-doubt or self-examination. The incident in which he forced Maggie, eyes closed, to choose half of a pastry, then pouted because she got the bigger "half," refused to let her share it with him and finally raged at her because she ate her whole share--that said a lot about Tom's character and bothered me more this time than I remember it doing in my first read-through. For those who read Continental Drift: do you see any of Bob D. in Mr. Tulliver? (Maybe just the hapless part.) Mary Ellen
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 11:44 AM I'm just past the halfway point - I believe I just entered "The Valley of Despair," or whatever it's called, and I cannot believe how wrapped up I am in these peoples' lives! What awful people! And poor little Maggie - the family's treatment of her is giving me flashbacks (I too was one of those children who could never do anything right). And I would like very much to push Aunt Glegg into the mud!
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 07:17 AM I don't know if I've ever been so upset by the ending of a book. I had no idea what was coming, even with the foreshadowing, which must have flown over my head like wild geese. Yes, Mrs. Tulliver was worried Maggie would drown in the river, but then Mrs. Tulliver was worried about just about everything, including whether dots or diamonts were better on her linen. When there was a spoiler warning on earlier, I just saw the word "flood" so I really thought that maybe Tom would be washed away and that would leave a grieving Maggie, but she would be able to get on with her life. Since the last book was named "Final Rescue" I had high hopes that this would be a Jane Austen type ending where everyone ends up with the right people. I've been wondering why Eliot killed off Maggie. And I can't help thinking if maybe she did it for the same reasons in the Epilogue of Continental Drift. Maybe she wanted to seriously shake up society, that institution whose piteousness and constraints can cause such soul-shaking conflicts in young women (such as herself). If a society can mourn someone such as Maggie, maybe they can change a little in their attitudes toward them. Part of me thinks the ending was overly romantic. What kind of "Final Rescue" is being swept away by a flood? I really just wanted to see Maggie happy with Philip. It didn't seem a whole lot to ask. Now I need to go finish reading the introduction (I wish they'd put those kinds of rehashes of the books at the end--I've given up making sense of them at the beginning). I guess you can tell I liked this book. With Maggie gone, I feel like I've lost someone special. Now that's good writing. Sherry
From: Tim Lowrey Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 12:07 PM Warning: Contains spoilers When you look at most of Eliot's novels, you see main characters, both male and female, who are struggling to live their lives on their own terms. In their own imperfect way, they possess a deep, inner integrity which is at odds with the society around them. Maggie has little in common with the middle-class materialism of her aunts. And though she adores her brother, she can't help but live life on her own terms, though it risks their relationship. By attempting to save her brother, she proves to him and herself just how deeply she loves him. There is a special bond between them which ultimately not even death can sever. It is just too bad that Tom could not read her character better or he would have understood. One of the plot elements which intrigues me, is Eliot's subtle acknowlegement of human sexuality. Of course it would have been "nicer" for Maggie to fall in love with the deformed Phillip. Given her marginal social status, she would be crazy to turn away a wealthy mate. However, as we know, Maggie listens to her heart, not necessarily to what others deem important. Maggie is not physically attracted to Phillip, and it is another man who can excite that part of her personality. Her downfall is then partly justified because no conventionally good young lady would allow herself to be put in a situation which gave even the appearance of immorality. Lucy is another one of those pretty and conventionally-good girls beloved by Victorian novelists. She is safe and bland. Unlike Maggie who has to fight for everything, even to be loved, Lucy gets the best of everything without even trying. Lucy is not a bad person of course, but she just lacks the inner fire of Maggie.
From: Jody Richael Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 05:26 PM Like Sherry I also thought the writing was incredible. I became completely enthralled by the characters lives. I found that my emotions when reading the book would influence my mood the rest of the day. I guess I expected a tragic ending all along. (I was more surprised that Tom died as well). I think Tim described Eliot's characters very accurately. I'm reading Middlemarch right now and Dorothea is very much "struggling to live life on her own terms." From her childhood Maggie could not find the freedom, self-fulfillment, or love that she craved from the society of her day. Even her venture into a different society (the gypsies) resulted in only disappointment. I was surprised that Maggie fell for Stephen. I like the fairy tale I suppose and was really rooting for Philip. I had a hard time finding Stephen and Maggie even a credible couple. Stephen seemed so shallow compared to Maggie. I think Tim might be right about the human sexuality. The only attraction Maggie seemed to have for Stephen was a physical one. Jody
From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, March 05, 2003 08:17 PM Sherry, I have about 80 more pages to read but when I saw your big red fat spoiler warning, guess what I did? I automatically began to scroll down to read it! I stopped myself and closed your post, but geesh! What is it about me that when I'm told 'no further!'... I automatically do just the opposite... at my own expense!? Anyway, I'm not going near this thread again until I've finished the book. But, I'll be back. Beej
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 07:46 AM Jody, you must be better at reading the foreshadowings in a book than I am. I expected Tom to die (because I had read the word "flood" in a previous spoiler message) and I thought it would save Maggie from any further conflict. I wasn't, however, surprised at Maggie's reaction to Steven. This was a girl who was unaccustomed to any kind of society. She took everything at face value. She didn't have a clue about being coquettish and flirting. She looked at Steven with her animal eyes and he fell for them. And because she loved love more than anything, and it had been withheld from her by the one she loved the most, she was a sitting duck. What did surprise me was her passiveness around him. I guess that reaction might be realistic when you realize that maybe the passiveness was sort of like a deer in the headlights reaction. She was so unaccustomed to being the center of attention, and she was so upset at the thought of hurting Lucy, that she was thrown into a kind of hypnotic stupor. Sherry
From: Peggy Ramsey Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:20 PM I have to agree with Sherry on this one - the ending hit me like a ton of bricks. I just cannot believe she let Maggie die, and furthermore, let her die while trying to rescue that rat bastard Tom! (I feel like a woman in the grocery story, hissing over the plot of a soap opera. Or Nancy Kerrigan bleating, "Why? Why?" over and over again) I guess it's a tribute to Elliot's writing - I had invested so much of myself in poor Maggie that losing her - especially in such a futile manner - was heartbreaking. But again, Why end it like this? I didn't feel there was redemption for anyone. And I had a hard time swallowing the whole Stephen plotline - maybe I didn't read carefully enough, because I just couldn't believe what was going on. Oh, one more thing - Tom needed to suffer more.
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, March 06, 2003 10:51 PM I read this one eons ago and didn't reread, so I can't really contribute to the discussion. But did any of you see the PBS (or was it Masterpiece Theater) production of this a few years back? The whole thing was permeated with water, drip drip, gurgle. And I remember the drowning scene as haveing particularly striking images. Ruth
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, March 07, 2003 07:32 AM Peggy, I'm so glad I'm not the only person who was really angry with the way it ended. I actually burst out in tears when the boat went down. I was sitting in a chair and Tom looked at me and asked: "Didn't like the way it ended?" I peeped: "No." And went rushing upstairs to my room. I'm glad I wasn't reading it on the bus or an airplane. For one whole evening I felt as if I had lost a relative. You think I invest too much psychic energy in my reading? Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 07, 2003 09:51 AM Sherry, I wept at the ending, too. What a bunch of mushy sentimentalists we are! Of course Maggie's death was her final rescue! What would have saved this woman from further grief? A marriage to Phillip resulting in a combination of the Wakum and Tulliver properties making them one of the wealthiest couples in St. Oggs? Maggie wasn't one who would gather great comfort from wealth. Righteousness and honor were much more valuable to her. she was not in love with Phillip. Even had she not died, I doubt she would have married Phillip. She respected him too much to go thru such a ruse with him. And, a marriage to Stephen would have violated every sense of propriety in her body, as well as offending her love for Lucy. Maggie's name was ruined. Maggie's future was ruined. Maggie's relationships with all her extended family as well as with both the men who loved her, were ruined. The final rescue was not meant as a rescue of our heroine. It was a rescue of her knowledge that Tom still loved her. Her relationship with her brother was the most important relationship of her heart. Beej
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 07, 2003 10:03 AM Oh, and one other thing..I would have been furious with our Maggie had she settled for Phillip. How clever of Eliot to toss in the added influence of a deformity. Had Phillip not been deformed, I think most of us would have realized that Phillip was too milquetoast for passionate Maggie. I rooted for Stephen. He matched her passion. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. Together, they would have fought against the scorn of a judgmental society. And they would have won. Beej
From: Sherry Keller Date: Friday, March 07, 2003 03:46 PM But I think she really loved Phillip. I think she would have tired of Stephen after a while. They didn't seem to have a whole lot to talk about. She and Phillip had tons to talk about. And I still think that death being a "final rescue" is an overly romantic out. Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 07, 2003 08:19 PM I think her love for Phillip was of the brotherly kind. Maggie was full of passion and had a zest for life. She would have been looking to run away with the gypsies again a couple years down the road if she had married Phillip. I liked Stephen. And I believe Maggie was truly in love with him. Why do you think she would have tired of Stephen? It wasn't as if they had nothing in common. They did, particularly their music. Death being a "final rescue" is an overly romantic out? Oh, probably. But, Maggie had nothing but a future as an outcast to look forward to. Regardless of all that, I can think of several different endings I'd prefer over the one Eliot chose. Beej
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 07, 2003 09:49 PM Sherry, I've been thinking about Maggie and her feelings for Phillip and maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she did love him, but she had been put in a position where she was forced to choose between Phillip and Tom. I just keep thinking back to when Phillip first declared his affection for her. Maggie was taken with the idea that someone truly loved her. I still do not believe she was in love with Phillip. Beej
From: Sherry Keller Date: Saturday, March 08, 2003 06:55 AM Well, she may not have been bowled over by him, like she was Stephen, but I think she could have been happy with him. Passion fades, and I think with Stephen she would have been more dissatisfied than with Phillip. She would have always felt guilty about Lucy and she would have disdained the social life that Stephen was a part of. With Phillip she would have had a companion spirit. I wish she had had enough spirit to disregard Tom's wishes. I had thought that when her father died, she would feel free to do what she wanted. It's hard for me to understand the society that would give that much power to a brother, but I understand that in those times, that was the way it was. It was the emotional power she gave him that I didn't understand. Sherry
From: Jody Richael Date: Sunday, March 09, 2003 09:29 PM Sherry - I agree with you. I really think that Maggie was in love with Phillip. I think Stephen was more of an infatuation. Her love for Phillip happened gradually and was a comfortable, settled type of love. Stephen was more the 'sweep you off your feet' attraction which is almost irresistible but rarely lasts. Jody
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, March 11, 2003 12:51 PM I have been thinking of the relationship between the younger Tullivers with their parents. Tom, and to a lesser extent, Maggie, fulfilled a function one sees in first-generation Americans: interpreting a strange world, for their parents, particularly his father and dealing with that world on behalf of the parents. (Mrs. Tulliver seems beyond understanding what's going on beneath her nose, let alone beyond the boundaries of her home.) Often Eliot has a theme of social and economic change in 19th century England, but I haven't found that as prominent in MOTF as in some of her other books. Is Mr. Tulliver's inability to deal successfully with his world caused only by his lack of education, his hot temper and, not to put too fine a point on it, his limited brain power? That the world is not, really "too many for" him, but he just not "enough" for it? Also wondering about Wakem. His actions do not show him as the villain Tulliver sees him as--the worst thing he does, is to get revenge against a man who has publicly calumniated him by arranging to become that man's boss. (Sure, that was a mean thing to do, but he could have turned the Tullivers out, right?) On the other hand, when the schoolboy Tom tells Philip that everyone thinks his father is a villain, Philip's reaction indicates that he knows, or fears, that that may be true. Is Wakem a villain simply because he is a lawyer? Mary Ellen a lawyer trying not to be villainous
From: Ernest Belden Date: Thursday, March 13, 2003 03:46 PM I found the first few chapters slow reading, even though I do remember a good deal about it from the first time I read the book a few years back. I don't think I finished it at that time. Looking up this particular book in a Literary Encyclopedia I noted that George Eliot started a new trend in literature, namely she looked at early experiences and underlying motivation as forces in the subsequent adulthood. After reading this it became clear to me that this is one of the great merits of this book. George E. was a literary innovator. I was puzzled about the poor educational background of the family, their use of the English language and total lack of sophistication. I would have expected this to be a characteristic of the poor and lower class of society. I did not note any intellectual curiosity or familiarity with literature and science. Class distinction up to recent time was more pronounced and common in Europe than in the U.S. I do hope to be able to finish this book during the next 3 or 4 years (joke) as it takes me so some time to read each page due in part to the fine print. I do hope that after that time interval, Constant Reader will still be going strong but readers will have forgotten The Mill on the Floss. Ernie
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (26 of 34), Read 23 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter Date: Thursday, March 13, 2003 06:09 PM I have just started reading it in earnest, but have got such a short distance into it that almost everything in the discussion so far makes a spoiler, so I'm posting without having to much too follow up on. I was interested in Ernest's last remark about the Tullivers' position in society. Although they are well off (at least at the beginning of the novel), they are of a relatively low social standing. In England wealth is the principal determinant of class, but even so, the relation in a very indirect one. You can be poor and upper class, rich but lower class. I'm ashamed to say this is first George Eliot I've read (except Silas Marner, which I read at school 40 years ago), and this despite owning a couple of first editions! It is immediately interesting to me because the characters speak in the accent of the Midlands. Eliot came from Warwickshire, I learn, and I was brought up in Leicestershire, next door - actually in Leicester. I had a very working class childhood, and heard the country accent when I saw my father's relations. Bob, in the early chapters, has the accent in an extreme form. It is interesting how the speech patterns of the 1860s are like those I remember of the 1950s. Social habits are similar too - the emphasis on cleanliness and well-prepared food, and the simple (almost philistine) materialism of some of the characters. I haven't come across such a faithful description of Midland's life in a 19th century novel before. It's early pages yet, but the novel strikes me as strongly feminist, in its description of Maggie's intelligence being seen as unnatural and a hindrance.
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (27 of 34), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Thursday, March 13, 2003 09:56 PM Martin, I've been avoiding most of the notes too because I'm not nearly as far along as I had hoped. From what I have read, Eliot herself was a brilliant woman and a very precocious child, who far outshone the other members of her family intellectually. She drew on her own experiences in creating Maggie - who rings very true to me. I agree with you that it is a feminist novel. Outside of Eliot, I can't really think of any other 19th century author who wrote such strong female characters. Most of them are terrible wimps. Are the regional accents in England fading due to television, as they are in the United States? Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (28 of 34), Read 20 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter Date: Friday, March 14, 2003 03:50 AM Anne, Yes, there was discussion earlier as to whether Maggie is more "layered" than Tom. It seems to me that equal care is taken by Eliot in describing the characters of the two types: the ordinary boy and the extraordinary woman. I would say English accents are alive and well, despite many pressures, of which television is but one. They are forever changing and developing though. They survive, I think, because the media no longer offer a "norm" as they used to (BBC English), because we are equally bombarded with American and Australian English, and because in England accent is the primary class differential, so changing your accent is as bold a move as changing your class. The rate of change varies: there is a strong London accent, but it is not really cockney anymore. So you would not hear anyone today talking like Sam Weller, although you might hear Tulliver accents still in the Midlands. Incidentally, I have read that the main accents divisions of England, southern (around Kent), midlands (Warwickshire/Leicestershire) and northern (Yorkshire), go back to divisions of Middle English in Chaucer's time, and right back to divisions in the Anglo-Saxon tribes as recorded by Bede. It has been suggested that Bede's history of the Anglo-Saxon invasions is just a reconstruction from the evidence he found in contemporary accents, and is probably unhistorical. The other main accent outside Wales/Scotland is West Country (Somerset/Cornwall) which is explained by the people there speaking a Celtic language of their own. It died out in the 18th century. - Sorry this is all a bit off-topic. Post | Reply | Reply/Quote | Email Reply | Delete | Edit | Move Previous | Next | Previous Topic | Next Topic | Entire Topic Topic: The Mill on the Floss (29 of 34), Read 16 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Friday, March 14, 2003 08:17 AM Also off topic -- Martin, Thank you for your comments on British accents and that interesting information about their historical origin. I am taking a linguistics class this semester, and I have become a lot more aware of regional accents. In the U.S., Midwestern American English has pretty much become the "standard," due to the influence of television and the preponderance of broadcasters from this part of the country. Broadcasters from other parts of the country generally modify their accents to conform to this "network standard." When I read British books with dialog written in dialect I have to try to sound it out in my head, and it's difficult. Of course, the same is true of some American books, especially those that use American Black dialect. Ann, who needs to get back to Mill on the Floss. Post New Topic | Reply to: "The Mill on the Floss"
From: Janet Poppema Date: Friday, March 14, 2003 07:33 PM I am so excited to be here, as I have never tried an online book discussion before. I participate in a monthly book discussion at the local library (where I work) but find that I get "lonely" between-times to continue intelligent conversations on other works. I am behind times on The Mill On the Floss but hope to catch up relatively quickly. Thanks!!! Janet
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (31 of 34), Read 22 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, March 14, 2003 07:46 PM Welcome to Constant Reader, Janet. Why don't you go up to 'Welcome to WebBoard' and tell us a bit about yourself and how you found us?! Beej
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (32 of 34), Read 22 times Conf: Classics Corner From: R Bavetta Date: Friday, March 14, 2003 07:52 PM Hi, Janet. Glad to see you here. Please feel free to post on any other books you've been reading. Just put your note under Constant Reader. Welcome. Ruth
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (33 of 34), Read 13 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter Date: Saturday, March 15, 2003 04:49 AM Welcome Janet. I too am behind, but, at present progress, do not share your hope.
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, March 15, 2003 08:35 AM I'm closing in on the ending. Things have been busy around here. I chuckle thinking that I expected to be done with it two weeks ago. Martin, I really appreciated your notes on the Midlands accent. It's fascinating to know that both the accents and the characterizations are somewhat accurate today. Also, many of Eliot's comments later in life seem a bit ambivalent about feminism. I think she struggled with her own personal devils. However, I agree with you that Maggie Tulliver is a delight in her strength and force of character. And, I agree with you that Eliot does just as masterful as job on the ordinary man as she does on the extraordinary woman. What a talent that takes! Janet, I'm so glad to see you here! I loved your description of wanting to talk about a book in between book group meetings. One of the many things I love about this forum is being able to come in at any hour of the day or night and in whatever mode of dress I'm in at the time. In-person discussion groups just can't compete for me. Barb
From: Janet Poppema Date: Sunday, March 16, 2003 10:44 AM OK, Martin. I might have been a little "overenthusiastic" the other night when I said that I am planning on catching up. I think I am going to wait until April to begin "Two Years Before the Mast". :)
From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, March 16, 2003 06:32 PM I'm almost half way through. Ann
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Monday, March 17, 2003 12:55 PM IMPLICIT SPOILERS WOVEN IN!! I finished my re-read last week, and was as strongly affected by the ending -- tearfully contemplating the scene as I rode the subway -- as I was the first time. But now to weigh in on a few "controversies." Is Tom's character as well developed as Maggie's? Eliot certainly gives us a lot of insights into his character, boy and man. But Maggie is clearly the focus of the book and so we don't get as much insight into Tom's development as hers. Most significantly, we have a few hints here & there that he was in love with "dear little Lucy" but that his cause was hopeless and he just bore it. But regarding Maggie's infatuation with Stephen, we get her every sigh and flutter. This stacks the deck against Tom, I think. If we'd lived through his sufferings the way we do Maggie's, perhaps we'd have more sympathy for his anger when she failed to do what he had spent years doing. Stephen or Philip? Philip, definitely. Stephen was a creep, leading Maggie on and trying to trap her into marrying him. He was a handsome guy with a nice singing voice but self-absorbed and shallow. He was 6 years older than she, and at 19 and 25, those 6 years make a difference. Just contrast Stephen's arguments to Maggie (think of the pain you're causing ME) with Philip's letter. She had a crush on Stephen, but Philip, if anyone, was her soulmate. Certainly not flawless, but neither was she. And I think Philip's physical deformity had a big effect on his life. Someone described him as a "milquetoast," but I think he was a very passionate man kept from cutting a dashing, daring figure by his physical limitations. That ending. Eliot herself admitted that she indulged herself so much in the long descriptions of childhood that she had to sort of rush through the last volume. I have a few problems with the ending, but I thought Maggie's doom was clear from childhood: she lived to BE loved (not as keen on loving others!) but she was no good at judging how her actions would affect other people, and therefore not good at attracting love. This spells trouble for Maggie all along. My problems with the last section: 1) sudden switch in Mrs. Tulliver's character: why didn't she agree with Tom and banish Maggie? Eliot's explanation is an unsatisfying riff on "a mother's heart," about a woman who had never shown motherly feeling toward Maggie before. 2)Similar problem with Tom, suddenly reconciled with Maggie at the end. Very pretty, but didn't follow from the character she'd developed. 3) Big dramatic death scene: struck me as the desperate act of an author who'd written herself into a corner and didn't have enough pages left to write herself back out. And maybe a sop to the sentimental Victorian heart, to make Maggie's story a bit more palatable. Maggie is a great character, but I have to say she was rotten to her cousin Lucy. Eliot even foreshadowed that in the scene in which the child Maggie pushes poor "pink and white" little Lucy into the mud, taking out on her the anger and jealousy she feels toward Tom. At one point mid-novel, Eliot takes issue with the aphorism "character is destiny." Maybe TMOTF doesn't prove that statement true, but it is a pretty good illustration of the thought "the child is father to the man" (or woman)! Mary Ellen
From: Martin Porter Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2003 12:27 PM "IMPLICIT SPOILERS WOVEN IN" sounds like the sort of thing I read on labels attached to the inside of my trousers when I'm trying to work out if they're dry clean only. I am enjoying this book so much, but pressure of work means I won't finish it this month I'm sure. So I'll skip Two Years before the mast and carry on discussing this one next month. - just in case anyone else wants to join in.
From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, March 18, 2003 09:32 PM Martin, I'm on page 368 and, and there are around 600 pages in my edition so I'm past the halfway mark. I have avoided reading most of the notes because of all the plot spoilers, but I plan to catch up on all of them when I'm finished. The book gets better as it goes, and I'm definitely hooked. I suspect there are a few others trailing behind, so the topic should stay active into April. Ann
From: Barbara Moors Date: Saturday, March 22, 2003 03:37 PM I just finished and came up to read the notes I had been avoiding because of the spoilers. I need to let this percolate in my head a while. However, I hated this ending too. I, unfortunately, caught the fact that Maggie drowned because of an earlier note on this thread without a spoiler alert. Otherwise, I never would have expected it. I agree that there seems to be no other resolution for this character in this society. However, Maggie was portrayed as having such an incredible life force throughout the book that I couldn't imagine her just accepting death with her arms wrapped around Tom. For that matter, I couldn't imagine Tom doing that either. I would have thought that they, at least, would have been found dead but fighting for life until the end. I also couldn't imagine Tom being so stupid as to stay out in the current in the boat. The ending is the only unsatisfying part of the book for me. I had a book from the library for a while that was a book of essays about Eliot edited (not written by) Harold Bloom. The essay on The Mill on the Floss criticized this ending as a sop to Victorian society. I'm going to pick it up the next time I'm there and will copy it here for everyone. I understood completely how Maggie could fall for Stephen for many of the reasons others have detailed in their notes. He is singularly undeserving of her love, but the chemistry was raging and she had been a very impulsive, physical thing from the very beginning. I liked the observation made by someone here of the subtle introduction of sexuality in this section. Barb
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (41 of 53), Read 28 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, March 23, 2003 08:36 AM Thanks, Barb, for validating what I felt about the ending. It seemed like romantic glop. The idea that they were found with their arms entwined sounded so physically unlikely, that I almost laughed (if I hadn't been crying so much). Even if they had started out that way, don't you think the very motion of the current would have forced them apart. Can you imagine Maggie just giving up like that? Not very likely. Eliot had given her such lifelike zeal and thirst for life, that she heartily failed her in the end, I think. I read the Introduction later and found a passage that I thought might explain Eliot's killing her off. I don't have the book right with me now, but it was a letter she wrote to someone that seemed almost suicidal. Maybe she had a need for Maggie to die for some vicarious reason. Sherry
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (42 of 53), Read 26 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, March 23, 2003 12:18 PM I finally finished and now have had the special treat of reading all these wonderful notes. WARNING - PLOT SPOILERS! The ending did not upset me nearly as much as some of you because I read somewhere long ago that the heroine of this novel drowned. What did surprise me was that I had expected it to be a suicide. Philip or Stephen? I have to side with Beej on this one. I think most girls would take Stephen any day. Maggie never, ever loved Philip in a romantic way. The word "pity" is used repeatedly to describe her feelings for him. What kind of basis would that be for a marriage? Philip was more "deserving" of love (that hunchback really stacks the sympathy vote in his favor), but Stephen was handsome, passionate, rich and, yes, kind - as was shown by his acceptance of a "deformed" young man as his friend. I saw Maggie as truly trapped at the end of this novel, and for her death was so much an escape from intolerable pain that it seemed almost a kindess; as a result, I could accept it much easier than most of you. The understanding of Lucy and Philip, their conviction that Maggie would never betray them, only served to tighten the bands of obligation around Maggie's heart. Had there been no Lucy and no Philip, Maggie could have been perfectly happy with Stephen. The knowledge that her relationship with Stephen would cause them terrible pain poisoned any chance of future happiness with him. Only a move from St. Oggs could, perhaps, have provided some kind of long term remedy, but Maggie had no money and the role of a poor governess far from home was not one which led to happiness for many Victorian women. One thing that strikes me about the heroines in all of Eliot's books that I have read (Adam Bede, Middlemarch, and Mill on the Floss), is that her heroine's want so much to do good. Eliot herself was intensely religious in her early life and although she rejected formal religion later, a highly developed moral sense remained very important to her. Perhaps with our more flexible attitude towards ethics today, it is harder to understand a heroine like Maggie who was torn between natural physical feelings and the desire to behave in a loving way towards those who had treated her kindly and loved her when she was most in need of it. In our own day, personal happiness is so much the accepted goal that it might be difficult for us to understand a time when obligation played a stronger part. As for Tom, he was after all his father's son, with that same inflexibility that made it impossible for his father to ever admit that he and all his "lawyering" (sorry, Mary Ellen) had brought his problems on himself. But then, Tom too had had a very difficult life;perhaps hardening himself was the price he had to pay to survive. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (43 of 53), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, March 23, 2003 05:27 PM S P O I L E R S, I THINK.... Despite my complaints about the ending, I truly enjoyed this book more than any I've read for a while. What great characters! I was delighted by Aunt Glegg's reaction in the end. Eliot used the character perfectly to emphasize the values of family in that community. I read the Penguin Classics edition which has an introduction by A.S. Byatt. I've finally learned to read these after reading the book. And, this one is very rewarding. Is anyone else reading this edition and have access to this article? If not, I will probably quote from it a bit here. She has some interesting observations about Maggie's attraction for Stephen and about the ending. Barb
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (44 of 53), Read 20 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, March 23, 2003 08:02 PM Oh, I loved it too, Barbara. That's why I was so upset by the ending. Maggie was much more than a fictional character to me. I'd love to hear some of what Byatt had to say. I read a different edition. I need to go look and see which one it was. Sherry
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (45 of 53), Read 22 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Monday, March 24, 2003 12:22 PM The edition I read has lots of appendices: a series of letters written by Eliot concerning the book's publication (and critics' responses) and a selection of criticism from the time of its publication forward. One short essay by Virginia Woolf (I think part of a longer essay on Eliot generally) noted that Eliot had a hard time creating a suitable mate for her heroines. Woolf does not think this is because Eliot couldn't "write" male characters, just that once she creates these larger-than-life heroines, something in her resists creating a man to match. (Don't have the book with me, but I think that's the sense.) I think this is true in this book. Maggie was not in love with Philip, so he's a bad match. But Stephen is too frivolous; he is no match for Maggie's depth. (Strikes me that this observation is borne out in "Middlemarch" too. The men in Dorothea's life are not worthy of her!) Another critic said that Eliot's emotional identification with Maggie (who IS the young Eliot, apparently, but beautiful) leads to another flaw in the book--that we never see Maggie's emotional fly-off-the-hook impulses through the lens of a more mature view. Instead, nearly everything Maggie does seems to have the narrator's approbation. I did not feel this as I read the book, but I did wish that Maggie had some mentor to help guide her through the crises of her short, hard life. (I wondered if her aunt Moss could have fulfilled this role, maybe if she didn't have dozens of her own children!) Mary Ellen
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (46 of 53), Read 19 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Monday, March 24, 2003 06:51 PM Mary Ellen, Good observation that Eliot had difficulty writing male characters worthy of her heroine. In Middlemarch I felt that Lydgate was the obvious perfect mate for Dorothea but they never got together. (Perhaps I shouldn't be quite so critical of Dickens for writing those drippy heroines for his male heros). The edition I read had an afterward by Jane Smiley who seemed perplexed by the idea that Eliot, who herself defied society's expectations and achieved success as an independent woman, could not devise a similar ending for poor Maggie, who resembles her in so many ways. (Note, however, that Maggie was beautiful, and if you have ever seen a painting of Eliot, which presumably flattered the subject more than a photo might have, you cannot help notice that the author was physically very unattractive - plain is too weak a word.) Eliot was one of the great minds of the 19th century, a time when women were assumed to be mentally inferior to men due to their smaller brains. She also lived in an "illicit" relationship with a married man, albeit one whose wife was not only living with another man but regularly bearing his children. When Eliot wrote of the hell those judgmental ladies of St. Ogg created for Maggie after her escapade with Stephen, she undoubtedly knew what she was talking about. Eliot did manage to break free from the social expectations for women, become independent and develop her talents, but from what I have read of her life, she did it at considerable psychic cost. She suffered from tension and depressive symptoms most of her life. George Eliot was a true exception, and she paid the price. Is it really so surprising that she chose a more "realistic" fate for her heroine? It seems to me that the fate of any really strong 19th century heroine I can think of was always sad. Anna Karenina hurls herself under a train, Esther in Bleak House gets her man only after an illness disfigures her face, Jane Eyre can live with Rochester only after he is blinded and maimed, Isobel Archer is trapped in a marriage with a disgusting manipulator. We may not like the message that strong women can't get everything they want, but maybe that was taken for granted in the 19th century. Many people here have expressed dissatisfaction with the ending of this book. Here is my challenge - can you think of a happier ending that would have been true to the characters and their values?
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (47 of 53), Read 20 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, March 24, 2003 10:26 PM That's a very interesting and perceptive challenge. I doubt I can come up with anything, but I'll think about it. Sherry
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (48 of 53), Read 18 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, March 24, 2003 10:50 PM Ann, I was thrilled Dorthea didn't end up with Lydgate! And if I remember right, she was as happy as a clam with Will Ladislaw. I think things would have turned out much better had Lucy fallen in love with and married Philip..and had Maggie married Stephen. Beej
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (49 of 53), Read 15 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 07:41 AM Wow, what a challenge, Ann! I need to think about this for a day or two. In my introduction, A.S. Byatt quotes a contemporary critic, Sir Lytton, who argued that the "tragedy was not adequately prepared." Byatt says that many readers have said that "the sublimely emotional ending is not really part of, or connected to, the rest of the narrative, either in matter or in manner." She says that Eliot responded to Lytton as follows: This is a defect which I felt even while writing the third volume, and have felt ever since the manuscript left me. The "epische Breite" into which I was beguiled by love of my subject in the first two volumes, caused a want of proportionate fullness in the treatment of the third, which I shall always regret. Byatt defines epische Breite as "epic breadth" and goes on to say "The Mill on the Floss is an attempt to combine the leisurely detail of epic, or of the long Goethean novel, with the dramatic force and immediacy of tragedy, specifically Greek tragedy." So, from Eliot's point of view, if I am reading her correctly, it was not the actual ending that was at fault but the development of it. Barb
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (50 of 53), Read 16 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 08:38 AM Beej, Middlemarch - I was in love with Lydgate myself and, with the right woman, I think he could have accomplished all his dreams. As it was, he exhibited all the characteristics of a flawed human being - like the rest of us. Eliot never made Will real to me, so I was most unhappy that Dorothea, one of the greatest characters in literature, ended up with him. Mill on the Floss - Your solution would take care of Philip and Maggie nicely, but I can't see the pretty little Lucy, who had always had the best of everything, settling for poor Phil. Incidentally, according to Frederick R. Karl's biography of George Eliot, Philip was based in part on an acquaintance of Eliot's by the name of M. Francois D'Albert. For a time Eliot boarded with D'Albert's family. Like Philip, he also suffered a deformity of the spine caused by a boyhood accident. Eliot describes him as not more than four feet tall as a result of his deformity, but quite charming. Unlike Philip, he married and had two sons. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (51 of 53), Read 16 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 08:46 AM PLOT SPOILERS Barb, Thanks for the information from Byatt's essay. The idea that Eliot didn't prepare the reader well enough for the intended tragedy makes sense. As I said earlier, I knew coming in that the heroine drowned, and that probably made a difference in my acceptance of the ending. I think one could also argue that ending the book with a great natural tragedy was a bit of a cop out, although Maggie's death was caused by her own decision to try to rescue her brother and mother. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (52 of 53), Read 13 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 01:24 PM Ann, I thoroughly agree that Will was not worthy of Dorothea, just as Stephen not worthy of Maggie. And I think the Philip- Lucy match-up would be unsatisfactory on both sides. Pretty little Lucy needed a pretty little husband (and got one in Stephen) and Philip needed a woman whose mind could match his own. I can't come up with a happier ending for Maggie within the confines of this story. (Of course, Eliot could have sent her off to work somewhere, where she'd meet a man who'd combine Stephen's looks, Philip's depth, with the fortunes of both!). I object to the ending because it seemed too neat a way of finishing the book, as if Eliot couldn't bear the dreary future ahead of Maggie and so cut it short. Even though Eliot had this ending in mind all along, I still think it was cheating. Mary Ellen
From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, March 25, 2003 03:48 PM Mary Ellen, I agree it was cheating in that Eliot left it to the elements to resolve the story. What do you think - would the ending have felt less contrived if Maggie had decided to drown herself in the river because she had lost all hope? That's what I really expected to happen. Ann
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, March 30, 2003 02:46 PM It looks like I'm getting back here with this after the discussion has died down, but, hopefully, some of you will still be thinking about this book as much as I am. Also, I seem to remember that there were others who were going to be finishing later so I'll just go ahead. In her introduction to my edition, A.S. Byatt says that the only philosopher with whom Eliot claimed to be entirely in accord was Ludwig Feuerbach. Feuerbach said that the great failing of Christianity was its tendency to see all men as one and the same with a concurrent difficulty in the appreciation of difference. However, in addition to this, Feuerbach also felt that sexual love is the highest experience of reality and dismissed the sexless Christian God as immoral. Following this information, Byatt says the following about Maggie's choice of Stephen Guest and Eliot's attitudes toward sexuality: Of all the great English nineteenth-century novelists George Eliot best understood and presented the imperative need to come to terms with, to recognize, sexual energy and sexual desire. Critics who judge that Stephen Guest, handsome and provincial, or Will Ladislaw, boyish, emotional, wayward, are 'unworthy' of those complex moral women, Maggie Tulliver and Dorothea Casaubon, ignore the fact that both Stephen and Will have what the other men in their novels (Philip, Casaubon, even Lydgate) notably lack: they have a direct, instinctive, powerful sexual presence, and in matters of sex they are driven to know what they desire and to develop love from desire. Both Stephen and Will behave well to the women they come to love, though both are in positions where their love is substantially prohibited by custom, social propriety, good taste. They are sexually honest, and they communicate their sexual feelings clearly to the women they love and they develop morally through contact with them. (Stephen's letters after the failed attempt to run off with Maggie seem, both to this reader and to Dr. Kenn in the novel, to propound the solution which is morally least damaging and indeed most hopeful to the predicament caused by involuntary desire.) It was fashionable earlier this century to accuse George Eliot of prim, heavy-handed moralism. Her contemporaries knew her, or some of them knew her, better. Since we had discussed the factor of sexuality present in this story as well as Maggie's choice of Stephen, I thought this excerpt from A.S. Byatt's introduction to my edition was particularly pertinent. Barb
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (57 of 65), Read 20 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, March 30, 2003 02:52 PM Also, Ann, after thinking about your question about the ending, I realized that I would have loved it if Maggie had gone off to be the governess for a family who would recognize her gifts and provide her the means to acquire an education. How unlikely would that have been! Also, it wouldn't have addressed Maggie's obvious need for family, as well as sexual, love. So, I guess that I wish she would have followed up on Stephen's proposal in the letter to marry him. By coming back, she had already shown Philip and Lucy how hard she had tried to fight the attraction. They had forgiven her. Hopefully, with that knowledge, she could eventually forgive herself. My only problem with this solution is that I don't have a lot of faith in Stephen's ability to respect Maggie's differences once the initial bloom of passion had worn off. And, there would have been those awful sisters to deal with! Barb
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (58 of 65), Read 18 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, March 30, 2003 07:35 PM Barb, Thanks for that very interesting quote from Byatt. I personally had no trouble seeing the romantic attraction of Stephen Guest. I would only like to point out that even if Eliot recognized the importance of sexual love for women, she sure seemed bent on denying it to poor Maggie. For me Lydgate in Middlemarch had plenty of sex appeal and after suffering through the nightmare of marriage to one of the creepiest husband in British literature - Cassaubon - Dorothea certainly deserved a real man like Lydgate. My problem with Will was that he was so thinly drawn that there just didn't seem to be much to him. However, I do think that Byatt makes a valid point in saying that both Stephen and Will are basically decent men who have genuine feelings for their respective heroines. The old adage says that time heels all wounds (or is it wounds all heels?). Mabye if Maggie had gone away for awhile, her cousin could have recovered from the blow to her pride and Phil might have become a bit reconciled to Maggie's loss. If either of these characters had shown open anger at Maggie, I think she might have been able to turn to Stephen again. It's a difficult thing to live with so much forgiveness. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (59 of 65), Read 17 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ernest Belden Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2003 12:33 AM I have been wondering about the nature of the relationship between Maggie and Tom, her brother. It seems terribly ambivalent and while there is no doubt about Maggie's love I am not too sure that loving his sister was one of Tom's priorities. I am still not at the end but note that Maggie shows interest in Lucy's future husband and vice versa. George Eliot's strength is in describing intimate feelings and relationships between both sexes but also between just between women. As I have noted in another book of this period (either Eliot or Dickens) class consciousness was of tremendous importance. There was probably nothing worse than loss of social status and our present book is in large part about fear and terror of such loss. I could well understand the reason for it after reading The Portable Victorian Reader, edited by Gordon S. Haight (Penguin) It contains a large number of stories of this period by Dickens, Eliot, Bronte, Trollope and Butler. It describes in detail the life of the unfortunate lower class and the nature of the "Poor House". I can highly recommend this volume to all those interested in what life was like in those days. Ernie
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (60 of 65), Read 16 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2003 08:25 AM Ernie, Maggie's relationship with Tom was based in part on Eliot's relationship with her own brother, from whom she was completely estranged after she started living "in sin" with George Lewes. They did finally reconcile at the end of her life after Lewes died and Eliot contracted a conventional marriage with a younger man. You made an excellent point about the importance of maintaining class position in this book, especially for those in the middle classes who risked sinking into abject poverty. There weren't many second chances and Tom achieved the almost impossible task of paying back the family debts and restoring the family's respectability. For Maggie to risk that respectability was understandably very upsetting to him. But at the core of the conflict, I think, was that they were two opposite personality types. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (61 of 65), Read 20 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2003 12:50 PM Ann, I agree that there is more behind Tom's anger than just the loss of family respectability. *** SPOILER *** After all, Aunt Glegg, whose life revolved around her exalted sense of family respectability, leaped to Maggie's defense and took Stephen's letter (for what is was) as the truth. Tom didn't. From their childhood, he enjoyed judging Maggie and punishing her for what he saw as her shortcomings. At some point in the last volume, he throws it at Maggie that he, too, was in love, but had to set his feelings aside. The only feeling he gave full reign, it seems, was his strong desire for vengeance & punishment. Perhaps his self-discipline in other aspects of his life made him more resentful of Maggie's impulsive behavior. In Book 6, Chapter 6, Eliot writes that a person's history is "a thing hardly to be predicted even from the completest knowledge of characteristics. For the tragedy of our lives is not created entirely from within." She then critiques Novalis' aphorism, "character is destiny." I wonder why Eliot included this, particularly since Eliot portrays in Maggie someone whose character seems to doom her to unhappiness from the start. (Someone who lives to be loved but is not able to make herself loved, in part for lack of insight into how others will respond to her actions.) Mary Ellen
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (62 of 65), Read 21 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2003 01:04 PM Don't you think a lot of Tom's anger came from losing the mill that had been in his father's family forever? Wasn't Tom the one who would have inherited the Mill? I'm sure his family's place in society had some bearing, but I think too Tom had always taken for granted that the Mill would rightfully belong to him someday. He saw himself down the road, 'lord of the manor,' a gentleman, riding his steed across the land, answering to no one...and then, before he knew what was happening, it was all gone..and not just gone, but gone to the man he most abhorred. Tom's pride carried him a long way but the price he paid was way too high. Beej
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (63 of 65), Read 19 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Tuesday, April 01, 2003 03:58 PM Mary Ellen, Do you think Eliot meant that outside forces beyond our control are just as important in determining our fate as our character? I remember being confused about that when I read it, but I don't have the book here to check out the context. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (64 of 65), Read 14 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Wednesday, April 02, 2003 06:52 PM Ann, I think that is exactly what she meant. She gave as example, if Hamlet's father had lived a long life, and Claudius died young, "we can conceive Hamlet's having married Ophelia, and got through life with a reputation of sanity, notwithstanding many soliloquies, and some moody sarcasms towards the fair daughter of Polonius, to say nothing of the frankest incivility to his father-in-law." I was wondering why she would bother to include these musings in her text (unless for the pleasure of including the witty riff on Hamlet), as the premise--that circumstances as well as character shape our destiny--is so unremarkable. Yes, if there'd been no flood, Maggie's life would have turned out differently. But I can't picture it turning out well. Was there a strong sense among Victorians that character was everything? Mary Ellen
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, April 02, 2003 10:06 PM Mary Ellen, In Tom's case, character seemed to be everything. Of course, it wasn't tested until his family lost everything. Ann
From: Ernest Belden Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 12:41 AM I put the book aside perhaps 100 pages from the end in order to get started on Two Years Before the Mast. Finished Eliot just the other evening. I also read some of the last postings. Now I have lots and lots of ideas and thoughts, most of them probably expressed by others before me. I believe either Barb or Ann discussed the ending which came as a total surprise. I mean of course the flood that killed both Tom and Maggie. Perhaps poor George Eliot felt herself in a bind because no matter what anyone did, it "Just would not be right." Trust, morality, family ties, etc. would be violated. So George invented a drastic intervention from "Above". Maggie and Tom are once more embracing each other in death. There were no violations of trust on anyone's part. Maggie did not need to make a decision or escape (perhaps become a nun). I believe that after everybody had suffered suffciently and no painless solution offered itself Maggie was trapped by her conscience so God needed to intervene or the novel would continue for ever. I can only see one human flaw in Maggie. She could not get angry and tell everybody who stuck his or her nose in her affairs to back off. Perhaps she was too strong or (too weak) to decide on a course of action and in the process step one someboody's toes. This particular novel struck me as the best of Eliot's writing. I truly loved the book and yes, I loved Maggie as she was characterized, regardless of her outlook, her indecision or questionable judgment. She is a type that would appeal to me. Can I say more...? Ernie
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (67 of 69), Read 13 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Sherry Keller Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 07:16 AM I loved Maggie, too, Ernie, and was really upset that Eliot killed her off. I really wanted her to figure out some way for her to have a happy life. She was such a force of life, that having her die seemed really out of character for the book. But I'll just have to make up my own ending, something Ann suggested we try to do, but I haven't come up with anything totally satisfying. Sherry
From: Ernest Belden Date: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 08:50 PM Sherry, Making up your end to the Mill on the Floss is a wonderful idea. I am going to have Maggie get married to Phil and tell Tom to mind his own business, get married, have fun and lay off all the busy work he is engaged in. Lucy will come around and perhaps she and her old love could make up, get married and bring nice well behaved children into the world. That would make for a happy ending. The oldsters involved to the proper thing, i.namely. enjoy their last few years instead of interfering and scandalmongering. Too bad we have to invent that on our own.... Ernie
From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, April 17, 2003 07:40 AM My imaginary ending is just like yours, Ernie. Since the real ending is also imaginary, we can chose our own, don't you think? Sherry
From: Martin Porter Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 06:04 AM I still have not finished the book (100 pages to go), but having read the entire discussion, spoilers and all, I feel its plot at least holds no further surprises. I'm interested how the discussion has focussed on the twin topics of the loves and final fate of Maggie. But I think Tom, as a character, is equally important, even if he is not so great a creation. Tom, it seems to me, is the perfect English Puritan. All good and evil lies in our actions, and we will all be strictly judged by them. 'You never do wrong, Tom,' said Maggie tauntingly. 'Not if I know it,' answered Tom, with proud sincerity. (Book 5 Ch 5) Tom, like Aunt Glegg, and indeed most of his mother's relations, sees poverty as a just punishment for financial mismanagement. So withholding charity from the poor is a just, as well as a selfishly useful action. Tom is quite consistent in his rigid virtue: he expects no charity, just as he gives none himself. (I have read that the poor under the Commonwealth were much worse off than under Charles I, as the Puritans got their hands on the financial levers of state.) The danger of Tom to the rest of us is his narrow conception of 'good'. Keeping faith with a malevolent oath in the family bible means far more to him that his sister's happiness. Tom is the 19th century Political Economist who let the Irish starve, or the heir of the Pilgrim Fathers, who hanged Quakers and burned witches in New England. Generally, he is the Puritan spirit, and Maggie the people who suffered under it. I think Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter explores the same theme. Maggie and the 'deformed Philip' is interesting, and I wonder if it is a reaction to Jane Eyre? It is almost as if George Eliot is saying 'my heroine is not so spiritual that she can only marry a hero who has received his due share of grievous bodily harm.' Aurora Leigh, which came out only a couple of years before TMOTF, also had the Jane Eyre-type ending. At one point, cousin Lucy seems to be planning the happy ending: 'Oh, I will puzzle my small brain to contrive some plot that will bring everybody into the right mind, so that you will marry Philip, when I marry - someone else.' Lucy Deane should have joined our discussion in Constant Reader! But I think Beej has got to be right, even though I haven't read the fatal scene - the ending it gets is the only ending it could have had. Nathan Tate gave King Lear a happy ending, but the result is most unsatisfying.
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (71 of 77), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 06:16 AM Incidentally, can anyone tell me where exactly The Floss and St Oggs are meant to be? My edition has no notes ...
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (72 of 77), Read 13 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 10:57 AM Martin, Thanks for putting Tom's character in an historical perspective. Your analysis makes his behavior very understandable. Do you think people like Tom exist today? My take on it is that there are people who are every bit as judgmental- mostly about others, but sometimes applying their rigid standards to themselves as Tom did. However,we seem to have moved beyond equating moral worth with material success. Or have we? In choosing not to have Maggie end up with Philip, Eliot chose the realistic, rather than the romantic path. Many people here disagree with me, but I wonder how many could see themselves in that relationship. In many ways I think that Philip, rather than Maggie was the truly tragic figure in Mill on the Floss. Interesting that you would ask us about the setting, Martin! I got out my world atlas and searched, but couldn't pinpoint the area. Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (73 of 77), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 12:01 PM Well, the Floss and St Ogg's aren't real place names, but I thought they might stand for real places, as in Thomas Hardy. Something I found very interesting in the book is what seems to be an implicit theory of education. Eliot seems to be saying that Tom is (a) receiving an education he does not need, (b) learning stuff for which he has no aptitude, and (c) being taught it badly as well. But she is obviously quite familiar with the classics herself. Did she believe this knowledge of her own was not of great value? I rather doubt that. (a) suggests that she sees the classics as appropriate for the rich, who don't need to work, and for whom education is a luxury. If you need to get your hands dirty, Latin is a waste of time. (b) suggests that classics is for the clever. More generally, it suggests a two-tiered educational system, an academic layer, and a technical layer beneath. This is quite common around Europe I believe, but has never taken off in England. Again it comes down to class: Latin was an entrance requirement to Oxford and Cambridge until about 1960, and was the staple education in the public (our private) schools. It survived for so long because its class associations I think. My daughter, who goes to a private school (but it is not classed as a public school) learns Latin. She can't wait to give it up!
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (74 of 77), Read 12 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 01:36 PM I doubt Eliot was making a statement about education in general - more about what was suited for Tom in particular. I think he would have disliked Latin even if he had had a good teacher. Tom was interested in practical applications, and saw no use in dead languages or theory. The irony was that Maggie would have delighted in the classical education that was denied her because she was a girl. Their minds were very different. During the first part of the book, I thought Tom was a complete dolt; I was surprised when when he was able to succeed in business. Incidentally, I studied Latin for 3 years in high school and thoroughly enjoyed it. Perhaps it improved my vocabulary. It certainly deepend my appreciation for history. Other than that, I can't think of any practical benefits - oh, yeah, it was a Catholic school and one of the very few classes with both boys and girls in it. I was surprised to hear you say that England does not have a two-tiered education system. I had thought that those who didn't intend to go to college quit at age 15 and took different quite courses before then. Please elaborate. Here in the United States, it is quite possible not to follow a college prep course in high school, but later go on for higher education. Is the same true in England? Ann
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (75 of 77), Read 14 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Martin Porter Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 04:15 PM Ann, Oh it's multi-tiered in England: what I was talking about was the difference between what might call 'academic' and 'technical' educations. But why do you doubt Eliot was making a statement about education? It seems to me she was very interested in the subject, and she frequently steps outside the action to explain to the reader the shortcomings of Tom's schooling.
Topic: The Mill on the Floss (76 of 77), Read 10 times Conf: Classics Corner From: Ann Davey Date: Sunday, April 20, 2003 09:25 PM Martin, I think Eliot was criticizing BAD classical education, but I think it might be going to far to say she was suggesting that the classics were only worthwhile for those who didn't need to work. But then again, I could be wrong. Ann
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, April 21, 2003 07:16 AM I think she was mostly critical of the way adults blithely tried to change their children's natures by either forcing an inappropriate education on them or withholding one. The teacher in Tom's case seemed a dim bulb, but Maggie would have loved what he had to offer. Tom would have loved nothing more than to be an apprentice to his father. Sherry
From: Barbara Moors Date: Wednesday, April 23, 2003 02:43 PM I thought that Tom's character was absolutely timeless. I know a lot of people who want to see every issue in absolute black or white, no greys. It's just a lot more satisfying to them to have a neat little cubbyhole for everything. I'm doomed to seeing shades of grey everywhere. Barb

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