The Mill on the Floss

George Eliot
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The Mill on the Floss

author  George Eliot (pseudonym for Marian Evans)

type of work  Novel

genre  Victorian novel, tragedy

language  English

time and place written  Richmond and Wandsworth in England, 1859–1860

date of first publication  1860

publisher  Blackwood and Sons

narrator  The unnamed narrator was alive for Maggie Tulliver's life and is narrating the events many years later.

point of view  The narrator speaks in the first person at selective points of narration but for all else, narrates as though third-person omniscient.

tone  The tone can vary from lightly satiric when dealing with lesser characters, to elegiac or only slightly ironic when dealing with main characters.

tense  Past

setting (time)  1829–1839

setting (place)  St. Ogg's in English midlands (real life model for the Floss was the Trent in Lincolnshire)

protagonist  Maggie Tulliver

major conflict  Maggie must choose between her inner desire toward passion and sensuous life and her impulse towards moral responsibility and the need for her brother's approval and love.

rising action  Incurious Tom is sent to school, while Maggie is held "uncanny" for her intelligence. Mr. Tulliver's pride and inability to adapt to the changing economic world causes him to lose his property in a lawsuit against Lawyer Wakem and eventually die as the result of his fury toward Wakem. To Tom's dismay, Maggie becomes secretly close to Wakem's sensitive crippled son, Philip.

climax  At the age of nineteen, Maggie visits her cousin Lucy and becomes hopelessly attracted to Lucy's wealthy and polished suitor, Stephen Guest, and he to her. Stephen and Maggie are inadvertently left to themselves for a boatride. Stephen rows them further down river than planned and tries to convince Maggie to elope with him.

falling action  Maggie parts with Stephen, arguing that they each cannot ignore the claims that Lucy and Philip have on them. Maggie returns to St. Ogg's several days later and is met with repudiation from the entire town and from Tom. Philip and Lucy contact Maggie and forgive her. The Floss floods, and Maggie seizes a boat and rows to the Mill to save Tom. Their boat is capsized by floating machinery, Tom and Maggie drown in each other's arms.

themes  The claim of the past upon present identity; The effect of society upon the individual; The importance of sympathy; Practical knowledge versus bookish knowledge

motifs  The disparity between the Dodsons and the Tullivers; Music; Animal imagery; Dark and light women

symbols  The Floss; St. Ogg; Maggie's eyes

foreshadowing  As the story is being told in the past tense, the narrator often alludes to future circumstances when describing the present moment. An example of this is the narration of the figure of Maggie at the St. Ogg's bazaar in Chapter IX of Book Sixth, when the narrator alludes to the future attitudes of the women of St. Ogg's toward Maggie in light of her "subsequent conduct." The use of the Floss to symbolize Maggie's destiny throughout the novel also foreshadows her eventual drowning.