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The Mill on the Floss

George Eliot

Book Sixth, Chapters XII, XIII, and XIV

Summary Book Sixth, Chapters XII, XIII, and XIV

At 3:00 a.m., near dawn, Maggie has a dream that St. Ogg's boat is coming at them across the water, and the Virgin is Lucy and first Philip, then Tom, is St. Ogg. They row right past Maggie though she calls out to them and leans toward them. Her leaning capsizes her own boat in the dream, and she "awakes" to find herself a child again the parlor at Dorlcote Mill with Tom not angry with her.

Maggie soon truly awakes and feels an immediate sense of resolve to resist Stephen. Stephen awakes, and they walk around the boat together waiting for the 5:00 a.m. docking at Mudport. Stephen senses a change in Maggie's attitude, but Maggie is unwilling to tell him she will leave him until the last minute. When Maggie does tell him, Stephen becomes angry but escorts her off the boat to look for an inn. Maggie senses that someone in the crowd is approaching her, but she does not see who it is. At the inn, Maggie asks for a room for them to sit down. Maggie tells Stephen that she cannot believe in their love because it would mean causing pain to others that rely on them. Stephen argues that is too late—the damage has been done. He insists that they have "both been rescued from a mistake" and that Maggie must not love him as much as he loves her if she can consider leaving. He warns her about what St. Ogg's will say of her, even now, if she returns immediately. Stephen, pained, tells her to leave him at once, and she does. She gets mechanically into a coach without speaking and doesn't realize until late that night that the coach has brought her to York, farther from her home. She gets a room in an inn and thinks of Stephen.


The events leading up to the boat ride in Chapter XIII were alluded to earlier in Chapter VI of Book Sixth, in which the narrator points to the decisive effect of outside events on a character's fate, as well as the character's psychology. We have seen this action already in The Mill on the Floss, when Mr. Tulliver's tragic fate is inadvertently helped along by the good intentions of Mrs. Tulliver in going to plead with Wakem. Here, Maggie and Stephen are thrust back together by a twist of circumstance. However, character is still seen to figure largely in some cases. Stephen may allow the circumstances to favorably dictate his future, but Maggie will eventually struggle to resist the circumstance, as it acts against her character.

Stephen and Maggie's boat ride is the first time that they have let their emotions truly reign for an extended period of time. The atmosphere is one of intoxication ("haze") and unconsciously pleasant distraction ("the delicious rhythmic dip of the oars"). Instead of rigorously exercising their ethical minds in restriction of their attraction, for once they each enjoy the release of a united, undivided minds: "the sweet solitude of a twofold consciousness that was mingled into one by that grave untiring gaze which need not be averted." They are living in an absolute present, without the accountabilities of "the past and the future that lay outside the haze." Maggie becomes enticed into this feeling of passivity and blamelessness for the day. Though of different form, Maggie's submission to Stephen produces the same effect of tranquility as her submission to Philip and his wise advice.

The arguments between Stephen and Maggie in these final chapters of Book Sixth comprise the only real discussion we've seen between them. When they are not arguing, they are silent, or Stephen murmurs expressions of love. In these discussions, Stephen's argument is essentially circular and egotistical and calls on them to be passive figures. He continually contends that they must be together because of their love, while Maggie feels the pull of others' feelings more. The only complexity of their argument, the complexity that keeps Maggie puzzled, is Stephen's depiction of himself as suffering. This pulls on Maggie's compassion, in the same way that Philip's and Lucy's claims do. Ultimately, Maggie's decision is depicted as a choice between two modes of suffering, suffering the loss of her connections, or suffering the loss of Stephen's passionate regard. Maggie's choice—to leave Stephen—speaks to the importance of her past to her. Maggie's past is full of nostalgic memories of Dorlcote Mill, memories of difficult choices made and trials overcome, and full of the shared history between herself and Lucy, and Philip, as well as Tom and the rest of her family. In comparison, Stephen's passion is something newer to her and therefore not to be as sorely missed as an integral part of her being. Maggie refuses to live perpetually in the moment—she longs for the claims her past makes on her and believes that they make her a nobler person.

Stephen tries to warn Maggie of the outside opposition from St. Ogg society that will counter her sense of herself as noble, but Maggie, as usual, has no mind for social understanding. Fate again acts against Maggie when her stagecoach carries her in the opposite direction from home, assuring that her time away will be that much longer, and she will seem that much less respectable.