Friday, June 22, 2012

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

From the moment I read the beautiful opening chapter until the tearful turning of the last page I was enthralled with The Mill on the Floss. I had no idea when I began what an emotionally intense reading experience it would be and I loved every word.

It is the story of a brother and sister, Tom and Maggie Tulliver, who grow up at Dorlcote Mill near to the (fictional) village of St Ogg's in rural England and spans about 12 years from around 1830. This is an era when England was on the brink of enormous reforms and change but country life still remained the same as it had for centuries. Families seldom moved far from their ancestral roots and each region had it's own dialect, customs and beliefs. This is the environment in which Tom and Maggie grow up surrounded by extended Tulliver and Dodson family and expected to conform to the expectations of their elders. Mrs Tulliver had been Miss Dodson and she has three married sisters whose one-up-manship and bickering among themselves provides a welcome touch of humour.
"The religion of the Dodsons consisted in revering whatever was customary and respectable; it was necessary to be baptised else one could not be buried in the churchyard, 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."
Tom and Maggie Tulliver
From the beginning my heart went out to little Maggie. A bright, intelligent little girl but prone to rash, emotionally prompted actions that constantly get her into trouble and that, plus her unruly black hair and dark skin, make her the subject of criticism and grim forebodings about her future from her mother and aunts.
She finds solace in her father who dearly loves his 'little wench' and idolizes her brother, Tom, although no matter how hard she tries she never seems to please him.
Tom is the pride of the family, a practical, 'bovine' boy and according to his aunts 'a true Dodson.' As a boy he alternates offhand affection to Maggie with unkindness and disapproval, as a young man he becomes increasingly cold and judgmental.


 As Maggie reaches adulthood the conflict between her duty and need to be loved is played out in her relationships with the men in her life until her inability to conform to society's expectations completely alienates her from her brother.

I loved everything about this book. Beautiful evocative prose describing the countryside I am happy to read over and over again and I enjoyed following the symbolism of the Floss throughout the story. That the pace is quiet and slow much of the time was not a worry - I slow down with it and appreciate what I'm reading more.
It also leaves the reader unprepared for the impact the sudden and devastating ending will make. An ending that many don't seem to care for but I liked it. Life does the same - the catastrophic events that hit us often come suddenly and leave us, shocked and stunned,
trying to comprehend what has happened. Which is exactly how I felt in the final pages.

Brilliant! ....and I'm very happy I made the decision to buy not borrow. 

Related post - Mill on the Floss Visual Tour
The Classics Club



22 comments:

  1. I can't wait to read this one! :)

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    1. Don't wait too long, Jillian - I'm sure you'll love it.

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  2. I'm glad you loved this one! I absolutely ADORE this book. I push it on everyone. :)

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    1. I think I'll be a pusher for it too! Beautiful story.

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  3. This sounds wonderful! I LOVE the classics and haven't read The Mill on the Floss yet. Putting it on the list~

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    1. I hope you'll love it as much as I did.

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  4. I read my first Eliot novel last year - Adam Bede, after failing with Middlemarch. I have this one on the TBR stack, and maybe I should try it next. I do find her writing a challenge.

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    1. Middlemarch does look a bit daunting - I'm saving that until next year.

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  5. I read Middlemarch this year, and while I enjoyed it, I also was exhausted by it. I liked Eliot's writing style, though, so I should give her another go, and maybe this is where to start!

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    1. I read your posts on Middlemarch and I can see it will be a mammoth read which I shall take very slowly.

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  6. I need to reread this one! I remember just loving it when it was required reading in college, but, that has been more than a few years now! I just have a vague memory of becoming really absorbed in this book.

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    1. I'm sure I'll be rereading in the future. I was unprepared for how emotional it would be more and how easy to read.

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  7. I loved this one back when I read it a few years ago. In fact, it was one of the first books I reviewed on my blog. I just went back to read it and saw that I posted the same quote you did. Hilarious! It must make an impression on a lot of people.

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    1. I'm not very good at stopping and marking quotes but that one I thought was so funny and summed up the narrow attitudes of the Dodson ladies so well I made sure I'd find it again.

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  8. I read this in high school and it was rather painful, but I loved Middlemarch. Maybe I was just too young to appreciate it back then and should give it another go.

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    1. That is probably a good idea as I've just discovered reading Dickens how my opinion has changed since I read him when I was young.

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  9. I've just finished it - headachingly good book.

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    1. It was, indeed. A very emotional experience.

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  10. This is high on my list. I've loved everything I've read by her so far!

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  11. I'm sure you'll love this one too!

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