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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Mill on the Floss: Part Four (June 4 -10)

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message 1: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 797 comments Mod
Tulliver family continues with their struggle. Maggie is bored having no proper employment for her energy and passion.

Some questions for consideration as you go on reading.

1) What is the importance of this section to the story?
2) What comparisons does the narrator draw between Dodsons and Tullivers?
3) Tom and Maggie share the same energy, drive and self-command to uplift themselves from their misfortunes. But while those qualities are considered as “manly” in the case of Tom, falls short to be considered proper in the case of Maggie. What are your views on this point?
4) Maggie decides to lead a resigned life. What prompts her to take this decision?


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments In the Book 3 thread, we were discussing why Mrs. Tulliver was so distraught about losing her possessions. There's more about that here, in Chapter 1:

The religion of the Dodsons consisted in revering whatever was customary and respectable; it was necessary to be baptized, else one could not be buried in the church-yard, and to take the sacrament before death, as a security against more dimly understood perils; but it was of equal necessity to have the proper pall-bearers and well-cured hams at one's funeral, and to leave an unimpeachable will.....
The Dodsons were a very proud race, and their pride lay in the utter frustration of all desire to tax them with a breach of traditional duty or propriety....
the family badge was to be honest and rich, and not only rich, but richer than was supposed."


This, then, was not only a way of life, but a religion for Mrs. Tulliver. Her possessions were her icons -- not mere possessions but equivalent to the bones of a saint to a religious pilgrim.

And so Poor Mrs. Tulliver, it seemed, would never recover her old self, her placid household activity; how could she? 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 sugar-tongs, had been suddenly snatched away from her, and she remained bewildered in this empty life.

When the manifestations of your religion are gone, what remains to live for?


message 3: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 591 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "In the Book 3 thread, we were discussing why Mrs. Tulliver was so distraught about losing her possessions. There's more about that here, in Chapter 1:

The religion of the Dodsons consisted in reve..."


That's a great comment!
How do you redefine who you are after a catastrophic calamity?


message 4: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 591 comments Mod
Maggie is given a pile of books by Bob, among them The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. Now this is an interesting development. The 'Imitation' is the most published book after the Bible. It was written sometime in the 1420s by an Augustinian monk in charge of novices in his monastery. He wrote the book as a spiritual aide and guide. It became immensely popular outside cloistered walls, even among Protestants. This last fact is a little surprising - at least to me. The audience for which it is written is clearly on a path or discernment to the religious life, and the last segment in the book is about the Eucharist. Given the intended audience, it was never meant as a stand-alone work, but meant to be used in conjunction with active spiritual direction by a spiritual director, which Thomas was to his novices.

Maggie, grieving and having to cope with the misfortunes that has befallen the home, finds comfort in reading the 'Imitation,' and channels all her energies onto this new path. Eliot adds:
"And it was by being brought within the long lingering vibrations of such a voice that Maggie, with her girl's face and unnoted sorrows, found an effort and a hope that helped her through two years of loneliness, making out a faith for herself without the aid of established authorities and appointed guides - for they were not at hand, and her need was pressing. From what you know of her, you will not be surprised that she threw some exaggeration and wilfulness, some pride and impetuosity even her self-renunciation: her own life was still a drama for her, in which she demanded of herself that her part should be played with intensity."
For Maggie, the self-renunciation and asceticism are not the natural result of an all-encompassing love for Christ as it is in the religious life, but an end in itself. Eliot continues:
"And so it came to pass that she often lost the spirit of humility by being excessive in the outward act; she often strove after too high a flight and came down with her poor little half-fledged wings dabbled in the mud."
Since the family wasn't really devout, Maggie's spiritual needs are unmet as well and she hobbles her own spirituality together.


message 5: by Cindy (new)

Cindy  | 22 comments I was confused by Part 4. Still trying to figure out where and why it fits into the story. Not much action here. It is almost like Eliot diverted into philosophy again.


message 6: by Shelley (last edited Jun 07, 2017 04:46PM) (new)

Shelley (omegaxx) Cindy wrote: "I was confused by Part 4. Still trying to figure out where and why it fits into the story. Not much action here. It is almost like Eliot diverted into philosophy again."

I think that's very much on purpose. Part 4 is the halfway point of this bildungsroman and is where Maggie begins to transition toward a kind of higher awareness of existence. It also echoes Part 2, an overview of Tom's education: due to the opportunity of true education being denied to a woman, her education is much more strange and haphazard.

Kerstin wrote: "For Maggie, the self-renunciation and asceticism are not the natural result of an all-encompassing love for Christ as it is in the religious life, but an end in itself... She hobbles her own spirituality together."

This is so perfectly stated. I also felt, when I was reading the passages from The Imitation that were highlighted in this book, that they didn't read like anything particularly Christian: they read like they would have fit right in with Marcus Aurelius or any pagan mystics. It wasn't religion that was re-inventing Maggie. Maggie was re-inventing her personal religion, the way Mrs. Tulliver invented her religion of teapots and tablecloth that Everyman pointed out.

On a side note, George Eliot translated Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity decades before writing TMOTF. I know nothing about theology and only read about Feuerbach peripherally, but I think we can see how much George Eliot was influenced by and bought into his idea that God is but an inward projection of Men.


message 7: by Kerstin, Moderator (new)

Kerstin | 591 comments Mod
Shelley wrote: "I also felt, when I was reading the passages from The Imitation that were highlighted in this book, that they didn't read like anything particularly Christian: they read like they would have fit right in with Marcus Aurelius or any pagan mystics."

Isn't that the truth! In particular, it read like the stoics. I read the 'Imitation,' and it is clear Eliot was cherry-picking.

I couldn't help but make comparisons to another young lady who was deeply influenced by 'The Imitation of Christ,' Terese of Lisieux (1873-1897). She grew up in a very devout home and became a Carmelite nun at 15. She must have been 10 or 12 when she was given the 'Imitation,' and when one reads her auto-biography, Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, it is amazing to see how incredibly spiritually mature she was at a very young age. And the 'Imitation' was definitely a contributing factor.

Now granted, Terese and Eliot were barely contemporaries, and Terese only became known after her death. But when I see Maggie and how impoverished and fragmented her concept faith remains, that she really didn't absorb anything, almost lacks credibility.


message 8: by Cindy (new)

Cindy  | 22 comments Re-inventing your beliefs and religion is a part of growing up. I started to question my parents religion when I was 16 or 17. My Mom was not happy about that.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Shelley wrote: "It wasn't religion that was re-inventing Maggie. Maggie was re-inventing her personal religion, the way Mrs. Tulliver invented her religion of teapots and tablecloth that Everyman pointed out."

Very nicely said.


message 10: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 797 comments Mod
Cindy wrote: "I was confused by Part 4. Still trying to figure out where and why it fits into the story. Not much action here. It is almost like Eliot diverted into philosophy again."

I felt this section was added so that Elliot can subtly bring out the transforamtion of her characters, especially Maggie. Maggie's strugle for a emotional fulfillment was touched here with much detail. Her intelletual self finds it hard to live an idle life so she tries to find solace living a "resigned" life.


message 11: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 797 comments Mod
Shelley wrote: "It wasn't religion that was re-inventing Maggie. Maggie was re-inventing her personal religion, the way Mrs. Tulliver invented her religion of teapots and tablecloth that Everyman p..."

Very well said Shelley. Maggie indeed re-invent religion when she creates her own version of resigned life.


message 12: by Cindy, Moderator (new)

Cindy Newton | 295 comments Mod
I think that this section serves as a further study in contrasts between Maggie and her family. As Everyman wrote, the "religion" of the Dodsons was respectability, and it was all about appearances, not substance. In the quote he references, having the proper people and the proper food at one's funeral is given the same weight as being baptized and having the sacrament before death. Their religion is a form of self-glorification rather than a spiritual journey. Another quote I found that reveals the shallowness of the Dodsons is, "If, in the maiden days of the Dodson sisters, their Bibles opened more easily at some parts than others, it was because of dried tulip-petals, which had been distributed quite impartially, without preference for the historical, devotional, or doctrinal," (289-290). Spiritually, they have no depth. Without the proper number of teaspoons and the right type of linens, Mrs. Tulliver is lost--she has no inner resources on which to call to support herself through this crisis.

Maggie, however, is of a different ilk. She needs purpose--her mind and soul crave something with which to occupy themselves, something to make her feel as though she's moving forward, in some fashion, rather than stagnating. As Kerstin says, Maggie cobbles this faith together herself, and it sounds more like a self-help, personal approach to life than an actual religious experience. This thirst for knowledge, this embrace of a philosophy that subjugates self is a direct contrast to her mother's beliefs. As Cindy pointed out, this questioning of a parent's beliefs is a normal aspect of growing up, but I just thought it emphasized the depth of Maggie's character as opposed to her family's, none of whom seemed to question their Dodson beliefs!


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2531 comments Cindy wrote: " Spiritually, they have no depth. Without the proper number of teaspoons and the right type of linens, Mrs. Tulliver is lost--she has no inner resources on which to call to support herself through this crisis. "

Nice observation. It will be interesting to follow her through the rest of the book and see how she winds up coping with this disaster.


message 14: by Lady Clementina, Moderator (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 1062 comments Mod
Everyman wrote: "When the manifestations of your religion are gone, what remains to live for? ..."

That makes a lot of sense to me but I still see her as a little self-absorbed in that- she doesn't seem to consider what her husband might be going through (in terms of emotion, feeling) at all- even the concern for Tom seems to be in terms of the material advantage he wont have as opposed to what he might be going through as a person.


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