Mill on the Floss (01 Edition)
by George Eliot
A review by Unknown Author
[Ed. note: This review was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, June 1860.]
IT is not difficult to understand how the reader's attention may be attracted
and his interest retained by a romance of the old chivalrous days whose very
name and dim memory fill the mind with fascinating images, or by a novel whose
high-born characters claim sympathy for their dignified sorrows and refined
delights, or whose story is illuminated by the light of artistic culture and
adorned with gems of rhetoric and fine fancy; but it is sometimes surprising to
observe the favor which attends a simple tale of humble, unobtrusive, we might
almost say insignificant people, whose plane of life appears nowhere to
coincide with our own, and to whom romance and passion seem entirely foreign.
Such a tale was Adam Bede, whose great success as a literary venture hardly
yet belongs to the chronicle of the past; such a tale is also The Mill on the
Floss, by the author of Adam Bede, and such, we are confident, will also be
Both books have many elements in common, but the second is the greater work of
art, and indicates more fairly the scope and vigor of the author's mind. It is
written in the same pure, hardy style, strong with Saxon words that admit of no
equivocation or misunderstanding; it is illustrated with sketches of outward
Nature and tranquil rural beauty, none the less vivid or truthful that they are
drawn with the pen rather than the brush; and it is instinct with an honest,
high-souled purpose. In these respects it resembles Adam Bede, but in others
it surpasses its predecessor. It displays a far keener insight into human
passion, a subtler analysis of motives and principles, and it suggests a mental
and a moral philosophy nobler in themselves and truer to humanity and religion.
The pathos, too, is more genuine; for it is not based upon the mere utterance
of grief or of entreaty, -- which the eloquent and the artful may, indeed,
feign, -- but it is found in that skilful combination of material circumstance
and spiritual influence which impresses upon the feeling, more than it proves
to the reason, that the hour of heart-break is at hand, and which depends less
for its effect upon the dramatic power of the imagination than upon the instant
sympathy of the soul.
The principal fault which will be found with The Mill on the Floss, and
probably the only one, is, that the action moves too slowly and tamely in the
first three or four books, and that the author shows an undue inclination to reflection and metaphysical digression. This will indeed, be a great objection to the superficial reader, who will
impatiently regret that the tedious growth of a miller's boy and girl should
usurp so many pages which might better have been filled with exciting
incidents. But this very elaboration, tardy and idle though it may seem, was
necessary to the completion of the author's plan, and -- in our eyes -- instead of
being a blemish upon a fair story, is one of its principal charms. On this very
account, however, the book will be less popular, and fewer persons will admire
it wholly; but, as thoughtful readers draw near to the end of the narrative,
and anxiously hasten on past trial, temptation, and conflict to the dreaded and
yet inevitable downfall, muse mournfully over the agony and remorse that
follow, and slowly close the volume upon tender forgiveness and final joy, they
will be thankful for the far-seeing genius which, by this gradual process of
education, enabled them to understand clearly the fateful scroll at last
unfolded to them, and which, if they have read in the true spirit, has made
them wiser and better.
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