Synopsis

Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family.

As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother, a close friend who is also the son of her family’s worst enemy, and a charismatic but dangerous suitor.

With its poignant portrayal of sibling relationships, The Mill on the Floss is considered George Eliot’s most autobiographical novel; it is also one of her most powerful and moving.

Characters

Maggie Tulliver

Extremely Imaginative and affectionate, Maggie dotes on her brother and farther. Her family regaredher as ‘comical’ and subordinate to Tom, and she grows up with a ‘keen sense of unmarried reproach’.

Tom Tulliver

Maggie’s dominating older brother. His overwhelming desire is to achieve mastery over others, which he calls ‘justice’. His rigid sense of right and wrong makes him a determined businessman. 

Mr Tulliver

Head of the ‘Proud’ Family, owner of the mill and ‘hot tempered’, he fears change and distrusts lawyers.

Mrs Tulliver

The ‘good-tempered’ and placid mother, who was once good-looking but not “o’er cute”.

The “Aunts”

Mrs Tulliver’s sisters who represent petty bourgeois St Ogg’s, Mrs Pullet, a hypochondriac in permanent fear of dying. Mrs Glegg, a noisy, interfering busybody. Mrs Dean, the snobbish wife of a proud self-made man.

Philip Waken

A bright and sensitive young man, isolated from society by his deformity, who falls in love with Maggie. But his lawyer father is the cause of the Tullivers downfall.

Stephen Guest

Handsome and charming friend to Philip Waken and fiance to Maggie’s cousin Lucy Deane. He typifies male sexual magnetism.

Quotes

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.

Opening Line

“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it, if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up again every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat lisping to ourselves on the grass, the same hips and haws on the autumn hedgerows, the same redbreasts that we used to call ‘God’s birds’ because they did no harm to the precious crops. What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known and loved because it is known?”

“I am not imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean.”

“Don’t judge a book by its cover”

“I desire no future that will break the ties of the past.”

“Poetry and art and knowledge are sacred and pure.”

“No anguish I have had to bear on your account has been too heavy a price to pay for the new life into which I have entered in loving you.”

“She thought it was part of the hardship of her life that there was laid upon her the burthen of larger wants than others seemed to feel – that she had to endure this wide hopeless yearning for that something, whatever it was, that was greatest and best on this earth.”

“If you deliver an opinion at all, it is mere stupidity not to do it with an air of conviction and well-founded knowledge. You make it your own in uttering it, and naturally get fond of it.”

Saints and martyrs had never interested Maggie so much as sages and poets.

“I’ve never any pity for conceited people, because I think they carry their comfort about with them.”

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.”

About George Elliot

George Elliot

Early life and education

George Elliot who’s real name Mary Ann Evans was born on the 22nd November 1819 in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. The third child of Robert Evans (1773–1849) and Christiana Evans (née Pearson, 1788–1836). Although her name was Mary Ann, it was sometimes shortened to Marian. 

Her full siblings were Christiana, known as Chrissey (1814–59), Isaac (1816–1890), and twin brothers who died a few days after birth in March 1821. She also had a half-brother, Robert (1802–64), and half-sister, Fanny (1805–82), from her father’s previous marriage to Harriet Poynton (1780-1809).

Her father Robert Evans, had a job as the manager  of the Arbury Hall Estate for the Newdigate family in Warwickshire, with Mary Ann being born on the estate at South Farm. However In early 1820 the family moved to a house named Griff House, between Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Due to the fact that Evans was not considered physically beautiful as well as intelligent  and a voracious reader and obviously intelligent. They thought she did not have  much of a chance of marriage. With these things in mind, her father decided to invest in an education not often given to girls at the time.. 

From ages five to nine, she boarded with her sister Chrissey at Miss Latham’s school in Attleborough, from ages nine to thirteen at Mrs. Wallington’s school in Nuneaton, and from ages 13 to 16 at Miss Franklin’s school in Coventry. At Mrs. Wallington’s school, she was taught by the evangelical Maria Lewis — to whom her earliest surviving letters are addressed. In the religious atmosphere of the Misses Franklin’s school, Evans was exposed to a quiet, disciplined belief opposed to evangelicalism.

After sixteen, Evans had little formal education. However thanks to her father’s important role on the estate, she had access to the library of Arbury Hall, which greatly aided her self-education and breadth of learning. 

Her classical education left its mark; with themes from  Greek tragedy. Also her  visits to the library meant that Evans was able to see the difference in wealth, which the local landowner and the workers on the estate, this often happens in her work as  different lives lived in parallel would appear in many of her works. 

Another important early influence in her life was religion. She was brought up within a low church Anglican family, but at that time the Midlands was an area with a growing number of religious dissenters.

Coventry

When Evans was 16 in 1836 her mother died, she returned home to act as housekeeper, but she continued correspondence with her tutor Maria Lewis. At the age 21, her brother Isaac married and took over the family home, so Evans and her father moved to Foleshill near Coventry. 

The closeness to Coventry society brought new influences, most notably those of Charles and Cara Bray. Bray had become rich as a ribbon manufacturer and had used his wealth in the building of schools and in other philanthropic causes.

Evans, who had religious doubts for some time, became friends with the radical, free-thinking Brays, whose home was used as a haven for people who held and debated radical views. 

The people whom the young woman met at the Brays’ house included Robert Owen, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through this society Evans was introduced to more liberal and agnostic theologies and to writers such as David Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach, who cast doubt on the literal truth of Biblical stories. 

In fact, her first major literary work was an English translation of Strauss’s The Life of Jesus (1846), which she completed after it had been left incomplete by another member of the “Rosehill Circle”; later she translated Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (1854). As a product of their friendship, Bray published some of Evans’s earliest writing, such as reviews, in his newspaper the Coventry Herald and Observer.

Evans’ father threatened to throw her out of the house because of her religious attitudes, however this threat was not carried out. Instead, she respectfully attended church and continued to keep house for him until the age of 30 when her father died in 1849. 

She travelled to Switzerland with the Brays, five days after the funeral of her father. Deciding to stay on in Geneva alone, living first on the lake at Plongeon (near the present-day United Nations buildings).  

Her second home was the second floor of a house owned by her friends François and Juliet d’Albert Durade on the rue de Chanoines (now the rue de la Pelisserie).  

Portrait of Eliot, c. 1849

While residing there, she read avidly and took long walks in the beautiful Swiss countryside, which was a great inspiration to her. François Durade painted her portrait there as well.

Move to London and editorship of the Westminster Review

Returning to England in 1850, she moved to London with the aim of becoming a writer, and she began referring to herself as Marian Evans. staying at the house of John Chapman, the same radical publisher who had published her Strauss translation. 

Chapman had purchased the campaigning, left-wing journal The Westminster Review. Evans became its assistant editor in 1851 after joining just a year earlier. 

Evans’ writings for the paper were based on her views of society and the Victorian way of Thinking. In addition to being sympathetic to the lower classes and criticised organised religion throughout her work.

Women writers were common at the time, but Evans’s role as the female editor of a literary magazine was quite unusual. During this period, she formed a number of unreciprocated emotional attachments, including one with Chapman (who was married, but lived with both his wife and his mistress), and another with Herbert Spencer.

In 1850–51, Evans attended classes in mathematics at the Ladies College in Bedford Square, later known as Bedford College, London.

Relationship with George Lewes

The philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes (1817–78) met Evans in 1851, and by 1854 they had decided to live together. Lewes was already married to Agnes Jervis, although in an open marriage. In addition to the three children they had together, Agnes also had four children by Thornton Leigh Hunt. 

In July 1854, Lewes and Evans travelled to Weimar and Berlin together for the purpose of research. Before going to Germany, Evans continued her theological work with a translation of Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, and while abroad she wrote essays and worked on her translation of Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, which she completed in 1856, but which was not published in her lifetime.

Going to  Germany also served as a “honeymoon” for Evans and Lewes, who subsequently considered themselves married. Evans began to refer to Lewes as her husband and to sign her name as Mary Ann Evans Lewes. Eventually, after Lewes’ death, she legally changed her name to Mary Ann Evans Lewes.

It was not unusual for men in Victorian society to have adulterous affairs, if they were conducted with discretion. By contrast, Lewes and Evans declined to conceal their relationship, and it was this refusal which perhaps gave an additional edge to the reproaches of contemporary moralists.

Career in fiction

While  contributing pieces to the Westminster Review, Evans resolved to become a novelist, setting out a  manifesto in one of her last essays for the Review,. The essay criticised the trivial and ridiculous plots of contemporary fiction written by women. In other essays, she praised the realism of novels that were being written in Europe at the time, an emphasis on realistic storytelling confirmed in her own subsequent fiction. 

Evans also adopted a nom-de-plume, George Eliot; as she explained to her biographer J. W. Cross, George was Lewes’s forename, and Eliot was “a good mouth-filling, easily pronounced word”.

In 1857, when she was 37 years of age, “The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton”, the first of the three stories included in Scenes of Clerical Life, and the first work of “George Eliot”, was published in Blackwood’s Magazine. 

Evans’s first complete novel, published in 1859, was Adam Bede. It was an instant success, and prompted yet more intense curiosity as to the author’s identity: there was even a pretender to the authorship, one Joseph Liggins. This public interest subsequently led to Marian Evans Lewes’s acknowledgment that it was she who stood behind the pseudonym George Eliot. 

The revelations about Eliot’s private life surprised and shocked many of her admiring readers, but this did not affect her popularity as a novelist. Her relationship with Lewes afforded her the encouragement and stability she needed to write fiction.

t it would be some time before the couple were accepted into polite society. Acceptance was finally confirmed in 1877 when they were introduced to Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria. The queen herself was an avid reader of all of Eliot’s novels and was so impressed with Adam Bede that she commissioned the artist Edward Henry Corbould to paint scenes from the book.

After the success of Adam Bede, Eliot continued to write popular novels for the next fifteen years. With her last novel was Daniel Deronda, published in 1876, after which she and Lewes moved to Witley, Surrey. By this time Lewes’s health was failing, and he died two years later, on 30 November 1878.

 Eliot spent the next two years editing Lewes’s final work, Life and Mind, for publication, and found solace and companionship with John Walter Cross, a Scottish commission agent 20 years her junior, whose mother had recently died.

Marriage to John Cross and death

On 16 May 1880 Eliot married John Walter Cross (1840–1924) and again changed her name, this time to Mary Ann Cross. While the marriage courted some controversy due to the difference in ages, it pleased her brother Isaac, who had broken off relations with her when she had begun to live with Lewes, and now sent congratulations. 

While the couple were honeymooning in Venice, Cross, in a fit of depression, jumped from the hotel balcony into the Grand Canal. He survived, and the newlyweds returned to England. They moved to a new house in Chelsea, but Eliot fell ill with a throat infection. This, coupled with the kidney disease with which she had been afflicted for several years, led to her death on 22 December 1880 at the age of 61.

George Elliot’s Grave

Eliot was not buried in Westminster Abbey Because of Elliots denial of the Christian faith and her adulterous affair with Lewes, she was not buried at Westminster Abbey so Evans was buried in Highgate Cemetery (East), Highgate, London instead. In the area reserved for societal outcasts, religious dissenters and agnostics, beside the love of her life, George Henry Lewes. The graves of Karl Marx and her friend Herbert Spencer are nearby. In 1980, on the centenary of her death, a memorial stone was established for her in the Poets’ Corner.

Several landmarks in her birthplace of Nuneaton are named in her honour. These include The George Eliot School, Middlemarch Junior School, George Eliot Hospital (formerly Nuneaton Emergency Hospital),and George Eliot Road, in Foleshill, Coventry.

A statue of Eliot is in Newdegate Street, Nuneaton, and Nuneaton Museum & Art Gallery has a display of artifacts related to her. 

Bibliography

Novels

TitlePublication
Adam Bede1859
The Mill on the Floss1860
Silas Marner1861
Romola1863
Felix Holt, The Radical1866
Middlemarch1871-72
Daniel Deronda1876
Novels
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Poetry

TitleDate
In a London Drawingroom1865
Two Lovers1866
The Choir Invisible1867
The Spanish Gypsy1868
Agatha1869
Brother and Sister1869
How Lisa Loved the King1869
Armgart1871
Stradivarius1873
The Legend of Jubal1874
I Grant You Ample Leave1874
Arion1874
A Minor Prophet1874
A College Breakfast Party1879
The Death of Moses1879
Count That Day Lost1887
Poems

Film

FilmDate
Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe1985
A simple Twist of Fate (Silas Marner)1994
The Mill on the Floss1997
George Elliot:A Scandalous Life2002

TV Shows

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TitleEpisodesDate
Middlemarch71968
Daniel Deronda61970
The Mill on the Floss81978-1979
Screen One Adam Bede11992
Middlemarch71994
Masterpeice Theatre Mill on the Floss11997
Daniel Deronda42002
TV Shows
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