Mill on the Floss

I just finished reading Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.  It tells the story of Maggie Tulliver from childhood to her early twenties.  It is an engaging read with a lovable protagonist and brilliant descriptions.  This book begins optimistically, when Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver decide what to do about an education for Maggie’s brother Tom.  However, the novel soon becomes bleak when Mr. Tulliver loses all the family’s money and property in a lawsuit.  It then turns into a love story, focusing mainly on Maggie’s relationships with Philip Wakem and Stephen Guest.  I was not expecting this twist, because in a George Eliot novel I have read previously (Silas Marner) I do not remember romance being a central theme.  (Note: Even though romance is a factor, if you are looking specifically for a romantic novel I would recommend an Austen or Brontë novel over Mill on the Floss.)

I loved this book.  The main character Maggie is wonderful–she is honest and hardworking with a fiesty side that only serves to make her more interesting and independent, though sometimes it gets her in trouble.  The setting is charming as well.  The Tulliver family lives at Dorlcote Mill right next to the Floss, and the scene sometimes extends to the magnificent Scotch firs in the Red Deeps.  Another benefit was that the plot moved relatively rapidly and kept my attention very well; I hardly set it down for the last 200 pages.

I did have several problems with this book.  First, the novel does not start off with any apparent purpose, but I expected this since many classics begin the same way.  (In fact, it reminds me of David Copperfield.)  Second, by the end of the book, Maggie was almost the only character I felt I could trust. I lost confidence in her brother Tom because of his cruelty to Philip Wakem; in Stephen Guest when he showed his inability to stay true to commitments; and in Philip Wakem because he ran away from Maggie when she most needed him.  My only major issue was with the ending.  It was abrupt and left all the problems unresolved.  It may be that Eliot was trying to reflect real life, and wanted to show that the problems Maggie faced could not be resolved.  I do not want to give away the ending to help with my argument, but if you read it yourself you will understand my frustration.

However, despite an unsatisfactory ending and several irritating characters, I enjoyed this book a lot.  It was interesting and exciting throughout.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a classic.  It is fairly brief–my copy has only 464 pages–and I did not have any difficulty with the reading level.  Overall, Mill on the Floss is a good read.


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