The Mill on the Floss

by: George Eliot

Book Sixth, Chapters IV, V, VII, and VIII

Summary Book Sixth, Chapters IV, V, VII, and VIII

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.

Analysis

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."