The Mill on the Floss Review

Prepare yourselves.

I remember my sister telling me the synopsis on this story oh, a decade ago, so I knew the siblings died, I couldn’t remember anything much else, just vague things like there was a love interest. I didn’t have any connotation of the author then, and her name didn’t stick. Years later I read Silas Marner and disliked it, and then years after that I read Middlemarch which I liked which inspired me to then read Amos Barton (disliked), Adam Bede (liked), and Daniel Deronda (liked).

I’m not sure when that I learned she wrote Mill on the Floss as well. I was not inspired with a desire to read it immediately. A few years ago, I got barely into it but didn’t perservere. I’ve had it on my newest Classic Club list (see tab above), and included it on my most recent spin list and it was chosen.

Once again it was a slow start and then I left oft and it looked like it was going to be another fail, but then I picked it up again and got really absorbed. There was just so much going on and Victorian authors seem to often have a way of showing everyone’s humanity and idiosyncrasies that is just hilarious and unique.

Eliot does have a way of writing characters I’m ambivalent towards (yet that doesn’t necessarily mean I will dislike the novel), but this novel seemed a bit extreme in that way. The mother seemed to be barely mentally competent, the father a blustering selfish fool he seemed kindly enough at first but later! If he can’t forgive, I can’t forgive what he put his family through. Tom I had more respect for except for how he took up the petty revenge and visited it on innocent people. The aunts’ idiocy and selfishness were interesting but very repetitive (there was a LOT of repetition which is something that I don’t remember from Eliot’s other works and which eventually made this tiring towards then end). I took Maggie to be the main character and the good one.

Towards the beginning and then end tons of things keep happening and new characters and angles are introduced, but the same character flaws show up in the main family characters with very little variation except maybe to be more extreme, and the same types of mistakes and wrongs are done and no one learns a thing. The father assumes all he does is right and that everything wrong that happens to him is someone else’s fault and puts that fault on an innocent person because that person was connected to someone he saw as wronging him. The mother becomes more mentally feeble. Tom, while he does mature in responsibility becomes even more narrow thinking and blinded and prejudiced and self-righteous and takes up his father’s prejudice and hatred and focuses it more on the innocent person.

And well, I kept thinking Maggie was the heroine and would eventually act like it, and I also thought that there would be some satisfying love section before the sorrow (despite the fact that nothing was getting resolved and more and more complications added unnecessary by the characters).

Why I kept thinking this in the face of the evidence is beyond me. Maggie only passively let things happen (nonaction action which drives me insane) and then reacted at the final hour to the supreme hurt of everyone whether they were wrong or right or a mix of both. And submitted for all the wrong reasons to her family and their wrongdoing and sacrificed other people while she called it “right.” I think she had some sort of superficially self-abnegation idolatry complex. With the major climax with Stephen (there are several, it was rather exhausting), I finally lost patience with her and her stupid, twisted woe is me, I must sacrifice myself sermons. Sorry, lady, if you really felt that way, you’d never have let it get to this point. It’s almost like she wanted to have some sort of self victory to let it get this far then break it off . . . and too bad about the other people and their feelings!

This was about 6 chapters to the end, I lightly skimmed over the rest I couldn’t stand to read anymore, disgusted with everything and everyone and not remotely sad that Maggie died, more like, fine kill off the wretched heroine, sacrifice her brother (she sacrifices everyone she says loves, so it is fitting) and end this monstrosity.

I thereupon immediately texted my sister telling her my opinions and asked her if she’d liked it (she seemed shocked at the ending from my memory but she was drawn to sorrowful types of books, especially then). She told me, no, why did I think it took her so long to read other Eliot novels?! (She usually led on lots of literature, but I think I was the one that brought up Eliot, guess I know why now). She also said something about the chronological order of the books, s0 I looked up all the Eliot novels.

Scenes of Clerical Life, 1857 (Amos Barton in this short story collection, I’ve included this with the novels since I’ve read Amos Barton)
Adam Bede, 1859
The Mill on the Floss, 1860
Silas Marner, 1861
Romola, 1863
Felix Holt, the Radical, 1866
Middlemarch, 1871–72
Daniel Deronda, 1876

The Mill on the Floss, after Adam Bede (but I did enjoy that one, at least it interested me, I think most of the characters irritated me too). I guess she gave her characters a bit more brains and some of them agency after that, although again, I don’t think all the characters in Adam Bede were like that. I know often her characters infuriated me, but usually I enjoyed the reading experience and didn’t want to throw it against the wall.

Don’t start your Eliot reading with either of those though (Adam Bede is quite the experience, not so near much action as Mill on the Floss, but oh my stars the action, its DARK), unless you like this sort of thing. I’d start with Middlemarch.

To sum up, I assumed Mill on the Floss was sad, of the type where the characters have all the promise of happiness and suddenly it is cut off (again, not sure why I thought that). Instead, it reminded me of Ethan Frome in that the sorrows were all self-inflicted and piled on in a way that made it ludicrous, not sad.

And Maggie made me think of making this, I couldn’t get the phrasing to express quite what I meant, but settled on this:


    • Rachel Olivia

      Thanks I was proud of myself. And what makes it most annoying is that it was absorbing until I realized nothing was going to really get resolved and the same types of issues kept happening!

  • Marian

    That meme is great, haha! I’ve only watched the TV adaptation of The Mill on the Floss… I just remember the ending was a trainwreck. Thanks for the review – I don’t think I’ll read this one. πŸ˜†

    ” the same types of mistakes and wrongs are done and no one learns a thing” – Ok, this is what really bakes my biscuits with these kinds of novels. I think you said you read Book 1 of Kristin Lavransdatter? I just finished Book 2, and while I enjoyed it a great deal more, I feel it suffers from a similar problem. It especially irritates me when people are fully aware of their mistakes but take no steps to fix the situation or avoid it in the future. Argh…

    • Rachel Olivia

      I got like 10 pages in to Kristin Lavransdatter. I’m still intending to try it.

      I wouldn’t say these characters in Mill on the Floss were aware of their faults, they either blamed everyone else or thought they were virtuous or twisted it some other way.

  • Jillian

    Love the meme. πŸ˜‰ Also thanks for the tips on George Eliot! I have tried both Middlemarch & The Mill on the Floss & agree that Middlemarch is more engaging. Although I haven’t finished either!

    I tried to friend you on Goodreads but I can’t get past your challenge question. My profile is private as well & also blocked by the challenge question, so we are at an impasse. 🀣

    • Rachel Olivia

      Thanks, I was tickled with myself.

      Maybe you could follow me? I know that is an option. Honestly, I’m not super active socially on Goodreads, I use it more as a cataloging and rating system (even though I hate that they only have 5 stars, I need either half stars or 10 to really get it). I’ve been thinking about switching to Storygraph, but I need to look into it more, I did one transfer which transferred most of my books, but haven’t kept it up, and I also tried an excel sheet but haven’t kept that up either.

      • Jillian

        Hi! I answered this here yesterday, but my messages must be going to spam again for some reason. They keep vanishing.

        Anyway, your profile is showing up private to me on Goodreads, so there’s no way to follow. πŸ™‚ I hear you on just using it to catalogue though.

        I’ve got a Storygraph account just for the graphs and stats, but I have that one privated as I never review over there. That’s my for cataloguing place. I also have a private Library Thing account for cataloguing & really like it: they do permit half stars there. I have some memory you have to pay for a membership though. I slipped in when they were having some “free for a lifetime” deal quite a while back.

        • Rachel Olivia

          Oh, I didn’t know about the follow. I think I’m going to keep it private for now though, I had Goodreads before blogging, so kind of mixed public and personal and not sure how to separate (or if I want to as I might just move to another tracking) whereas with Instagram I have my private instagram and then my blog instagram because that came later. It took me forever to even put my real name on my blog. I usually do my reviews and book opinions on here.

          How do you like Storygraph? Is it something you’d switch fully too? I feel like I’ve sunk so much into Goodreads, but its also not quite what I want.

          I don’t know what’s up with the comments, I published and replied to your first one. But I’m erratic on doing that, it could be the same day, it could be another week. Sometimes comments do end up in spam, but not this time.

          • Jillian

            Strange! Maybe I need to clear my cache or something. I can see everything now.

            I completely understand about wanting to keep Goodreads private!

            Storygraph is really exciting in concept, but I personally prefer Goodreads so far, merely because it seems more social to me, & I can better see my shelves all lined up. You can tag things on Storygraph, but it’s not the same as having a nice neat page full of your shelves.

            I LOVE the graphs at Storygraph, & the founder is constantly tweaking the site, so it may become more what I want. One of the key things there is that people can follow you (unless your profile is private, as mine is currently), but you have no idea they are following you, & that no one can comment on anything you say. That might be perfect for some folks but I admit it feels a little too silent for me personally. There’s NO CONVERSATION. That said, I’m keeping my shelves there going in case I change my mind. Seriously, the graphs are awesome though: you get to see which genre you favor, which moods you read, that sort of thing, accumulated over time, or by month.

            I don’t review or rate over there: there’s no “compare book” feature, & that’s the only reason I rate at all. I find the rating system as a whole a little limiting (I’m a writer so it seems cold to just slap a number on a novel), but on Goodreads I use it because it helps me see how my taste in books aligns with others. On Storygraph, reviewing is a little more in-depth: you can rate the characters, the pace, the mood, that sort of thing. Which makes it easier to see at a glance what the book has to offer according to the community, rather than a flat rating. And the site gives some pretty good recommendations based upon an introductory survey about your tastes. I’ve found the recommendations far more relevant to me than the recommendations on Goodreads.

            So for me, Storygraph is great as an accompaniment to Goodreads, but I personally prefer Goodreads at this point. However, you may feel the opposite way, especially since you prefer to keep your reading private.

          • Rachel Olivia

            Kind of sounds like I want bits of both, but don’t want to keep up two sites, maybe I should work from my excel again. I’ve almost wondered how hard it would be to develop an app or something. I just know that having access to all the published book information makes it complicated. Hence Amazon owning Goodreads.

  • Jillian

    I can’t find my comment or your reply in this thread, but I go a notification in WordPress. So I’m not sure what’s happening but I can see it there:

    “Maybe you could follow me? I know that is an option. Honestly, I’m not super active socially on Goodreads, I use it more as a cataloging and rating system (even though I hate that they only have 5 stars, I need either half stars or 10 to really get it). I’ve been thinking about switching to Storygraph, but I need to look into it more, I did one transfer which transferred most of my books, but haven’t kept it up, and I also tried an excel sheet but haven’t kept that up either.”

    I’d love to follow you on Goodreads. I actually did before, but your profile is set to private now, so I can’t follow or see anything, If you don’t use it much, though, I totally understand. πŸ™‚

    I have a private Storygraph profile just to see my graphs. I don’t review or rate there though.

    Library Thing may be another option for you? They allow half stars there.

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