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The Mill on the Floss

George Eliot

Book Third, Chapters VII, VIII, and IX

Summary Book Third, Chapters VII, VIII, and IX

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.