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: