Synopses & Reviews
Maggie Tulliver is always in trouble. Rebellious and passionate, her free spirit causes friction amongst the middle-class townspeople of St. Ogg's -- as well as in her own family, specifically with her beloved brother Tom. Throughout, Maggie is torn between the burdens of moral responsibility and the urge to revel in her passionate hunger for self-fulfillment.
"The Mill on the Floss" is Eliot's brilliant exploration of the binds of provincial life and the intricate nature of human relationships through a heroine that closely resembles Eliot herself.
About the Author
Margot Livesey, a native of Scotland, is the author of Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, and Criminals. She lives in Massachusetts and London.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the first scene in the novel, Maggie is set in opposition to her surroundings, her family, and the notion of what it means to be a Victorian woman. Examine the last four pages of the Chapter II of Book First. How is this juxtaposition highlighted, and through what means? What role does the narrators voice play in this introduction to our heroine?
Mrs. Tulliver is portrayed as a stagnant and passive woman. Examine her unraveling in Book Third, Chapter II, as her material possessions are taken away from her. What does this say about her identity and its relationship to the material things in her life? How does this relate back to the ideals about women presented in the beginning of the novel?
The contrast between fantasy and reality is a theme that permeates the entire novel. Examine the passage in Book Fourth, Chapter I which contrasts the ruins of castles along the Rhine with the “angular skeletons of villages on the Rhone.” How is reality portrayed here and in contrast, what is its relationship with fantasy? Is one an escape from the other or are they mere opposites? What does this passage suggest about the human need for fantasy? Is fantasy an escape or is it portrayed as oppressive?
How does this contrast between reality and fantasy or nostalgia relate to Maggie? In Chapter III of the same section above, Maggie laments the lack of fantasy and nostalgia in her own life and her desire for the “secret of life” (the paragraph that begins with “Maggies sense of loneliness…”) What answers does this passage offer to this question? Does Maggie accept them?
Compare Maggie and her dialogues with Philip to the Maggie during her romance with Stephen. How does the change in her mirror the turn of events in the novel? How and why do the two men affect her in such different ways? Is it merely their own personalities affecting Maggie, or is it something more internal in Maggie that the two men merely bring out in her?
Examine Maggies relationship with Lucy. The contrast between the two women are clear from the beginning of the novel. How does this contrast shift throughout the novel? How does Maggies opinion of Lucy change? How does the world that Maggie inhibits differ from Lucys world?
Representations of “home” vary from chapter to chapter throughout the book. Compare and contrast the multiple allusions to “home” and “nurture” and how they affect the various characters. For example, consider the passage at the end of Chapter III in Book Fifth, where “desire” is juxtaposed with “home” What does “home” represent for Maggie and how does her attitude toward it shift throughout the novel? (Consider the passage towards the end of the novel where Maggie exclaims “I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do.”)
Examine Maggies relationship with Tom. What does their conversations throughout Book Fifth suggest about gender? How does her relationship with Tom affect Maggie and her outlook?
Consider the ending of the novel. Why do you suppose the last chapter is titled “Final Rescue” even though the novel ends with Maggie and Toms tragic death? What does this suggest about the novels purpose? Looking back, how does this ending justify or explain Maggies journey throughout the novel?