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The Mill on the Floss

George Eliot

Book Third, Chapters VII, VIII, and IX

Book Third, Chapters IV, V, and VI

Book Fourth, Chapters I, II, and III

Summary

Chapter VII

Mr. Tulliver is still not fully conscious, and the sale of the house and mill is rapidly approaching. Mrs. Tulliver and the children have hope that uncle Deane and his company, Guest & Co., will buy the mill and keep Mr. Tulliver as manager. They fear, though, that Mr. Wakem decide to bide on the mill since he now holds the mortgage on it.

Mr. Deane has also found Tom a temporary warehouse job. Tom life is grim—he goes to the warehouse all day, then takes bookkeeping lessons at night. He's also recently realized that, besides the sale of the house, mill, and furniture, his father owes still more debts and is therefore truly bankrupt.

Deciding to take action herself, Mrs. Tulliver goes into town to see Mr. Wakem without telling anyone. She entreats Mr. Wakem not to bid on the sale of the house and mill, because Guest & Co. Plan to buy it and keep her husband on as manager. Mr. Wakem is short with Mrs. Tulliver and resolves after showing her out to buy the mill and house and keep Tulliver on as manager, although the idea of purchasing the property had not occurred to him before Mrs. Tulliver came to see him. Mr. Wakem's actions do not necessarily make him an evil man. In the course of her visit, Mrs. Tulliver inadvertently revealed several incentives for Wakem to buy the property, including Mr. Tulliver's hatred for Wakem, and the intentions of Wakem's rivals, Guest & Co., to buy it themselves. Wakem plans to keep Tulliver on as manager, in part because Tulliver's humiliation will increase knowing that Wakem has made a charitable gesture toward him and partly because Wakem understands that Tulliver is an honest miller.

Chapter VIII

Wakem has bought the property and stopped by to present to Mr. Deane and Mr. Glegg his willingness to keep Tulliver on as miller. Mr. Tulliver is unaware of this, as his memory is still vague. The doctor orders that Tulliver should walk downstairs in hope that his memory will catch up. Maggie and Tom try to explain to him what is happening with his affairs, and Mr. Tulliver's pain is renewed upon learning again that he is bankrupt. Maggie and Tom are careful not to reveal that Wakem now owns the property. Mrs. Tulliver enters into the conversation bemoaning her poor luck. Mr. Tulliver promises to do anything he can to make amends. Mrs. Tulliver requests that he be respectful toward Wakem, revealing that Wakem has bought the property. Mr. Tulliver is upset, and Tom offers support, saying that his father shouldn't be made to work under Wakem. Mr. Tulliver moans that "[t]his world's been too many for me."

Chapter IX

Mr. Tulliver struggles with his hatred for Wakem and his promise to Mrs. Tulliver to make amends. Tulliver walks around his property with Luke and remembers scenes from his childhood spent on the same property. Mr. Tulliver has a great attachment to his home, and he and Luke discuss the dislike of new places and people. At home that night, Mr. Tulliver seems to be working something over in his mind. He gets anxious for Tom's arrival and tells Maggie to get the family Bible. When Tom arrives home, Mr. Tulliver calls him in. Tulliver vows in front of his family to fulfill his promise to Mrs. Tulliver and work under Wakem, but he also vows not to forgive Wakem. He makes Tom write in the family bible that Wakem will not be forgiven and that "I wish evil may befall him," and he signs his own name, Tom Tulliver. Maggie protests, but Tom insists on carrying out his father's orders.

Analysis

Though it is not foregrounded, one of the main plot points of Book Third is the Tulliver's loss of their furniture and threatened loss of their home. Mrs. Tulliver is mocked in Chapters II and III of Book Third for her panic about the impending sale of her linens and china, a panic that seems to far outweigh her concern for her sick husband. Despite this satire, however, the genuine emotional importance of objects is often stressed in this section of the novel. The painfulness of losing objects is first explored in Book Second when Tom happily returns to his home and its familiar objects after having briefly "lost" them while away at school. The narrator points to the centrality of objects to one's earliest consciousness: "objects became dear to us before we had known the labour of choice and where the outer world seemed only an extension of our personality: we accepted and loved it as we accepted our own sense of existence and our limbs." In Book Third, Chapter IV, the narrator speaks of the language of familiar objects: "All long-known objects, even a mere window fastening or a particular door-latch, have sounds which are a sort of recognized voice to us." In the same way, Maggie's reaction to the loss of the family's books expresses the sincere pathos of losing childhood things: "the end of our lives will have nothing in it like the beginning!" Through oblique narrative discussion and singular plot moments like Maggie's discovery of the loss of books, or Bob's sentimental attachment to his pocketknife, Book Third gestures clearly to the sadness of the loss of the Tullivers' household goods.

Eliot's treatment of attachments to the past in Book Third is appropriately complex. On the one hand, we have Maggie, still only thirteen years of age and still suffering the wildly extreme emotions of youth. This state has been continually characterized as the result of having no sense of a past to put trouble in perspective. At the end of Chapter V, the narrator characterizes Maggie's sadness, "There is no hopelessness so sad as that of early youth, when the soul is made up of wants, and has no long memories." Maggie's youth places her in a vacuum of the present, in which all of her troubles and joys seem more extreme, for having nothing to which to compare them. So here, a memory and sense of the past is presented as a valuable tool in maturity. However, much of Book Third concentrates on Mr. Tulliver's illness—an illness which places him mentally in his own past, with no capacity for experiencing the present or the future. When he recovers from the illness, we see in Chapter IX that Tulliver is still living in the past and that this state of mind is an association with unhealthiness: "[Tulliver] was living in that freshened memory of the far-off time which comes to us in the passive hours of recovery from sickness." We see in Chapter IX that it is precisely this nostalgia for his past that allows Tulliver to restrain his pride and agree to continue working at the mill under Wakem. However, it also seems that the heightened feeling Tulliver has experienced from the memories of his past have created a bitterness that manifests in his evil wishes toward Wakem to be inscribed in the family Bible—a record of the past. One's relationship to one's own past functions in that novel as an important part of one's character. We see in Book Third that the varieties of relationships cannot be easily categorized as "good" or "bad" and must be examined in their complexity.

At the end of Chapter VII, the narrator examines Wakem's motives for going expressly against Mrs. Tulliver's plea and buying Dorlcote Mill to employ Tulliver as miller. This portrait of a thought process relates back to the portrait of Mr. Riley's motives for recommending Stelling as a tutor. As always in her genre of psychological realism, Eliot does not allow characters to be simply classified as "good" or "bad" with motives that are blatantly selfish or charitable. The portrait of Wakem's decision, like other psychological descriptions in The Mill on the Floss is careful to take into account the effect of Wakem's relationships with peers in St. Ogg's, as well as the tenor of Wakem's relationship to Tulliver, as Wakem himself would see it in terms of the social hierarchy of the town. Eliot is concerned to pull together an array of forces weighing on Wakem, as well as an array of detail about Wakem's conduct. Together, these pieces of information do not allow for an easy classification of Wakem as evil.

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