Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Review- The Mill on the Floss

For the Classics Club I read George Elliot's novel The Mill on the Floss.
Synopsis from Goodreads: Brought up at Dorlcote Mill, Maggie Tulliver worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother, a close friend who is also the son of her family's worst enemy, and a charismatic but dangerous suitor. With its poignant portrayal of sibling relationships, The Mill on the Floss is considered George Eliot's most autobiographical novel; it is also one of her most powerful and moving.
I think I'm getting a better appreciation for George Elliot with each book of her's I read. I don't love her and I doubt I ever will, but I do find her books thought-provoking and beautifully written. I actually listened to Mill on the Floss via audiobook which I really enjoyed and of course made for a slightly different reading experience.
Maggie, the main character of the story, is absolutely intriguing and her arc drives the story. Her different roles as a daughter, sister, friend and lover push and pull her in all directions as she tires to navigate life and it's trials. She's a relatable character, making poor decisions as she strives to make the right ones. She yearns for love and acceptance. Her goal is to please everybody.  I didn't totally like Maggie and oftentimes I was like "what did you just do!" However I couldn't help but pity her.
The other characters in the story were intriguing as well. Her mother and all of her mother's family were the typical hypocritical English snobberies and fops (not quite gentry but proud enough to be) that irked and amused you to no end. Her father was an intriguing blend of passionate outburst and endearing love. In the end he ends up a rather bitter and pathetic man. But again you kind of pity him. One of the most interesting relationships in the story is between Maggie and her brother Tom. You watch Tom develop through the story. He goes through many of the same trials Maggie does but his personality dictates very different reactions, which cause him to grow up a harder person who sees the world as very black and white.
Then there's the contrast between Maggie's two suitors. Phillip Wakem is the deformed son of Maggie's father's rival. Maggie loves him first as a child for his kindness to her brother Tom and then later forms a forbidden attachment to him partially out of pity and partially out of true love. Phillip loves her deeply and is also a good friend to her advising her and supporting her through her life. He's not very good at being self-encouraging though and let's his deformity depress and control him. He thinks very little of himself. He does work to better himself in his studies and is quite artistically talented. Overall I like Phillip but he basically begs Maggie to love and marry him, guilting her into the attachment in some ways. Maggie really does like him but as their fathers are rivals she sees the attachment as impossible but Phillip is unwilling to accept that answer.
Maggie's other suitor is Stephen Guest, who you are introduced to as the suitor of Maggie's cousin and good friend Lucy. Stephen and Lucy are basically engaged when Maggie comes on the scene. Almost as soon as Stephen is introduced to Maggie though he is enraptured by her and looks to be noticed by her often, something that Lucy is oblivious to but Maggie picks up. Maggie doesn't know what to think at first but as time goes on becomes seduced by Stephen's wit, charm and physical attractiveness. She denies these feelings though as she considers herself promised to Phillip and Stephen is basically engaged to Lucy. Stephen continues to push the limits of their friendship though until he gets her to admit that she has feelings for him. I don't want to give away how that concludes but let me just say that I find Stephen to be deplorable. He's manipulative and pathetic, thinking only of himself over and over again. While I do not find Maggie's character to be spotless in what happens she does really strive to do the right thing and tells Stephen no over and over again but Stephen keeps pushing her and trying to seduce her. I really loathe him. Enough of him though! Understand I hate him!
One more character I'll mention before I close this review is Bob Jakin, a childhood friend of Tom's who returns when he is older and helps the family over and over again out of the sweetness of his heart. He's kind of an adorable character and you can't help but love him. He's compassionate and generous but also brings a sense of comic relief to the book. He's easily the best character in the book.
There's so many other interesting characters and so much else you could say about this book but I couldn't possibly cover it all. I didn't love this book but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm sure I'll revisit it again sometime in the future and glean even more from it.

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  1. My best friend counts this as one of her favorite books, so I've been wanting to read it for a while, but haven't yet. I loved Middlemarch, though, so I will definitely read this eventually!

  2. I agree with Hamlette above. Middlemarch is so good! There are a few really lovable characters and as a Christian I found Dorothea's need to be and do good entertaining and at times funny.Also there's a few great romances throughout the story.

    I tried reading Mill on the Floss but just didn't love the characters.

    So glad I found your blog through The Classics Club!



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