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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Mill on the Floss: Part Three (May 28 - June 3)

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message 1: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Misfortune falls when Mr. Tulliver loses his lawsuit. His intended method of payment backfires and he falls ill. Maggie and Tom go home from their respective boarding schools. The Dodson family holds a council to decide on how they should help the Tullivers at this difficult time.

Below are some questions for your consideration while you read along.

1) Why do you think Mr. Tulliver turned to Maggie instead of Tom when he first found out his difficulties?
2) What changes the Tulliver family go through?
3) Was Dodson family was of any help to the Tullivers at their difficult time?
4) Why does Tom go to meet Mr. Deane?
5) What characteristic changes Tom go through?
6) What could be the reason for bringing Bob Jakin back again in this part?
7) What does Mrs. Tulliver hopes to gain by meeting up with Mr. Wakem? Was she successful?
8) Mr. Tulliver forces to take Tom an Oath. How do you feel about that? Is Mr. Tulliver’s conduct justifiable?


message 2: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 33 comments I thought the transition of roles was interesting in this section and they way that that highlighted some of the characters' key strengths and weaknesses. Mr. Tulliver turned to Maggie because she has always been his heart, perhaps much to the chagrin of his wife. The family is suddenly destitute and has to sell all of their things, and Mrs. Tulliver is particularly horrified by this. It was unnerving how distraught she was by the loss of her personal items, she seemed much more upset about her teapot and linens than the mental deterioration of her husband. She is myopic and shallow, and really not very loving to anyone, except perhaps for Tom. Mr. Tulliver essentially gives up in this chapter, physically, mentally, in every possible way. He permits Wakem to take over but forces Tom to sign an oath of revenge - but for what purpose? How would this possibly help Tom or the family? Wakem, for his part, I believe was truly just engaging in the deal for its good business sense with respect to his son's future prospects, I think his behavior was actually pretty admirable under the circumstances.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Dianne wrote: "It was unnerving how distraught she was by the loss of her personal items, she seemed much more upset about her teapot and linens than the mental deterioration of her husband."

Well, yes, but I understand in a way. I think it reflects as much on the state of their marriage as on her personally. After all, he asked for Maggie, but I don't think he ever asked for her. And he had kept her in the dark about a lot of the things he had done, and had ignored her advice not to go to law, so is it surprising that she isn't fawning over his bedside?

But the things she has laid aside, carefully chosen, the things that represent to her the way of life she was brought up to and expected to live the rest of her life and which her husband has destroyed. He's not gone, he's getting better, but these things are gone, or going, and she needs to grieve for them partly as beloved things each one of which is special to her in some way, but also for the life she is losing that they represent.


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments American readers may not realize that under the English system of civil law, the loser of a lawsuit had (and still does) to pay the lawyer's bill and other expenses of the winner. It's probably those bills and fees, rather than any actual damages (after all, he was suing for damages, we never heard if there was a counter suit), that have, along with paying his own legal fees (which he expected, since he expected to win, that the other side would have to pay, so he would wind up with no expenses but whatever damages the court would have awarded him). This is why the financial blow is so serious.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments I didn't think badly of Wakem up to the point when he decided to buy the mill in order, in part, to humiliate Tulliver. It was a big mistake for Mrs. Tulliver to go and see him; she had too much faith in the goodness of people and too little appreciation for the resentment of one who had been so frequently deprecated by another. If she hadn't interfered and put the idea in his head (and mentioned that Guest and Co was interested, which is a good indication to him that it would be a sound investment), he wouldn't have considered buying the mill. But she did, and he did.

I think it was shabby -- indeed, rascally -- on his part. Up to that point, I was neutral on him. After that point, I agree with Tulliver.


message 6: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Dianne wrote: "I thought the transition of roles was interesting in this section and they way that that highlighted some of the characters' key strengths and weaknesses. Mr. Tulliver turned to Maggie because she ..."

Mr. Tulliver knew Maggie to be an intelligent girl, and of his two children, one who is more like him. It was natural for him to turn to her. Besides, the distraught Mrs. Tulliver is not much of a comfort.

Mrs. Tulliver's reaction to losing her material things was more or less her reaction towards the condition of life which she found herself in. Her material possesions which she had carefully brought to the marraige were her pride, her status. Losing them is like being degraded in their status and a huge humiliation in the eyes of the society (for wealth was measured by all the material possessions one had). And as Everyman said, those material things represent the life she had and shared with her husband and children and losing them is losing the life she so far had. Given her nature, it is but natural that she should react the way she did.


message 7: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "I didn't think badly of Wakem up to the point when he decided to buy the mill in order, in part, to humiliate Tulliver. It was a big mistake for Mrs. Tulliver to go and see him; she had too much fa..."

I agree with you there. Wakem was acting as any man would have done in the given situation. He was doing his best to cater to his own interest. But the moment he decided to buy the mill (having leaned only from Mrs Tulliver that Guest & Co. would buy it if he does not bid), he crossed that line. There was only malice there. Although Wakem tried to justify his decision on the reason that it would be a good investment for Philip, the underlying driving force was his intention to humiliate Mr. Tulliver.

In this light I partially justified Mr. Tulliver's action in taking the oath from Tom.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Piyangie wrote: "Mrs. Tulliver's reaction to losing her material things was more or less her reaction towards the condition of life which she found herself in.."

There's more about this early in Part 4. But can't discuss it here.


message 9: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 623 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "American readers may not realize that under the English system of civil law, the loser of a lawsuit had (and still does) to pay the lawyer's bill and other expenses of the winner. It's probably tho..."

Oh, I hadn't thought of that! This makes Mr. Tulliver's mismanagement of the family's finances even worse.

We get a lot of information on how Mr. Tulliver spent money, but we are not given what his income is. If it was mentioned somewhere I missed it. Still, we know that the situation is precarious.
Was he freely spending the legacy accumulated over many years which he inherited?
Did he underestimate or was too over-confident about his ability to pay up all his liabilities?
From all we have read so far, prudence isn't one of his strengths.


message 10: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 623 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "But the things she has laid aside, carefully chosen, the things that represent to her the way of life she was brought up to and expected to live the rest of her life and which her husband has destroyed. He's not gone, he's getting better, but these things are gone, or going, and she needs to grieve for them partly as beloved things each one of which is special to her in some way, but also for the life she is losing that they represent"

In addition I would say she is also grieving the fact that she had bought these things from her own money, so they are actually hers. But because her dowry becomes the husband's after marriage she no longer has any legal claim to them. What we have here is a colossal break of trust. In this system the husband's role is to be the provider and care-taker of the family to a much greater extend than we have today. And with all the duties and burdens that come with it. A woman entering into marriage can and should expect that her husband will provide for her and the children that are born to this union. This trust also brings with it that the dowry she contributes will be managed prudently so as to benefit the family. Mr. Tulliver failed miserably in his duty as a provider. In contrast, Mrs. Tulliver upheld her end of the bargain. She took care of the household and the children. So yes, she has every right to be upset. The items she grieves over before they are sold are the reminders of his betrayal. And what makes it even worse for her, is not only that her sisters married men that take their roles as providers seriously, they rub it in that she should have never married him.


message 11: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 623 comments Mod
This third book is titled "The Downfall." One can't help but make comparisons and draw parallels to "The Fall" in Genesis. The Tullivers live a comfortable life. And just like in the Garden where life-giving waters flow, the Floss churns the waterwheel of the mill of heir livelihood. But a garden needs attention, it needs to be cultivated and taken care of. God charges Adam to take care of the Garden (Genesis 2:15), but Adam fails to do so and lets the snake in. Mr. Tulliver re-commits the sin of Adam by not taking care of his livelihood.


message 12: by Cindy (new)

Cindy  | 22 comments Piyangie wrote: "Everyman wrote: "I didn't think badly of Wakem up to the point when he decided to buy the mill in order, in part, to humiliate Tulliver. It was a big mistake for Mrs. Tulliver to go and see him; sh..."
I was thinking Wakem was a good business man. He saw an opportunity to buy the mill and he took advantage. He offered Tulliver a job. He could have been a bad rascal and sent the Tullivers to the poor house.


message 13: by Kerstin, Moderator (last edited Jun 04, 2017 07:13PM) (new)

Kerstin | 623 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "I was thinking Wakem was a good business man. He saw an opportunity to buy the mill and he took advantage. He offered Tulliver a job. He could have been a bad rascal and sent the Tullivers to the poor house."

Very true. I also think that Mrs. Tulliver's sisters could have bought the mill also and employed Mr. Tulliver. They had the means but didn't act. They purchased the necessities - which are important - but as a loving gesture they could have bought her china and linens as well and returned them to her.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Kerstin wrote: "They purchased the necessities - which are important - but as a loving gesture they could have bought her china and linens as well and returned them to her. .."

But that would have gone against the Dodson religion, where Dodsons are supposed to accumulate their own wealth and only give to their relations what is due them in their wills. She needs to suffer for having married a man who was so irresponsible; she made her choice, and she must pay for it. They are generous enough to provide the necessaries for her, but anything else would be rewarding Mr. Tulliver for his foolishness and his ignoring the Dodson advice.

At least that's how I think the sisters would see it.


message 15: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited Jun 04, 2017 08:44PM) (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "Piyangie wrote: "Everyman wrote: "I didn't think badly of Wakem up to the point when he decided to buy the mill in order, in part, to humiliate Tulliver. It was a big mistake for Mrs. Tulliver to g..."

I think Wakem offered the job to Tulliver because he knew nothing of the management of a mill. It is to serve his own end that he employed Tulliver.
Wakem only got to know of the opportunity through Mrs. Tulliver. If she had not told him, he would not have known such an opportunity existed; and Guest & co. would have bought the mill. In this light it was unethical for Wakem to ignore Mrs. Tulliver's pleas as not to compete.


message 16: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "Everyman wrote: "But the things she has laid aside, carefully chosen, the things that represent to her the way of life she was brought up to and expected to live the rest of her life and which her ..."

You have made a beautiful analysis of Mrs. Tulliver's position here Kerstin. And I wholly agree. Women did not have a legal claim for whatever they brought to the marriage as dowry. After marriage everything would be property of the husband, including the wife herself. That was the law. So there was an underlying duty for a husband to manage his property prudently, and to make sure he provides for his wife for life and for his children till they are settled in life. Mr. Tulliver failed in this respect miserably because of his foolish pride, and the Tulliver family was placed on a precarious position. Mrs. Tulliver's anxiety is reasonable.


message 17: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited Jun 04, 2017 09:12PM) (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "They purchased the necessities - which are important - but as a loving gesture they could have bought her china and linens as well and returned them to her. .."

But that would have..."


Dodson religion was a very rigid, uncompassionate one. They had all the means to help their sister and children, but because of their displeasure of Mr. Tulliver's conduct they only seem to do what is necessary and not what ought to be.


message 18: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 623 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "But that would have gone against the Dodson religion, where Dodsons are supposed to accumulate their own wealth and only give to their relations what is due them in their wills. She needs to suffer for having married a man who was so irresponsible; she made her choice, and she must pay for it. They are generous enough to provide the necessaries for her, but anything else would be rewarding Mr. Tulliver for his foolishness and his ignoring the Dodson advice."

Oh, no question about it. The sisters would have seen it this way. I've only read 'Middlemarch' before, and I get the sense George Eliot is writing more about people who are set or even trapped in their ways and don't have the capacity to rise above the situation. Mrs. Tulliver believes in the Dodson religion too. In the end she resigns herself to her lot. She herself has no capacity for true compassion or affection. She is not a nurturing mother. The empty house, stripped but for the bare necessities, is a reflection of their inner poverty as human beings.


message 19: by Cindy, Moderator (new)

Cindy Newton | 423 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "I didn't think badly of Wakem up to the point when he decided to buy the mill in order, in part, to humiliate Tulliver...."

It was the perfect revenge for Wakem. Not only was it in his power to arrange the worst, most painful outcome for his enemy, but it had the added benefit of allowing him to look like a noble man--practically a saint--of compassion to the rest of society, all the while he is sticking it to Tulliver. Eliot points out that he wasn't looking for revenge; Mrs. Tulliver dumped it into his lap. How could he resist? It was definitely rascally behavior, but the temptation must have been overpowering. I wonder if I could resist such temptation in his shoes? You think back to people in your past who have made your life miserable (usually at work!). How many of us could resist vengeance that punished them while simultaneously made us look awesome? I like to think I would take the high road . . . :)


message 20: by Cindy, Moderator (new)

Cindy Newton | 423 comments Mod
Piyangie wrote: "8) Mr. Tulliver forces to take Tom an Oath. How do you feel about that? Is Mr. Tulliver’s conduct justifiable? ..."

I think this is just a psychological move on Mr. Tulliver's part. He is boxed in with nowhere to turn. Not only is he financially unable to turn his back on Wakem's offer, but he is also bound by his promise to his wife to try to redeem their situation. He has his attachment to the property and the knowledge that he has lost what his family has held for generations. He is a very proud man, and this oath is his last way to save face. He has to knuckle under and be civil and respectful to Wakem in the future; everyone will see that, and he can do nothing about it. This oath is his way of reassuring himself that his civility will just be a facade; Wakem will never succeed in eradicating his true feelings, i.e., himself. This oath is his promise to himself that he will never become what Wakem is trying to turn him into. This oath is his promise to stay true to himself. It is also now recorded in the family Bible for future generations.


message 21: by Shelley (new)

Shelley (omegaxx) Kerstin wrote: "The empty house, stripped but for the bare necessities, is a reflection of their inner poverty as human beings. ."

Lovely observation. I'm really benefiting from the context of property laws that people are providing here.

I haven't seen this touched upon in this thread yet, so I'm gonna throw it out: How are people feeling toward Tom at this point?

I have been pleasantly surprised that Tom, with his Dodsonian lack of imagination & empathy (such a stark contrast to Maggie's temperament), has acted in such a stoic, resilient, and even magnanimous (e.g., toward the Mosses) fashion--although his magnanimity (e.g., his promise to take care of Maggie) has an undertone of harshness. It's a fascinating portrait of a cluster of human traits.


message 22: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Tom proves that he has Tulliver blood too in him. He has been self centered and carefree all his life but suddenly a big burden is thrust in his way. Rather than shrink in it, he summons his hidden strength and courage and his natural standing on justice to carry out the task set before him. His aunts and uncles are surpirsed. Mr. Glegg and Mr. Deane are proud of their nephew.
On the other hand Tom does work towards care for his mother and sister but this care is more dutiful than affectionate.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Piyangie wrote: "but because of their displeasure of Mr. Tulliver's conduct they only seem to do what is necessary and not what ought to be."

Ah, but "ought" by whose standards? In a private inter-family matter, why should they adhere to somebody else's standards rather than the standards they were brought up with as a family religion?

They provided the necessities of life. To Mrs. Tulliver, the other items were emotional necessities, but they were not legitimate necessities of life. Why "ought" her sisters to have laid out more money for them?


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Piyangie wrote: "TTom proves that he has Tulliver blood too in him. He has been self centered and carefree all his life but suddenly a big burden is thrust in his way. Rather than shrink in it, he summons his hidden strength and courage and his natural standing on justice to carry out the task set before him. "

I'm working my way through a shadowy and somewhat amorphous (and perhaps wrong) thought, but it seems to me that we have a nice contrast here. Tom has throughout been governed by the "oughts" of society, behaving as a "real boy" is supposed to behave (not ratting, not hitting a girl, going off doing boyish things, not being good at books). When the need arises here, he acts as society thinks he ought, stepping forward to take responsibility, going out finding work, etc. That is his religion; to do what society thinks a person in his position ought to do.

This contrasts with the Dodson sisters who don't follow the "ought" of society when it comes to caring for their sister, but follow their own more limited, "rigid, uncompassionate," to use your words, religion.

I think there are good reasons why we have more affection for Tom than for the Dodson sisters.


message 25: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 827 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "Piyangie wrote: "but because of their displeasure of Mr. Tulliver's conduct they only seem to do what is necessary and not what ought to be."

Ah, but "ought" by whose standards? In a private inter..."


The Dodsons viewed that doing more than necessary for the Tullivers would be to approve of Mr. Tulliver's conduct. That would have been against their "religion". They were grieved by the scandel Mr. Tulliver had brought on them by becoming bankrupt. Dodsons were a proud lot who took immense pleasure in accumulating their riches. Tulliver's fall was a great blow to their dearly held pride. Doing what is neccesary was their way of showing their disappointment. It is definitely not the correct way to act when your sister and her family were in difficulty, but that is the only way the Dodson religion allow them to act.


message 26: by Kerstin, Moderator (last edited Jun 08, 2017 09:02AM) (new)

Kerstin | 623 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "Ah, but "ought" by whose standards? In a private inter-family matter, why should they adhere to somebody else's standards rather than the standards they were brought up with as a family religion?

They provided the necessities of life. To Mrs. Tulliver, the other items were emotional necessities, but they were not legitimate necessities of life. Why "ought" her sisters to have laid out more money for them? "


Very true. I think the reason why we insert the "ought" is that we instinctively recognize Mrs. Tulliver's loss of human dignity. From one day to the next her entire world collapses. And regardless of whether she married the right man or not, the sisters don't validate her as a person. In this entire narrative so far I see her as the primary tragic figure.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Piyangie wrote: "It is definitely not the correct way to act when your sister and her family were in difficulty,."

Well, yes, you may say that for yourself based on your beliefs, but why should that be a rule that the Dodsons should follow?


message 28: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1200 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "I didn't think badly of Wakem up to the point when he decided to buy the mill in order, in part, to humiliate Tulliver. It was a big mistake for Mrs. Tulliver to go and see him; she had too much fa..."

Me neither- that was plain spite (worse actually)- why would anyone - if they had any sense of humanity want to do that to a person already so ill and not quite in his senses.


message 29: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1200 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "Tom has throughout been governed by the "oughts" of society, behaving as a "real boy" is supposed to behave (not ratting, not hitting a girl, going off doing boyish things, not being good at books). ..."

I agree- he did right but because it was the right think to do as opposed to Maggie who did what she "felt" was right- its sort of heart vs. mind, isn't it? And I do know people (in real life) who do everything as it ought to be done - it may be right but there's no actual feeling behind it, and that doesn't make me like them very much.


message 30: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1200 comments Mod
Piyangie wrote: "I think Wakem offered the job to Tulliver because he knew nothing of the management of a mill. It is to serve his own end...."

That and the fact that he wanted to humiliate him- he also brings up (in his mind) the case of the person he sent to a "poorhouse" which he funded... so revenge is certainly a central motive though he takes into account the fact that Tulliver is an honest man.


message 31: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1200 comments Mod
I actually found myself quite annoyed with Mrs Tulliver in this segment. I agree one would feel hurt if things don't turn out as they ought to have- may be she even felt her husband in the wrong for starting the action in the first place, but her thoughts seemed entirely too self-centred to me- she didn't for a moment pity her husband for what HE was going through, didn't for a moment consider his feelings in the matter- only went by "oughts" and again in an unfeeling way- as if just judging and proceeding by some unwritten rule book.


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