About the Author
A. S. Byatt was born in 1936 and educated in York and at Newnham College, Cambridge, of which she is now an Honorary Fellow. She taught English at University College, London, from 1972 to 183. She appears regularly on radio and television, and writes academic articles and literary journalism both in England and abroad. Her fiction includes The Shadow of the Sun; The Game; The Virgin in the Garden; Still Life; Sugar and Other Stories; Possession, winner of the 1990 Booker Prize and the 1990 Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction prize; the novella Angels and Insects; The Matisse Stories; The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, a collection of fairy stories; Babel Tower; Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice; The Biographers Tale; A Whistling Woman and The Little Black Book of Stories. Her work has been translated into 28 languages. Her critical work includes Degrees of Freedom: The Early Novels of Iris Murdoch, Unruly Times (on Wordsworth and Coleridge) and, with the psychoanalyst Ignês Sodré, Imagining Characters: Six Conversations About Women Writers. Passions of the Mind, a collection of critical essays, appeared in 1991; a new collection, On Histories and Stories, appeared in 2000; Portraits in Fiction, a study of the relationship between painting and the novel, and (ed.) Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings, by George Eliot, in 2001. She was appointed DBE in 1999.
Read an Excerpt
Outside Dorlcote Mill
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. On this mighty tide the black ships—laden with the fresh-scented fir-planks, with rounded sacks of oil-bearing seed, or with the dark glitter of coal—are borne along to the town of St. Ogg’s, which shows its aged, fluted red roofs and the broad gables of its wharves between the low wooded hill and the river brink, tinging the water with a soft purple hue under the transient glance of this February sun. Far away on each hand stretch the rich pastures, and the patches of dark earth, made ready for the seed of broad-leaved green crops, or touched already with the tint of the tender-bladed autumn-sown corn. There is a remnant still of the last year’s golden clusters of beehive ricks rising at intervals beyond the hedgerows; and everywhere the hedgerows are studded with trees: the distant ships seem to be lifting their masts and stretching their red-brown sails close among the branches of the spreading ash. Just by the red-roofed town the tributary Ripple flows with a lively current into the Floss. How lovely the little river is, with its dark, changing wavelets! It seems to me like a living companion while I wander along the bank and listen to its low placid voice, as to the voice of one who is deaf and loving. I remember those large dipping willows. I remember the stone bridge.
And this is Dorlcote Mill. I must stand a minute or two here on the bridge and look at it, though the clouds are threatening, and it is far on in the afternoon. Even in this leafless time of departing February it is pleasant to look at—perhaps the chill damp season adds a charm to the trimly-kept, comfortable dwelling-house, as old as the elms and chestnuts that shelter it from the northern blast. The stream is brimful now, and lies high in this little withy plantation, and half drowns the grassy fringe of the croft in front of the house. As I look at the full stream, the vivid grass, the delicate bright-green powder softening the outline of the great trunks and branches that gleam from under the bare purple boughs, I am in love with moistness, and envy the white ducks that are dipping their heads far into the water here among the withes, unmindful of the awkward appearance they make in the drier world above.
The rush of the water, and the booming of the mill, bring a dreamy deafness, which seems to heighten the peacefulness of the scene. They are like a great curtain of sound, shutting one out from the world beyond. And now there is the thunder of the huge covered waggon coming home with sacks of grain. That honest waggoner is thinking of his dinner, getting sadly dry in the oven at this late hour; but he will not touch it till he has fed his horses,—the strong, submissive, meek-eyed beasts, who, I fancy, are looking mild reproach at him from between their blinkers, that he should crack his whip at them in that awful manner as if they needed that hint! See how they stretch their shoulders up the slope towards the bridge, with all the more energy because they are so near home. Look at their grand shaggy feet that seem to grasp the firm earth, at the patient strength of their necks, bowed under the heavy collar, at the mighty muscles of their struggling haunches! I should like well to hear them neigh over their hardly-earned feed of corn, and see them, with their moist necks freed from the harness, dipping their eager nostrils into the muddy pond. Now they are on the bridge, and down they go again at a swifter pace, and the arch of the covered waggon disappears at the turning behind the trees.
Now I can turn my eyes towards the mill again, and watch the unresting wheel sending out its diamond jets of water. That little girl is watching it too: she has been standing on just the same spot at the edge of the water ever since I paused on the bridge. And that queer white cur with the brown ear seems to be leaping and barking in ineffectual remonstrance with the wheel; perhaps he is jealous, because his playfellow in the beaver bonnet is so rapt in its movement. It is time the little playfellow went in, I think; and there is a very bright fire to tempt her: the red light shines out under the deepening grey of the sky. It is time, too, for me to leave off resting my arms on the cold stone of this bridge. . . .
Ah, my arms are really benumbed. I have been pressing my elbows on the arms of my chair, and dreaming that I was standing on the bridge in front of Dorlcote Mill, as it looked one February afternoon many years ago. Before I dozed off, I was going to tell you what Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver were talking about, as they sat by the bright fire in the left-hand parlour, on that very afternoon I have been dreaming of.
chapter ii Mr. Tulliver, of Dorlcote Mill, Declares His Resolution About Tom
“What I want, you know,” said Mr. Tulliver—“what I want is to give Tom a good eddication; an eddication as’ll be a bread to him. That was what I was thinking of when I gave notice for him to leave the academy at Ladyday. I mean to put him to a downright good school at Midsummer. The two years at th’ academy ’ud ha’ done well enough, if I’d meant to make a miller and farmer of him, for he’s had a fine sight more schoolin’ nor I ever got: all the learnin’ my father ever paid for was a bit o’ birch at one end and the alphabet at th’ other. But I should like Tom to be a bit of a scholard, so as he might be up to the tricks o’ these fellows as talk fine and write with a flourish. It ’ud be a help to me wi’ these lawsuits, and arbitrations, and things. I wouldn’t make a downright lawyer o’ the lad—I should be sorry for him to be a raskill—but a sort o’ engineer, or a surveyor, or an auctioneer and vallyer, like Riley, or one o’ them smartish businesses as are all profits and no outlay, only for a big watch-chain and a high stool. They’re pretty nigh all one, and they’re not far off being even wi’ the law, I believe; for Riley looks Lawyer Wakem i the face as hard as one cat looks another. He’s none frightened at him.”
Mr. Tulliver was speaking to his wife, a blond comely woman in a fan-shaped cap (I am afraid to think how long it is since fan-shaped caps were worn—they must be so near coming in again. At that time, when Mrs. Tulliver was nearly forty, they were new at St. Ogg’s, and considered sweet things).
“Well, Mr. Tulliver, you know best: I’ve no objections. But hadn’t I better kill a couple o’ fowl and have th’ aunts and uncles to dinner next week, so as you may hear what sister Glegg and sister Pullet have got to say about it? There’s a couple o’ fowl wants killing!”
“You may kill every fowl i’ the yard, if you like, Bessy; but I shall ask neither aunt nor uncle what I’m to do wi’ my own lad,” said Mr. Tulliver, defiantly.
“Dear heart!” said Mrs. Tulliver, shocked at this sanguinary rhetoric, “how can you talk so, Mr. Tulliver? But it’s your way to speak disrespectful o’ my family; and sister Glegg throws all the blame upo’ me, though I’m sure I’m as innocent as the babe unborn. For nobody’s ever heard me say as it wasn’t lucky for my children to have aunts and uncles as can live independent. Howiver, if Tom’s to go to a new school, I should like him to go where I can wash him and mend him; else he might as well have calico as linen, for they’d be one as yallow as th’ other before they’d been washed half-a-dozen times. And then, when the box is goin backards and forrards, I could send the lad a cake, or a pork-pie, or an apple; for he can do with an extry bit, bless him, whether they stint him at the meals or no. My children can eat as much victuals as most, thank God.”
“Well, well, we won’t send him out o’ reach o’ the carrier’s cart, if other things fit in,” said Mr. Tulliver. “But you mustn’t put a spoke i the wheel about the washin’, if we can’t get a school near enough. That’s the fault I have to find wi’ you, Bessy; if you see a stick i’ the road, you’re allays thinkin’ you can’t step over it. You’d want me not to hire a good waggoner, ’cause he’d got a mole on his face.”
Table of Contents
Acknowledgements Introduction George Eliot: A Brief Chronology A Note on the Text The Mill on the Floss
Appendix A: George Eliot’s Translations, Essays, Reviews, and Poems
- From George Eliot’s translation of Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (1854)
- [George Eliot], “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft,” Leader (13 October 1855)
- From [George Eliot], review of Thomas Keightley’s Life, Opinions, and Writings of John Milton, The Westminster Review (October 1855)
- [George Eliot], “The Antigone and Its Moral,” Leader (29 March 1856)
- From [George Eliot], “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists,” The Westminster Review (October 1856)
- From George Eliot, “Notes on ‘The Spanish Gypsy’ and Tragedy in General” (1868)
- George Eliot, “Brother and Sister,” The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems (1874)
Appendix B: Contemporary Reviews of The Mill on the Floss
- Spectator (7 April 1860)
- [E.S. Dallas], The Times (19 May 1860)
- [Dinah Mulock], Macmillan’s Magazine (April 1861)
- From Henry James, The Atlantic Monthly (October 1866)
Appendix C: Historical Documents: Mythic and Religious Contexts; Medicine and Education
- From Mrs. Anna Jameson, “St. Christopher,” Sacred and Legendary Art, vol. 2 (1848)
- From Daniel Defoe, “Of the Tools the Devil Works with,” The History of the Devil (1727)
- From Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (1737)
- From Auguste Comte, The Catechism of Positivism (1858)
- From Samuel Hare, Cases and Observations Illustrative of the Beneficial Results (1857)
- From [William Ballantyne Hodgson], “‘Classical’ Instruction: Its Use and Abuse,” The Westminster Review (October 1853)
Reading Group Guide
1. In the first scene in the novel, Maggie is set in opposition to her surroundings, her family, and the notion of what it means to be a Victorian woman. Examine the last four pages of the Chapter II of Book First. How is this juxtaposition highlighted, and through what means? What role does the narrator’s voice play in this introduction to our heroine?
Mrs. Tulliver is portrayed as a stagnant and passive woman. Examine her unraveling in Book Third, Chapter II, as her material possessions are taken away from her. What does this say about her identity and its relationship to the material things in her life? How does this relate back to the ideals about women presented in the beginning of the novel?
The contrast between fantasy and reality is a theme that permeates the entire novel. Examine the passage in Book Fourth, Chapter I which contrasts the ruins of castles along the Rhine with the “angular skeletons of villages on the Rhone.” How is reality portrayed here and in contrast, what is its relationship with fantasy? Is one an escape from the other or are they mere opposites? What does this passage suggest about the human need for fantasy? Is fantasy an escape or is it portrayed as oppressive?
How does this contrast between reality and fantasy or nostalgia relate to Maggie? In Chapter III of the same section above, Maggie laments the lack of fantasy and nostalgia in her own life and her desire for the “secret of life” (the paragraph that begins with “Maggie’s sense of loneliness…”) What answers does this passage offer to this question? Does Maggie accept them?
Compare Maggie and her dialogues with Philip to the Maggie during her romance with Stephen. How does the change in her mirror the turn of events in the novel? How and why do the two men affect her in such different ways? Is it merely their own personalities affecting Maggie, or is it something more internal in Maggie that the two men merely bring out in her?
Examine Maggie’s relationship with Lucy. The contrast between the two women are clear from the beginning of the novel. How does this contrast shift throughout the novel? How does Maggie’s opinion of Lucy change? How does the world that Maggie inhibits differ from Lucy’s world?
Representations of “home” vary from chapter to chapter throughout the book. Compare and contrast the multiple allusions to “home” and “nurture” and how they affect the various characters. For example, consider the passage at the end of Chapter III in Book Fifth, where “desire” is juxtaposed with “home” What does “home” represent for Maggie and how does her attitude toward it shift throughout the novel? (Consider the passage towards the end of the novel where Maggie exclaims “I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do.”)
Examine Maggie’s relationship with Tom. What does their conversations throughout Book Fifth suggest about gender? How does her relationship with Tom affect Maggie and her outlook?
Consider the ending of the novel. Why do you suppose the last chapter is titled “Final Rescue” even though the novel ends with Maggie and Tom’s tragic death? What does this suggest about the novel’s purpose? Looking back, how does this ending justify or explain Maggie’s journey throughout the novel?