Mr. Deane gives Tom a speech about the changing world of business and compliments Tom's job performance at Guest & Co. He offers Tom a share in the business. Tom mentions his wish that Guest & Co. buy up Dorlcote Mill. Mr. Deane is skeptical that Wakem would sell the property. Tom reveals that Jetsome, the miller Wakem has installed, has taken to drinking. Mr. Deane promises to inquire into the matter. Mr. Deane invites Tom to breakfast with the Deane's the next morning.
Maggie made quite a favorable impression on the young people of St. Ogg's at Lucy's evening party. Her beauty made her interesting and her lack of social convention made her seem innocent, even to Stephen's sisters, the Miss Guests. Maggie is enjoying the pleasant leisure of the lady's life—being admired, playing music. The narrator reminds us that we are familiar with Maggie's character but that this will not entirely dictate her history—outside events will form her future as much as her character.
Philip has not come to the Deane's because he had gone on a sketching expedition without telling anyone and won't arrive back for twelve days. During those twelve days, Maggie continues to spend time with Lucy and Stephen. Maggie and Stephen make lively conversation between them, and Lucy is happy for the entertainment. Stephen's affection toward Lucy has increased, a subconscious atonement for his mental attention to Maggie. Outwardly, Maggie and Stephen remain distant though attuned to each other. They do not communicate out of Lucy's company.
One day, when Lucy is out, Stephen stops in to drop off some music for Lucy. Stephen pets the dog, Minnie, who is sitting in Maggie's lap and hopes to receive one of Maggie's "long looks." They make conversation awkwardly. Stephen's mentioning of Philip causes Maggie to remember herself and move away from Stephen. Stephen immediately feels foolish for having come and assumes Maggie has guessed his reason for coming just to see her. He asks Maggie if she'd like to walk in the garden. In the garden, Stephen offers Maggie his arm, and they walk without talking. Soon, Maggie, wondering at her own motivations and actions, excuses herself and runs inside. Back inside, she cries, wishing for the peace of Philip's presence. Stephen wonders how he can think of Maggie constantly, though he is almost engaged to Lucy. He vows to control himself in the future.
Philip comes to the Deane's the next morning, and Maggie greets him with tears—she has begun to view Philip as "a sanctuary where she could find refuge from an alluring influence." Philip still has their last private meeting and declarations of love fresh in mind and senses a change in Maggie. Lucy leaves them alone, and Maggie tells Philip that she must leave for another teaching job soon. She admits her motive of "trying to make herself a world outside [loving], as men do." Philip again chides her for her attempts to find "a mode of renunciation that will be an escape from pain." Maggie happily submits to Philip's chiding and hopes that he does not guess at her confusion over Stephen.
Stephen arrives for a visit, and he and Philip sing a duet. Then Philip sings a tenor song in which the singer tells "the heroine that he shall always love her though she may forsake him." Maggie knows that the song is for her but feels only "touched, not thrilled." Stephen denounces the sentimental love of the song and saucily sings, "Shall I, wasting in despair, / Die because a woman's fair?" During the next song, Maggie rises to get herself a footstool, but Stephen anticipates her need and gets it for her. Philip notices the looks of pleasure in Maggie's and Stephen's faces. Mrs. Tulliver comes in to announce lunch.
At lunch Mr. Deane asks Philip questions about his father's ownings. Lucy later asks her father what the questions meant. Mr. Deane reveals to Lucy Tom's wish for Guest & Co. to reacquire Dorlcote Mill from Wakem. Lucy begs to be allowed to tell Philip of Tom's wish and have him bring it about. Mr. Deane is confused about this method but allows her to try.
Lucy has told Philip of Tom's desire to reclaim Dorlcote Mill, and Philip has come up with a plan to accomplish this and improve his chances with Maggie. Philip asks his father up to his studio to see his newly laid-out sketches, two of which are his portraits of Maggie. When Mr. Wakem asks about them, Philip explains that they are of Maggie Tulliver and tells his father of his love for Maggie, of their meetings in Red Deeps, and of his wish to marry her if she will have him. Wakem furiously disapproves of the match, but Philip remains rational. Wakem argues that the Tullivers are beneath them. Philip points out that Maggie takes no part in family quarrels and that all of St. Ogg's would consider Maggie well above Philip, with his deformity. Wakem leaves.
Philip goes out for a walk and a boat ride and returns in the evening. Wakem returns to Philip's studio later that evening and concedes that Maggie does seem to love him. Wakem reconciles with Philip affectionately and offers to visit Maggie. Philip then explains the issue of Dorlcote Mill to Wakem, who signals his willingness to give up the property.
In Chapter VI of Book Sixth, Eliot outlines her particular brand of realism that incorporates the effects of both fate and personal psychology upon a character's particular destiny. Eliot concedes that personal psychology determines a large amount but points to the case of Hamlet to argue for the decisive influence of circumstance: "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was speculative and irresolute, and we have a great tragedy in consequence. But if his father had lived to a good old age, and his uncle had died an early death, we can conceive Hamlet's having married Ophelia, and got through life with a reputation of sanity . " The Mill on the Floss has included large amounts of interior character analysis, yet the workings of circumstance and fate are also seen to effect the characters, as with the effect upon Maggie of Tom's childhood attitude toward her or with the long-reaching effects of Mrs. Tulliver's visit to Wakem. The example of Hamlet to illustrate the workings of her own novel also calls attention to Maggie's status as a tragic figure. The narrator of The Mill on the Floss is educated and bookish—allusions to tragedies of Greece, Shakespeare, and others fill the pages of the novel and work to place Eliot within a definite authorial position, as well as prepare the reader for Maggie's eventual fate.
River imagery arises in this section of Book Sixth, as it has for most of the novel. The Floss provides not only a part of the setting but also stands as a symbol associated with Maggie. We learn in Chapter VI, "Maggie's destiny, then, is at present hidden, and we must wait for it to reveal itself like the course of an unmapped river: we only know that the river is full and rapid, and that for all rivers there is the same final home." This imagery recalls the opening lines of the novel: "A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace." The movement of the river itself, then, stands for the movement of Maggie's life. The "same final home" that the first quotation refers to is the sea, where all rivers are redeposited. The second quotation, from the opening page of the novel, gives a depiction of this eternal return using the language of both struggle and love. Both quotations foreshadow Maggie's eventual fate.
In this section of Book Sixth, Philip reappears as a character. His status in relation to Maggie has changed, however. During their year of meetings in Red Deeps, Maggie was practicing an ascetic lifestyle. Against this, Philip and his offering of intelligent, worldly conversation seemed exciting and fulfilling to Maggie. Now, however, Maggie seems to be in a period of longing for fullness and romance. In this setting, Philip seems to her more of a tranquil partner—the steadiness of the compassion and respect she feels for him are a break from the tumultuous and illicit passions that she has begun to feel toward Stephen. Philip foresees that Maggie will not keep him, though he does not yet fully know about her and Stephen when he sings his tenor song to her. But for Maggie, Philip's song brings only "quite regret in the place of excitement," next to the singing of Stephen, which seems to "make all the air in the room alive with a new influence."