George Eliot is the third Victorian female author whose novel I’ve ever read. The first is Louisa May Alcott (which I have failed), then Anna Sewell. And I have to confess sadly that Sewell is the only one so far I could get on very well; meaning that The Mill on The Floss did not quite impressed me like I have expected. I can blame it on Zola, for I confessed that I haven’t completely moved on from La Bête Humaine before I took The Mill, but I think it’s just me.
The Mill on the Floss is about the Tullivers who owned Dorlcote Mill on the bank of Floss River. There Tom and Maggie Tulliver had a happy childhood and formed an intimate bond as brother and sister. Until one day the Tullivers lost their fortune, land and mill from bankruptcy. Tom must drop out his education and were forced to finance the family on very early age, while the whole family was suffering from humiliation. Meanwhile Maggie met Philip Wakem, the son of Tullivers’ enemy, a hunchback and deformed young man who fell in love with Maggie. Inspired by the childhood sentimental friendship and out of pity, Maggie met Philip secretly.
Years later Tom successfully restored the family honor by paying the debt. While Philip was once again trying to renew his approach to Maggie, the girl found herself attracted to Stephen—her cousin’s fiancée—who returned her feeling. Now Maggie was in a dilemma between love and conscience. Which one should she accept: the man she didn’t love but she couldn’t hurt the heart; or the man she’s in love with, who belonged to her beloved cousin?
Actually this book is rather flat to me especially in the early pages, which I often skipped whenever the story switched to the nonsense Gleggs or Pullets. And although the ending is unexpected—but quite cliché—Eliot has failed to grab me deep into the story.
From the main characters, I did not find any favorite, Maggie is the least one. I felt there was a contradiction in her personality. In a way she was a smart girl with self-esteem, and person like this usually acts more from logic than from emotion. At first I imagined Maggie would grow up like Isabel Archer in The Portrait of A Lady; but the more I follow her story, the more I’m astonished to find Maggie turned to be sentimental and always in confused state. She kept changing her decision and could not be firm with what she has decided.
I think the main youngsters in this story were all selfish in their own ways—yes, even Maggie. Tom was the ‘best of the bad’ for me, for although he was selfish and narrow minded, he has been successful in fulfilling his father’s will. I can’t blame him too much because he had grown up with the fixed idea which his father, the families and the society have planted on him that family honor is number one. Tom has carried a burden too heavy for him; and in that situation, there’s no place for any imagination, and that’s why he kept carrying a straight purpose in life; because he saw that’s the only way he could survive.
Stephen Guest was a pure egoist man. He was born and grown up as the son of a rich and honorable family; he always got what he needed. I think there were a lot of examples of his kind. Philip Wakem was the most annoying one for me. I know that it’s hard to live as a half-crippled man, but that didn’t give him the right to force others to make him happier or make his life easier. It was selfishness too; and I always dislike people who pity himself and make his weakness as an excuse. Life is hard for everyone, but our Creator gives us the mean to survive. To be different with others doesn’t mean we are weaker than them. Wake up Wakem! Don’t just drown yourself in romantic love, there’re many other things in life you can pursue!
And last but not least there is Maggie, the so called ‘heroine’. Maggie was a person who always longed for love, she needed to be treated passionately and be forgiven from her faults, but she never tried quite hard to repentant. Maybe it’s because she was careless and lived in her own dreams; but perhaps it’s because she was indifferent; she lived only for herself. Maggie chose to be with Philip because she didn’t want to hurt Philip and Lucy. That’s ridiculous because with that, she would hurt Stephen AND Philip, because she never loved him. Nonetheless, Maggie kept her decision, because marrying Philip would be a martyrdom kind of act of her love. Selfishness… or narrow-mindedness?
With The Mill on The Floss, Eliot would like to criticize people prejudices; and particularly prejudices which made women suffered. Maggie, with her different way of thinking than the society, have successively made infamous decisions which invited unfair prejudices from the society. Both Maggie and Stephen would be cheating to their supposed partners; but while people forgave Stephen, they judged Maggie severely. This only reflect where women’s position in the society was when Eliot lived—in 19th century—as this novel was also a semi-autobiographical story of Mary Anne Evans, the real name of George Eliot.
Three stars for The Mill on the Floss.
I read the Penguin English Library paperback version
This book is counted for:
Baca Bareng BBI 2013 (April – book about woman/written by a woman)
3rd book for Read Big! Reading Challenge
5th book for New Authors Reading Challenge 2013
42nd book for The Classics Club