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2012 Group Reads - Archives > The Mill On the Floss - Book Fourth & Book Fifth

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message 1: by Silver (new)

Silver Book IV: The Valley of Humiliation

A Variation of Protestantism Unknown to Bossuet
The Torn Nest Is Pierced by the Thorns
A Voice from the Past

Book V: Wheat and Tares

In the Red Deeps
Aunt Glegg Learns the Breadth of Bob's Thumb
The Wavering Balance
Another Love-Scene
The Cloven Tree
The Hard-Won Triumph
A Day of Reckoning


message 2: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks Silver.

The first chapter of this Book is interesting because George Eliot was reared in a strict atmosphere of evangelical Protestantism but eventually rebelled and renounced organized religion totally. Here we see her criticising the Protestant religion of the families as being 'semi pagan', only followed at a 'prosaic level' because its 'limited and limiting' routines form the centre of social customs which uphold their family pride and respectability. She also made a journey, with Lewes, down the Rhone, visiting the castles she mentions here and learned that people there suffered a severe flood. Just as the angry Rhone caused tragedy, we are reminded by Mr Tulliver of the myth that an angered Floss would flood if the mill changed hands...

Eliot is also offering her analysis in terms of the scientific theories of the day regarding social evolution, in which she was greatly interested (and knowledgeable), arguing that all things are connected and each successive generation evolves to a slightly higher level than the one before it.


message 3: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments MadgeUK wrote: "Thanks Silver.

The first chapter of this Book is interesting because George Eliot was reared in a strict atmosphere of evangelical Protestantism but eventually rebelled and renounced organized rel..."


Thanks for the information, Madge. Interesting that Eliot renounced organized religion. Reminds me of the story of Virginia Woolf, who yelled "I hate religion!" at an upper class woman (can't remember who).


message 4: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Just loved the scene with Bob and Aunt Glegg. At first, I didn't like her, but this scene makes her a bit more likable. She's a hard woman, but Eliott is beginning to draw her as a more fair woman who is tries to be shrewd - and responsible - with her money. There's definitely a comparison between Aunt Glegg and the other Dodson sisters.

And don't know what to make of Maggie's relationship with Philip. On one hand, I see him as someone who would allow Maggie to use her mind. On the other hand, he is a bit controlling. Although obviously, part of that is because he loves her; can't blame him for manuevering a bit to get her to like him. But either way, it doesn't have a good ending when Tom finds out.

Which leads me to Tom. He's turning into quite the unlikable young man. He is definitely controlling, and although he says that Maggie can do what she wishes, he makes it clear that there will be some type of punishment if she does. He has limited understanding, but still thinks that he is always right.

And last but not least, Mr. Tulliver. I feel bad for him, but he is someone who doesn't understand the system in order to manipulate it, and then tries to use physical strength to make up for his inability to work the system.


message 5: by Silver (new)

Silver I agree, I quite enjoyed the scene with Bob and Aunt Glegg as well. Also I am finding that the uncles are quite amusing characters in their own way. I like them in contrast to their wives, and particularly in the case of the Gleggs, how much their wives really run things, and they are just in the background, knowing when it is best to just stay out of it.

While I dislike like Tom and agree that he is a rather unlikable character and particularly in his treatment of his sister, I do have to say I was surprised that he has turned out to be seemingly successful in business. Based on the fact that he does seem a bit slow on the uptake and seems to have unrealistic expectations and standards I had thought that his endeavors would prove failure. Though I suppose what he lacks in intellect he makes up for in a certain "street smarts" so to speak.

Also I wondered if the way in which Tom's education proved to be a complete failure in his efforts to actually try and get a job was a reflection of just how out of touch with the world and misguided Mr. Tuillver was?


message 6: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Silver wrote: "While I dislike like Tom and agree that he is a rather unlikable character and particularly in his treatment of his sister, I do have to say I was surprised that he has turned out to be seemingly successful in business. Based on the fact that he does seem a bit slow on the uptake and seems to have unrealistic expectations and standards I had thought that his endeavors would prove failure. Though I suppose what he lacks in intellect he makes up for in a certain "street smarts" so to speak. "

Having worked in business for many years, yes, it takes more street smarts than intellectual smarts to be really successful. A bit of ruthlessness, as Dickens would point out. And businesspeople have to be risk takers.

Not that Tom is ruthless (even though he's fallen from grace so to speak in my eyes because of the way he treats Maggie), but he's willing to take a bit of a risk. And I will give him credit - he does it the right way - risk based on knowledge, not merely gambling.


message 7: by Silver (new)

Silver While I like and trust Bob (who gives Tom the tip for the speculation) and he certainly seems to have a sharp business savvy and street smarts of his own, considering the way things have been going, it does not seem as if there is much good to come to the Tulliver family. There was a certain expectation (or perhaps apprehension) that when Tom took the risk, he would end up loosing out and thus loose his uncles money as well, with the risk of not only becoming indebted to him but loosing favor from him and possible being refused further help from them.

As much as Tom himself is unlikable, it was a pleasant surprise when things actually did end up working out to his advantage and favor, and the possibly of hope for his family's future prospects is given.


message 8: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 06, 2012 11:07PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments There is a theme of Adam and Eve and the loss of the Garden of Eden running through the novel I think, so in both Tom and Maggie we are seeing a 'fall' and its inevitable consequences. It is a common Victorian theme illustrating what happens when people are sinful.


message 9: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Silver wrote: "As much as Tom himself is unlikable, it was a pleasant surprise when things actually did end up working out to his advantage and favor, and the possibly of hope for his family's future prospects is given."

I'm probably being a bit too harsh on Tom. And yes, I was happy for him when he became successful in business. He does work hard, and tries to do what is "right." But he is definitely too rigid.


message 10: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments MadgeUK wrote: "There is a theme of Adam and Eve and the loss of the garden of Eden running through the novel I think, so in both Tom and Maggie we are seeing a 'fall' and its inevitable consequences. It is a comm..."

That's an interesting point, Madge.

Although fallen in a societal sense rather than in a religious sense.


message 11: by Silver (new)

Silver MadgeUK wrote: "There is a theme of Adam and Eve and the loss of the garden of Eden running through the novel I think, so in both Tom and Maggie we are seeing a 'fall' and its inevitable consequences. It is a comm..."

I also think how it is quite interesting the way in which the characters of Maggie and Tom seem to be reflective of traditional/stereotypical views of Adam and Eve. In a way Tom makes me think of Milton's portrayal of Adam. Adam/Man was characterized as being creatures of reason and rational thought, ruled more by their minds. While Eve/Woman was characterized as being a more emotional creatures whom were ruled more by their hearts.

Also Eve takes the greater part of the blame for the fall, and women are seen as being more susceptible/ weaker to falling into temptation. And while Maggie literally speaking cannot be blamed in any way for what happened to the Tulliver family, her behavior is looked down upon and criticized by the family, and particularly her brother. Her love for learning is seen as something that will lead her astray, and of course her relationship with Philip, Tom sees as being a betrayal of the feeling.

In a sense Maggie is seen as being "sinful" and her sinful ways could reflect badly upon Tom and the Tuillver name (at least in the eyes of Tom) and in this way she could bring the family down while Tom is attempting to save them.


message 12: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 06, 2012 11:08PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks for that breakdown Silver - as ever, woman is to blame:D. Who or what represents the Devil do you think?


message 13: by Silver (last edited Feb 06, 2012 11:29PM) (new)

Silver MadgeUK wrote: "Thanks for that breakdown Silver - as ever, woman is to blame:D. Who or what represents the Devil do you think?"

From the Tulliver point of view, probably Wakem. In sticking with the Adam and Eve comparison, it was Wakem, who led the Tuilliver's into their downfall (at least from their viewpoint) and now Phillip is "luring" Maggie away causing her to act in a way viewed as inappropriate, in having secret meetings with the "enemy" or at least the enemies spawn. And she is made to swear upon a Bible never to see him again (at least not without her brother knowing about it.)


message 14: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 06, 2012 11:57PM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Yes and good point about the Bible!

There are more biblical references in Chapter 3 where she is affected by Kempis' the The Imitation of Christ and responds enthusiastically to its theme of renunciation. This chapter also seems to deal with the position of Victorian young women generally, their lack of intellectual stimulus and the constraints imposed upon them by society: 'the irreversible laws within and without' which direct their appropriate behaviour. Maggie is Bob's 'directing Madonna' and she his 'worshipper'. She is the wicked Eve seeking forbidden 'masculine wisdom', nibbling at 'this thick rinded fruit of the tree of knowledge' and fearing that she may become a 'demon'.


message 15: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 07, 2012 12:37AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Love your G&S reference Bunwat!! This assessment of childrens' abilities, whether they are academic or practical, still plagues us today:(. The UK, despite its great industrial past, still prizes academia above practical skills. German education has a far better balance, hence its success on the manufacturing front.


message 16: by Silver (new)

Silver BunWat wrote: "Silver wrote: "I do have to say I was surprised that he has turned out to be seemingly successful in business. Based on the fact that he does seem a bit slow on the uptake and seems to have unreali..."

You make a good point about Tom. Book learning, and learning about such things which seem irrelevant to him may not be his strong point. It is a mistake to presume that he is in fact stupid, or lacking in intelligence. In comparison to Maggie and Phillip it does make him appear to be rather intellectual inept. But he does prove to be knowledgeable and smart within the working world.

While on the other Maggie and Phillip can both seen as incapable or less capable of functioning within the world and society. Maggie acts too much upon the impulse of her emotions so she always ends up having contrary results to those she wants, while Phillip because of his deformity was kept pampered and sheltered by his father and not really expected to ever have to do anything with his life but what pleases him.


message 17: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments I tried to look up some scholarly essays on the idea of the Mill on the Floss and the Garden of Eden. There were two essays, but sadly, neither university library had access to them.

So, I looked in the stacks in the library, and neither book of critical essays that I found specifically mentioned that topic with regard to Mill on the Floss. However, there was one that talked about Silas Marner and a "divided Eden" that mentioned Mill on the Floss as well. But it would require a spoiler. As we get to the end of the book, I'll try to remember to post about what it said.

One thing that I did find that I thought was interesting was about Maggie's dark hair.

The essay is called "The Chains of Semiosis: Semiotics, Marxism, and the Female Stereotypes in The Mill on the Floss" by Jose Angel Garcia Landa.

He writes, "her hair, most notably becomes an emblem of her irrepressible, mouldbreaking vitality" (76).

Then, he references the following passage between Maggie and Philip:

"Take back your Corinne...I didn't finish the book," said Maggie. "As soon as I came to the blond-haired young lady reading in the park, I shut it up, and determined to read no further. I foresaw that that light-complexioned girl would win away all the love from Corinne and make her miserable. I'm determined to read no more books where the blond-haired women carry away all the happiness. I should begin to have a prejudice against them. If you could give me some story, now, where the dark woman triumphs, it would restore the balance. I want to avenge Rebecca and Flora MacIvor and Minna, and all the rest of the dark unhappy ones. Since you are my tutor, you ought to preserve my mind from prejudices; you are always arguing against prejudices.""Well, perhaps you will avenge the dark women in your own person, and carry away all the love from your cousin Lucy. She is sure to have some handsome young man of St. Ogg's at her feet now; and you have only to shine upon him–your fair little cousin will be quite quenched in your beams."

He says about the passage, "This is an astonishing passage, where the character denounces a literary stereotype of which she is herself an instance, used in a deliberate and self-conscious way by Eliot...The dark heroines are not merely powerfully sexed; they also have a strong will; they tend to be self-assertive, courageous and demanding...But George Eliot does more than recognize and denounce the stereotype; she uses it. By means of Maggie's rejection of the stereotype, Eliot deprives it of any real basis; but that does not prevent her from exploiting it in the construction ofMaggie...Maggie Tulliver becomes an intertextual heroine; the unconsciously accumulated image of female subjection speak through her in a new way" (77).

I think that we can also connect it to the portrayals of Eve as "dark," a temptress and seductress, the one who brings down the fall of mankind. As compared to Mary in the New Testament, who is virginal and pure...i.e., light.


message 18: by Lynnm (last edited Feb 07, 2012 08:26AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments BunWat wrote: "Its two different views of education. One is that the purpose is to accquire abstract knowledge and refinement. To learn the things and cultivate the aesthetic sensibilities that admit you to the inner circle of people who can quote Horace or tell you about the Peloponnesian War.

And the other world of practical, merchantile ambition where the purpose of knowledge is to accomplish an end with it; double entry book keeping, or how to use a compass and a chart, or how to design machinery or calculate freight costs accurately. "


Nice points. Both types of education are important, and it is possible to marry the two. Unfortunately, each mocks the other.

I'm finding it difficult to figure out which side Eliot is on. At times, she seems to mock abstract knowledge or the inability of teachers to marry abstract knowledge with practical knowledge. But then, there is Tom, who has practical knowledge, but who is rigid and uncompassionate because he lacks true understanding.


message 19: by Silver (new)

Silver Lynnm wrote: I'm finding it difficult to figure out which side Eliot is on. At times, she seems to mock abstract knowledge or the inability of teachers to marry abstract knowledge with practical knowledge. But then, there is Tom, who has practical knowledge, but who is rigid and uncompassionate because he lacks true understanding."

Perhaps she is not really meaning to choose one side over the other or declare one being better than the other, but rather showing the advantages and disadvantages of both types of educations. It may be that she is suggesting that a person needs or at least should have both types of education to be able to function fully in the world.

In order to be compassionate and better relate to and understand other people, one needs to have a grasp upon more abstract knowledge. But if one had only this, they may not fully understand the reality of the way the world functions. And if one possess only practical knowledge while it will help them to be more successful in the world at large, it will render them in able to sympathetic with others and to try and understand things from another's point of view.

Maggie and Tom are both flawed in their own ways, and they both lack a balance in their education.


message 20: by Kevin (new)

Kevin Waggoner (skbpen) MadgeUK wrote: "There is a theme of Adam and Eve and the loss of the Garden of Eden running through the novel I think, so in both Tom and Maggie we are seeing a 'fall' and its inevitable consequences. It is a comm..."

I agree and concur. A great observation!


message 21: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Still reading through some scholarly essays, and found an interesting point in Mary Jacobus' "The Question of Language: The Mill on the Floss." She writes that Maggie reads and learns on her own from books, and that "this is knowledge drawn directly from books without the aid of a patriarchal pedagogue" (70).

For the most part, at this point in time, almost all of the books are written by men. Therefore, men get to define societal beliefs and the role of women. In addition, since it is male teachers who interpret these male works, females are completely left out of constructing themselves or the world around them.

Maggie breaks that cycle in part by reading on her own. She can draw her own conclusions based on her own interpretations.

And of course, female writers in Eliot's time begin to write against this male construct, and begin to define themselves and society/culture.

Also, in a way, female writers serve as teachers, because books are the basis of education.


message 22: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Excellent points. It is only in recent times that women writers have become as influential as men and so societal beliefs were formed by men for centuries. Even before books were printed shamans were men and passed on such beliefs orally.


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