The Mill on the Floss, Book I: Boy and Girl

“It is a wonderful subduer, this need of love, – this hunger of the heart, – as peremptory as that other hunger by which Nature forces us to submit to the yoke, and change the face of the world.” (Ch. 5)

The Mill on the Floss is George Eliot’s second novel. It and Middlemarch are her only novels not named after one of the characters. The Mill on the Floss begins with some description of the area (with a couple of confusing references to the narrator) and then introduces the Tulliver family, of whom it is obvious that the daughter Maggie will be the story’s main character.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 12.02.29 PMThe Tulliver family has some problems. First off, Mr. Tulliver purposely chose his wife because she was “a bit weak” and not acute. He is somewhat quarrelsome and isn’t good at managing his money. Poor, clueless Mrs. Tulliver is at a loss how to manage her clever, but unruly, daughter Maggie. Her son Tom is not so clever as his sister, but quite stubborn, refusing to ever admit being in the wrong. Tom and Maggie love each other — Maggie, especially, adores her brother — but vacillate between getting along and some serious quarreling. Tom doesn’t give his sister any leniency, and she is quick to take offense, even when none was intended. She is generally subdued by her craving for affection. Her mother finds her hopeless. Her father, however, is very fond of her and proud of her cleverness and often takes her part — a kindness Maggie never forgets. On top of everything else, Mrs. Tulliver (Miss Bessy Dodson as was) has a whole pack of sisters, all very opinionated and vocal (Dodson family traits).

The Tullivers live in Dorlcote Mill on the river Floss. The Floss is presented as a thing of beauty and even comfort, but with a latent danger. There is something exciting about reading a new story, but there is also an advantage to already knowing the plot. Since I am familiar with the storyline of The Mill on the Floss, I was able to notice some foreshadowing by the author (interestingly, she puts these lines in the mouth of Maggie’s rather clueless mother):

“Maggie, Maggie,” continued the mother, in a tone of half-coaxing fretfulness, as this small mistake of nature entered the room, “where’s the use o’ my telling you to keep away from the water? You’ll tumble in and be drownded some day, an’ then you’ll be sorry you didn’t do as mother told you.” (Ch. 2)

“They’re such children for the water, mine are,” she said aloud, without reflecting that there was no one to hear her; “they’ll be brought in dead and drownded some day. I wish that river was far enough.” (Ch. 10)


This is part of the Eliot Project, in which “Sophie” of A Reasonable Quantity of Butter and I read through all of George Eliot’s novels and write about them. Read “Sophie’s” notes on the first book of The Mill on the Floss here: “The Mill on the Floss: Boy and Girl”.

Screencap of Georgia Slowe as young Maggie Tulliver cutting her hair in a 1978 adaptation of The Mill on the Floss.

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