Monday, October 20, 2008

Mill on the Floss

Since I happen to subsist on books, it will be extremely unlike me to not write about my favorite book on my blog. So this post is dedicated to George Eliot's 'Mill on the Floss'. This isn't a review, its just my understanding of the book and why it has influenced me so much.

Not many people I know, have found this book interesting. They say its dull. But its this simplicity, restrained slow-paced setting of the book that makes it unique. I don't have a penchant for fast paced thrillers, its not that I don't read them , but my first love remains literature. Also maybe because I don't have siblings of my own, I find the adhesion between the siblings in the book very fascinating. Their undying love touches you in ways unexplained. The plot revolves around two central characters, Maggie and Tom Tulliver, siblings. The setting is a picturesque mill on the river Floss near the village of St. Oggs, somewhere in the 1820s after the Napoleonic Wars.

Maggie is a wild young girl who her mother fears will never make an elegant lady nor a good wife. She is everything that a woman shouldn’t be, dark, clever and active. Maggie’s father is quite proud of his daughter's intelligence and buys her ample books to read. Maggie's greatest happiness is Tom's affection. Though Tom is less studious than Maggie , Mr. Tulliver sends Tom to have additional education rather than have him take over the mill. Maggie is heartbroken to be separated from Tom. What follows is a series of events that put to test the family love.

The bond that they share continues to grow through the novel. Tom's reserved , realistic nature clashes continuously with Maggie's idealism and zeal for intellectual experience.Various family crises, bankruptcy, loss of the mill, Mr. Tulliver's sudden death intensify Tom and Maggie's differences and accentuates their love. Tom enters business, leaving school to repay his father's debts and finally finds success and restores the family's estate. Meanwhile Maggie's giftedness is wasted in an impoverished home and social isolation. She enters a period of passionate spirituality in which she renews friendship with Philip Wakem, with whom she had developed acquaintance when he was a fellow student with Tom. Against the wishes of Tom, she secretly meets him and together they go for long solitary walks in the woods. Her thirst for love and a cultured existence is gratified in these visits. Their relationship is partially Maggie's sympathy for broken and abandoned human beings and partly her theoretical romantic desires. When Tom discovers their relationship, he forces Maggie to give up her love and with him all hopes of a beautiful emotionally satisfying life.

After some years, Lucy, her cousin, invites Maggie to stay with her for some time, during which she get close to Lucy's beau Stephen Guest. Stephen and Maggie' fierce attraction, gets them into an awkward situation where they decide to elope, almost accidently. Soon enough, nevertheless too late ,Maggie realizes her folly and pleads Stephen to send her back to her place which he unwillingly does. Tom denounces her and she lives like an outcast with an old family friend for some time. Lucy and Philip though saddened by the turn of events forgive her, and she is relieved from the guilt of doing the unpardonable. Maggie’s exile ends when the river floods, and she sets out in a boat through the horrid waters,looking for Tom, the two meet and embrace, the boat capsizes. Thus the Biblical epigraph 'In death they were not divided.'

The plot though moving and startlingly sad, its the description of pieces of childhood scenes that's most captivating. When she's not allowed to accompany father to pick up Tom from his academy ,as her mother combs her reluctant black crop of hair, Maggie runs out and dips her head in a water of basin, so that there would be no more chance of any curls that day. When one of her aunts happens to make a disapproving comment about her unbrushed hair, she impulsively cuts off her locks much to the dismay of her shocked mother, but something that was done initially to grant her freedom from everyday brushing, immediately brings shame and grief when Tom mocks at her calling her an idiot. Another very interesting scene is where she, upset with Tom for loving Lucy more, runs away from home to become a gypsy. All these small incidents help us to understand her love for freedom , from something she doesn’t know of, and ultimately why she turns into the woman she becomes later in the story.

The book is a relaxing and stimulating read, but then you need patience to grasp the beauty of the moving sketch Eliot brings to the canvas.


sawan said...

i seriously think that i should visit ur place sometime. sounds like u have a promising library!

athi said...

yes !!! :) u r welcome. I love discussing books. Next fav pastime btw reading n writing.

Karthik said...

I've heard from my frnds that Mill on the Floss is boring and it wud take months for them to finish it! I've read her Romola! But aftr seeing this post, it does seem to be interesting. George Eliot’s novels, articulates the tension between circumstances and the spiritual energies of individuals struggling against those circumstances. A certain determinism will be at play throughout her novels. And as u mentioned at the end, i accept Eliot's sentence structures are clear, patient, and well balanced, and she mixes plain statement and unsettling irony with rare poise!

athi said...

@karthik very true. glad to know dis post at least made u thk of readin it. :) serves d purpose. Romola is a wonderful read bt d purpose der is diffrnt, its more bot d poltical,religious upheavals during Renaissance. Why I adore Mill on the Floss is for the reason that though the incidents in the novel are no more realistic in our times,the characters are forever real and the influence on the story is purely that of the society.