Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Mill on the Floss

I didn't enjoy George Eliot's (Mary Ann Evans) The Mill on the Floss (1860) as much as other books she's written - this one was decidedly more Victorian, and what with watching Friday Night Lights and reading this (and living in the world), I've just about had it with patriarchal societies.

The Mill on the Floss has an incredible beginning - it's sharp and funny and sarcastic, and I found myself laughing and snorting through the first 200 or so pages. It's the story of the Tulliver family - the father is the obstinate owner of a mill, litigant, and intent on educating his son.
"I want him to know figures, and write like print, and see into things quick, and know what folks mean, and how to wrap things up in words as aren't actionable. It's an uncommon fine thing, that is," concluded Mr Tulliver, shaking his head, "When you can let a man know what you think without paying for it."

His wife is more concerned with appearances than anything else; the son, Tom, is proud and harsh; and the daughter, Maggie, by far the brightest of the bunch, is a clever, sensitive young woman who is continually criticized and ignored for being merely a "gell" and a "little wench."

The Tullivers lose everything when the father loses an ill-considered court case, leaving Tom with some unreasonable demands to win back the family property, uphold the family name, and bear the old grudges of his father. Maggie, limited by the constrains of her position as a woman, is mostly at the mercy of her family, and lives a miserable life, and all hopes of happiness are, for various reasons, tragically out of her reach.

It's a very frustrating look at how debilitating the maintenance of grudges can be, especially ones that could be solved fairly easily. Eliot often returns to the theme of generosity of spirit and forgiveness (which I've noticed usually spring from a female character) but here the young woman in question succumbs rather than overcomes adversity, and despite her fine qualities suffers nearly continually.

So, it was depressing. And I never figured out what "floss" is. Anyone?


kbmulder said...

This title sounded familiar to me - and I realized they did a musical of it at the Kennedy Center, which was also very depressing. And that's all I can remember about it.

Anonymous said...

The Floss is the river!!