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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Mill on the Floss: Part Two (May 21-27)

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message 1: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
This is the thread for the discussion of Part Two.

Tom begins his boarding school with Mr. Stelling. He misses home and happy when Maggie visits him and stays with him a fortnight. A new pupil, Philip, arrives at the boarding school. Maggie visits a second time and befriends Philip.

1) Was Mr. Stelling’s teaching effective on Tom?
2) What were Tom’s feelings towards Philip? Was he happy to form an acquaintance with him?
3) Did Tom’s injury helped to alter his view on Philip?
4) How does Maggie feel about Philip?


message 2: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 32 comments here are my thoughts on your questions Piyangie:

1) Was Mr. Stelling’s teaching effective on Tom?

Not really! Tom is not so sharp. In fact, Mr. Stelling described his slowness as akin to having a congenital deficiency. He absorbed some, but not so much. One can only wonder how Maggie would have soared with the same education!


2) What were Tom’s feelings towards Philip? Was he happy to form an acquaintance with him?

Ultimately, Tom couldn't get over his disgust at Philip's deformity. He was lonely, so he appreciated having a playmate for awhile, but the two were made of such 'different metals' that ultimately their friendship could not be sustained over time.


3) Did Tom’s injury helped to alter his view on Philip?

Yes, Philip's care helped softened Tom towards Philip after their fight regarding Tom's drill training, but it didn't last.


4) How does Maggie feel about Philip?

Maggie felt sorry for Philip but did care about him and admired his compassion and cleverness.


message 3: by Dianne (last edited May 21, 2017 10:06AM) (new)

Dianne | 32 comments I found the commentary on education for children similar to Tom interesting - it sounds like it was totally haphazard with no organization or formality whatsoever. Was it common for various individuals to offer to educate youths without formal training? Was this generally designed to provide a broad education, and for what purpose? It was clear Tom intended to take over his father's farm, why was Mr. Tulliver opposed to this?

I wonder what Tom's next steps will be now that the farm is to be lost and Mr. Tulliver has lost his wits! And goodness only knows how Mrs. Tulliver will cope! I suspect Maggie will be the sustaining force that holds the family together.


message 4: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
Dianne wrote: "here are my thoughts on your questions Piyangie:

1) Was Mr. Stelling’s teaching effective on Tom?

Not really! Tom is not so sharp. In fact, Mr. Stelling described his slowness as akin to having ..."


Mr. Stelling's teaching was not what Tom was looking for, nor what Mr. Tulliver really wanted his son to have. And Tom unlike Maggie had no real love for reading, so the leaning of Greek and Latin was a heavy burden upon him. He was much apt for skill development.
I felt Tom's feeling towards Philip went a little deeper than his disgust for his deformity. Mr. Tulliver has formed in Tom's mind a general hatred towards Mr. Wakem. That family feud too contribute to his dislike over him. And perhaps, there was a little jealousy over Philip's cleverness.
I agree with you on Maggie's feelings. She was sorry for Philip. She cared about him as a brother and admired his cleverness.


message 5: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 591 comments Mod
It is clear that Tom is not the academic or intellectual type. His knowledge goes more into a practical direction. He likes to take care of animals, goes fishing, and is really looking forward taking over the mill some time in the future. For him a directed vocational training would have been much more beneficial. This is something Mr. Tulliver could have done himself. But then, this would have cost him prestige and social standing as well.

In a way Tom's further education is really a failure. One can understand the father's ambition for sending Tom to Mr. Stelling, for he himself never enjoyed such an opportunity. The failure here is on the father's part of not recognizing that for his son the academic trajectory does not play into Tom's strengths. It is a mistake parents are all too often prone to fall into, especially when the social norms of the age are rather mechanical, and the aptitudes of one's children are of little consequence.


message 6: by Shelley (new)

Shelley (omegaxx) Piyangie wrote: 3) Did Tom’s injury helped to alter his view on Philip?

No. In fact there is another one of those wonderful pearls of wisdom that George Eliot just drops with so little apparent effort:

If boys and men are to be welded together in the glow of transient feeling, they must be made of metals that will mix, else they inevitably fall asunder when the heat dies out.

I feel George Eliot really let herself go and nerded it out in this part of the book. So many passages are unnecessary from the point of view of storytelling, but just utterly brilliant, like her aside on the limits of metaphors (...intelligence so rarely shows itself in speech without metaphor--that we can so seldom declare what a thing is, except by saying it is something else). At such moments I am reminded of an opinion I read somewhere that George Eliot's talents are almost too much for "a mere novelist"--that she really should have been a second John Stuart Mill.


message 7: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "It is clear that Tom is not the academic or intellectual type. His knowledge goes more into a practical direction. He likes to take care of animals, goes fishing, and is really looking forward taki..."

Yes, Tom's education was a failure beacuse what Mr. Steeling offered did not suit him. Rather than acquring academic knowledge, Tom was much suited for skill development. But Mr.Tulliver, being a proud man, wanted Tom to become someone better than a tradesman. He did not want Tom to end up being a mill owner like himself. He wanted something which in his mind better than that for his son, perhaps to make him a lawyer (for he hated his rival Mr. Wakem, a lawyer himself) But overall his father's idea of education did not suit Tom.


message 8: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
Shelley wrote: "Piyangie wrote: 3) Did Tom’s injury helped to alter his view on Philip?

No. In fact there is another one of those wonderful pearls of wisdom that George Eliot just drops with so little apparent ef..."


I agree, Shelley. While reading this part (and others as well) I encountered so many passages with no direct connection with the story. I do not know the purpose of thier use (although they had a great deal of metaphoric beauty). Maybe as you said it was because her approach was more philosophical than mere storytelling.


message 9: by Cindy (new)

Cindy  | 22 comments Piyangie wrote: "Shelley wrote: "Piyangie wrote: 3) Did Tom’s injury helped to alter his view on Philip?

No. In fact there is another one of those wonderful pearls of wisdom that George Eliot just drops with so li..."


I agree, this section is hard to read. I wondered why the story seemed clunky. Parts of it make sense, then it does veer off the storytelling and into philosophy. Sometimes I find myself asking what her point might be. I felt sorry for Maggie, she would have done well with Tom's education, but got no credit because she was a girl.


message 10: by Shelley (new)

Shelley (omegaxx) Cindy wrote: "I felt sorry for Maggie, she would have done well with Tom's education, but got no credit because she was a girl."

Seriously.

I can't help but seeing Mary Ann Evans fuming up and inserting pieces of what could've been a treatise on education into this section. This is a woman who was translating Feuerbach and Spinoza from German when she was barely out of her teens. Instead of going to Eton/Oxbridge all she got was some finishing school (the type in which Rosamund in Middlemarch excelled). There's a sense of comeuppance against the male society in her reveling in its complacency and silliness.


message 11: by Cindy (new)

Cindy  | 22 comments The last line of Part II. They had entered the thorny wilderness and the golden gates of their childhood had closed behind them. That is haunting and an excellent example of foreshadowing. Plus Part III is called Downfall. I am excited, cannot wait to see what happened.


message 12: by Cindy, Moderator (new)

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
I really enjoyed Evan's sorties into philosophy and educational theories in this section. Her observations on the lack of accountability in education, on differentiation, and the psychological effects of unrealistic expectations on children are fascinating.

I think Tom also became a much more likable character. His appearances in the first section are often linked to his episodes of cruelty to Maggie. He is undoubtedly spoiled and raised to believe himself superior to a mere female. He loves his sister but has the typical child's ruthlessness when angered. I think this is due, like many children, to his inexperience with empathizing with others and his inability to gauge commensurate payback.

Tom's struggles with his studies and feelings of inadequacy show us his vulnerable side. Despite the lack of any real common ground between them, he is willing to be friends with Philip. It is only when Philip lashes out at him that Tom responds in kind and their tenuous relationship is irrevocably damaged. Finally, he shoulders the news of his family's ruin without a word of complaint or self-pity and returns to them to face the uncertain future together.

I have no idea how he's going to act in the next section, but at this point, at least, my opinion of him has improved.


message 13: by Frances (new)

Frances (francesab) | 305 comments Kerstin wrote: "It is clear that Tom is not the academic or intellectual type. His knowledge goes more into a practical direction. He likes to take care of animals, goes fishing, and is really looking forward taki..."

I think we are seeing this even today-the current trend, at least in North America, is University for as many people as can be churned through, when in fact many students are not cut out for nor interested in this type of learning and would do much better in a training program for a trade or skilled employment, or an apprenticeship.

It is a shame that it couldn't be Maggie that received this education, she's clearly the one who would benefit and enjoy it!


message 14: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "The last line of Part II. They had entered the thorny wilderness and the golden gates of their childhood had closed behind them. That is haunting and an excellent example of foreshadowing. Plus Par..."

The last line of the final chapter of Part Two is a forerunner to what was to expect in the following part. Eliot connects the parts (which represent the different stages of Tom and Maggie's life) beautifully giving us a clue as to what to expect in the next part.

And as to education, Eliot was not at all satisfied with the prevalent system, as it was ill suited and did not cater the needs of all types of children. And moreover the education was also gender biased. She keeps on stressing how Mr. Stelling's education would have benefited Maggie though not Tom.


message 15: by Frances (new)

Frances (francesab) | 305 comments Cindy wrote: "Tom's struggles with his studies and feelings of inadequacy show us his vulnerable side. Despite the lack of any real common ground between them, he is willing to be friends with Philip. It is only when Philip lashes out at him that Tom responds in kind and their tenuous relationship is irrevocably damaged. Finally, he shoulders the news of his family's ruin without a word of complaint or self-pity and returns to them to face the uncertain future together.
"


I felt sorry for both boys-they were so different, and each struggling with his own burden. Tom was struggling with an educational system that was wholy unsuitable for him, other than giving him a modicum of polish, and it is unclear if that will be of any benefit if he is left with no means of supporting himself. Philip, while bright, is going through life with a disability in an age where there was little understanding or support for those so challenged. We see him and Maggie strike up a friendship of sorts, but it is doomed due to their family situation (and I do think that Maggie was fond of him).


message 16: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "It is clear that Tom is not the academic or intellectual type. His knowledge goes more into a practical direction. He likes to take care of animals, goes fishing, and is really look..."

I agree with you completely, Frances. In my country too we face this same problem. University education is mostly stereotyped and thus produce handicapped graduates who, though have knowledge, lack in skill development. And this is a major reason for today's unemployment.


message 17: by Michael (new)

Michael (mjforgit) | 7 comments Back in 1968 when I was in middle school and just about Tom's age in Book Two the curriculum required us to read "Silas Marner". I confess that I hated it. At that point in my young, middle-class, suburban life I just could not relate to the setting, the characters or the style and the subtlety of the writing. Now, of course, Ms. Eliot is one of my favorite authors and I am absolutely loving this read of TMOTF.

That said, the rather strained interactions between Tom and Phillip in this section struck a nerve with this reader. Upon reflection, I wish I could have had a role model or mentor like a Phillip to provide the direction and inspiration needed to fully appreciate a classic work of literature. Alas, back then I was more of a Tom and, as such, my priorities were similar to his. I am continually amazed at this author's powers of observation and her keen sense of the timeless nature of the human condition.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Kerstin wrote: "It is clear that Tom is not the academic or intellectual type. His knowledge goes more into a practical direction. He likes to take care of animals, goes fishing, and is really looking forward taki..."

It's sad that Mr. Tulliver felt the need to push Tom into an "education" that he didn't want and wasn't suited for. But this may have been typical of the times; we see the same thing in other novels, such as with Fred Vincy's father trying to push him into the church which he had no interest in or aptitude for.


message 19: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Shelley wrote: "I feel George Eliot really let herself go and nerded it out in this part of the book. So many passages are unnecessary from the point of view of storytelling, but just utterly brilliant, like her aside on the limits of metaphors"

Beautifully said. Yes, that's one of the reasons that Eliot is considered a writer for the intelligent reader Yes, she gives us good stories, interesting plots and characters, but the thing that sets her apart is the infusion of observations on the human condition that she seemingly effortlessly (though I doubt it was really effortless) drops into the novel. They are easy to overlook if you're focusing hard on the story, but the intelligent reader notices and appreciates them.


message 20: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 32 comments Kerstin wrote: "It is clear that Tom is not the academic or intellectual type. His knowledge goes more into a practical direction. He likes to take care of animals, goes fishing, and is really looking forward taki..."

the tragedy here was also that Mr. Tulliver had no concept of what a 'good eddication' even was! He meant well.


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Michael wrote: "Back in 1968 when I was in middle school and just about Tom's age in Book Two the curriculum required us to read "Silas Marner". I confess that I hated it. At that point in my young, middle-class, ..."

I had the identical experience ten years before you did. But I returned to the book many years later and loved it. I hope you go back to it, too.

As I commented above, Eliot appeals more to the involved, thinking reader than to the casual reader primarily looking for a story to while away the idle hours, or the school boy (or girl?) who isn't yet ready to appreciate her subtle wit and philosophical interjections.


message 22: by Dianne (last edited May 30, 2017 05:00PM) (new)

Dianne | 32 comments Everyman wrote: "Shelley wrote: "I feel George Eliot really let herself go and nerded it out in this part of the book. So many passages are unnecessary from the point of view of storytelling, but just utterly brill..."

I find (at this stage of my life) that most of my favorite novels share this characteristic of containing tidbits or digressions on the human condition. I keep thinking to myself I should keep a notebook on all of the brilliant observations! It feels like fast forwarding and taking advantage of the vantage point of lifetimes of experience I will never get the chance to share.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Eliot's approach to her woman characters is complex and interesting. In Maggie she makes clear that women have intelligence and could benefit from the education which at the time was almost always denied them (as it was mostly denied her; she educated to age 16, but not beyond), and was a supporter, though not a major one, of Girton College, "Britain's first residential college for women offering an education at degree level." [Website of Girton College]

But she was not a feminist in the contemporary sense of the term, and did not, for example, believe that women needed the vote. She generally pairs women in her novels, as she does here with Maggie and Lucy, exploring how different expectations and upbringings of woman profoundly shape their destinies.


message 24: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 591 comments Mod
Dianne wrote: "the tragedy here was also that Mr. Tulliver had no concept of what a 'good eddication' even was! He meant well. "

I was thinking the same thing. The ambition of Mr. Tulliver was to move up in the world, and the badge of prestige was the education of his son. The cost of this education was its validation, if it was expensive it must be good. Though one has to wonder, what about the mill? This is no small asset! They may not be landed gentry, but they live quite comfortably. Wouldn't the more natural course of action be to protect and perpetuate the legacy into the next generation?


message 25: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 791 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "Dianne wrote: "the tragedy here was also that Mr. Tulliver had no concept of what a 'good eddication' even was! He meant well. "

I was thinking the same thing. The ambition of Mr. Tulliver was to ..."


Well as you said the most natural course was to protect the mill and pass it over to Tom it will remain in within the family. But Mr. Tulliver craving more for prestige, so being just a mill owner was not quite enough. He thinks educating Tom and making him rise in the social ladder would give the Tulliver family esteem. This is what drew him to seek a better education for Tom.
However because of his lack of knowledge of what a "good education' is and the given the disorganized method of teaching and also Tom's incompetence with the chosen method of education make the whole scheme a disaster.


message 26: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1062 comments Mod
Piyangie wrote: " But Mr. Tulliver craving more for prestige, so being just a mill owner was not quite enough. He thinks educating Tom and making him rise in the social ladder would give the Tulliver family esteem...."

Perhaps in part this was the case, but the impression I got was that one of his major reasons for wanting Tom to get an education was to be able to handle the bane of his life- lawyers, who he found beyond his own capacity to handle- he probably felt that by giving Tom an education and a profession, he would be in a better position to be able to handle problems like the legal ones he was facing and that invariable creep up.


message 27: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1062 comments Mod
Re Maggie- I was both sad and glad to see the contrast that Eliot showed- Tom's lack of interest in reading and that variety of learning in general and Maggie being the opposite, yet never going to have a chance to pusue it in a formal way.

I also wished she HAD caught on to Euclid and shown Mr Stelling what girls CAN do.


message 28: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1062 comments Mod
I'm also liking Maggie far better in this segment than I did in teh fist one- I did feel sorry for her but felt some of the things she did (nails in the doll in particular), too extreme.

In this segment, I also enjoyed the little ice-breaking conversation between Tom and Philip- one keeps hoping things stay smooth between them, because neither is really "bad" but Eliot kept it real I think.


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