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
Felix Holt, the Radical, 1866
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:
I think that part of the reason why I have enjoyed some of the Dickens and Eliot books so much is because I am quite unfamiliar with the stories. I also greatly enjoy the writing style; so much so, in fact, that I do not have to love the characters (or many of them at least) to enjoy the book.
I would have liked Daniel Deronda far more if not for his-not-truly-honorable interactions with Gwendolen. Sometimes it is enough for actions to be bad if they look bad. Gwendolen had no reason to have confidences with a man not related to her and not her husband, and Deronda had no business receiving them.
Gwendolen was obnoxious. Grandcourt was awful, but I think that Gwendolen deserved some awful. I hate the might-have-been implied/hinted at between Deronda and Gwendolen although I was relieved that he never actually liked her too much. But still. I hate salvation separations from outside or offensive party’s side! And the Deronda/Gwendolen interludes are so intense especially compared to the (far fewer) depicted interactions with Daniel and Mirah.
Mordecai is rather weird and the Hebrew issues are disturbing, particularly as religions are portrayed relatively. There are some passages that are freakishly prophetic though.
I liked Hans and Sir Hugo although they are underdeveloped characters.
There are some humorous incidental sentences that made it into my quote book. I am not sure that I will reread this novel though; I found it interesting and enjoyable, but I preferred Middlemarch and Adam Bede.
I came to this novel in almost perfect ignorance of the story. I highly recommend this method. I learned a little from the chapter titles (I love chapter titles although these could have been improved in the creative aspect) and through fill-in-the-sequence logic, but I still found myself totally unprepared for certain events and aspects.
This is the author’s first published novel and although sometimes sections of the story seem “artificial” or disjointed, the incongruity is slight and probably heightened by my sensitivity about said sections. I think the story read well despite these wrinkles.
Be careful with this. There is ill-placed/sorted blame, excusing, and dehumanizing elements. Great sin is lessened. The topic has been taken further today, and this story in the hands of a modernist or post-modernist would be depraved, and the conduct misconstrued (lessened) further.
- Caleb Garth was the best character as person. Caleb-with-a-‘c’(which form I have always preferred and considered as the true form and which must be distinguished from Kaleb-with-a-‘k’ as they don’t have the same connotation, at all, Kaleb-with-a-‘k’ is just a name) is homespun, solid, heart of gold goodness.I loved his character especially as such characters seem rarer than one might think—good, humble, honest characters are often portrayed as somewhat simple—not Caleb! He was sweet, strictly honorable, diligent, and intelligent. He did have two flaws in my opinion—his choice of wife and his having a favorite child.And now we come to my favorite character, Fred. I think I love all literary Fred’s (for example par excellence, Fred Weasley). That name and mischievousness and merriness seem inseparable (but Frederick is more magnificent…Captain Wentworth anyone?). Fred Vincy, what a silly gentleman’s name, but Frederick shows that the character has the capacity to deepen.Fred was irresistibly lovable in a Laurie-esque way: he was rich and spoiled with plenty of potential in him. The descriptions of him and his thought processes and his “travails” and his love were hysterical.I was irritated with his laziness and loved that Mary and Caleb both thought that he needed to work and not rely on being a gentleman of means (even if he could). I was thrilled that he was allowed to improve. I love when characters turn around like that. He wasn’t a worthless rich snob. What a good lad. I don’t like the slights Mrs. Garth gave him in Farebrother’s favor.
Whew, that is all I have the will to express about Middlemarch.
Mr. and Mrs. Cadwallader—funny.
I despised and disliked Dorothea herself in the beginning; she was stupid and obnoxious and inconsistent, aiming for “high” goals with steps that quite clearly took her to depths as she had neither foresight or insight. She was described as being deep and noble and etc., but her actions showed otherwise until after Causabon’s death. Actions speak louder than words even in fiction.
She should’ve seen that even a great theological work (which Causabon’s work was NOT) is not widely beneficial—God does not list massive theological works under Christian responsibilities (although they are and do good to educated people), but He does require kindness, charity, and good works—and her cottages were much more Biblical and helpful especially in light of the fact that Causabon’s work turned out to be mythological and ludicrous.
She rather deserved a downfall, but I think she perhaps got more that she deserved…maybe not, she should’ve know marriage was for life and could be bondage.
Even though she was innocent, I still think she should’ve known better than to be so free and friendly with Will, especially since she knew that it displeased her husband.
I am glad Causabon died before she could promise—but she still showed her weakness. She seemed very mature after that ordeal though, I like the concept of progression. I wish Will had shown it too though. I did like her and Will’s relationship after the death of Causabon.
Will, oh Will. “What a pepper-pots you are!” (guess that quote!) Will, who doesn’t love a Will? And Ladislaw, are all Polish names interesting? He is interesting and merry and ardent and changeable.
He was irritating in his worship of Dorothea and the way he viewed all other women—except when this was applied to Rosamund—that wretch. He spent too much time with Rosamund, and he should’ve known better and seen how shallow she was. Even if he cared so little what other people thought of it and for Rosamund herself, he still should’ve cared what Dorothea thought…and his duty to Lydgate.
He was also committing adultery with Dorothea on his own part. But as I said, I loved that he and Dorothea married after that…is that wrong? His honor and pride were impeccable with regards to everything besides marriage in which he deceived himself.
Farebrother. I liked him at first probably somewhat to make up for Lydgate’s snubs. When Mary came up, I was much less pleased with him. The age difference was disgusting. I also took offense at the comparison between himself and Fred as if he had some greater right because he was older…to a young woman near Fred’s age. If he and Fred were the same age and Mary was neutral, yes, but the older shouldn’t steal from the younger nor should the unfavoured from the first favoured.
It was interesting that he was so truthful with Fred, but it was disgusting to hear of such selfish, deceitful considerations from so old a person and a clergyman. He shouldn’t have pushed his case as angered at Fred’s presumption against his worthy age—he would’ve lost his respect had he put in his hand. He took the only honourable course even had Mary been neutral.
Mrs. Garth. The fact of her being above Caleb in status shouldn’t have affected Caleb’s deserving an excellent woman. She may have been described as a good woman, but I don’t want the author to tell me if a character is good or bad or nice or mean—I want to see those things. I did not see anything overly admirable and certainly nothing pleasant about Mrs. Garth.
Mary was a nice character of course, but she was rather underdeveloped as a character especially since she was pursued by two male characters at least one of whom was more developed than herself. There was very little interaction between her admirers and herself.
The quote is from Little Women in chapter 21. Jo says it to Laurie, of course!
The book was long and had many characters, and I am verbose and rambling, so the review (spoiler review by the way) will be in 3 parts…live with it! 🙂
I cannot remember exactly when I started this, I think sometime in January. I read it in phases. I was dragging my mind, not very motivated. Eventually, I think became very interested after forcing myself along and my reading sped up. By the time I was finished I could honestly say that I enjoyed it immensely. The plot was wonderfully interesting with all the many plotlines and their interesting intersections…or lack thereof. Much of the story was brimming with British humor. Candid descriptions of human unconscious and conscious maneuvers and motivations abounded.
Unpleasant aspects first.
The major issue with this novel was the light view of the sanctity of marriage. Apparently to love a married person from afar was not dishonorable (even though every other old standard of strict honor was held).
I don’t like when people inquire into authorial intent (we can only know authorial intent if we read personal journals and letters and sometimes I don’t want to know it, it rather spoils forming my own opinions), but I do think we need to allow for authorial bias. I know that Eliot did not have a great set of morals herself as she formed an immoral alliance outside of marriage, and I cannot help but think that this influenced her apparent idea that extramarital romantic love as long as it was “pure” (by its very nature it cannot be in such circumstances) was acceptable.
Will quickly fell in love with his cousin’s wife, and this love is treated as good because she was angelic and “had no corresponding feeling” and because he had “no designs”. Rosamund’s love for Will is portrayed in a more neutral light (but it obviously is still wrong) and even Dorothea doesn’t see this with all her described virtues; she should’ve been horrified as well as jealous and pained when she thought Will loved Rosamund. I feel that since Rosamund is so despicable that perhaps this portrayal is less dangerous at least for the Biblically educated reader.
While we are on the subject of that diva…frail creature my eye. If she was capable of being so willfully a shameful, selfish, adulterous, manipulative witch, she was capable of applying her mind to being good; she obviously had some brains. She also seems terribly lazy, but I am not sure what her household duties were…all she seemed to do was busywork, complaining, primping, riding without her husband’s permission, complaining, and fawning on her husband’s rich relations. To sit and spend all Lydgate’s earned money and then dishonor and disrespect him and withdraw her love when he was in trouble because of HER! Poor Rosamund indeed. !!!!!!
Oh, and it was TOTALLY out of character for her explain her own and Will’s situations to Dorothea as she did. Not that it would redeem her in my eyes if it seemed realistic…
Lydgate. This section of the story bothered me the most. I always like the well-bred-to-the-point-of-arrogance characters to some extent because of their breeding, so I approved of Lydgate although I did not like his harsh judgment and treatment of Mr. Farebrother.
Even though I knew Rosamund would turn out horrid, I kept believing/hoping that Lydgate would be successful in the medical field and never thought he would succumb as he did to her selfish, manipulative will. I found it hard to believe that he still loved her after her disobedience and deception, and I kept hoping that he would pull himself together and be a man.
He was rather stuck on himself, but I don’t think he deserved to live his life under Rosamund’s sorry will and accomplish nothing and die young. That ending was too cruel…especially as it was written in a light tone and as if it was supposed to be humorous—insult to fatal injury! Lydgate was of a higher order—or should have been. I supposed though that this was something of a “pride before the fall” set up.
I felt sorry for Mr. Bulstrode. I did not like that his repentance had to be false. I also hated the hypocrisy and cruelty of the gossipers. I hated that Bulstrode killed the man—why did she have to add that horrific, criminal twist? I supposed too many reforms (Fred) would’ve been too great—but murder? REALLY?
I even at some points (not near his end) felt sorry for Causabon because no one liked him, and he was so miserable and his work was worthless and foolish (a redeeming insight of Dorothea’s). However, he could’ve taken himself less seriously and have loosened up so as not to be himself ridiculous and rude. What he asked of Dorothea was selfish, wicked, and cruel (he knew her sense of honour would last beyond his death). I couldn’t pity him then—I rejoiced at his death quite as much as I was originally planning.