Why the ending of “The Mill on the Floss” is a drawback

the mill on the floss-pict from www.georgeeliot.org

picture from http://www.georgeeliot.org

I honestly say I am disappointed with the finale of “The Mill on the Floss”. This is a bold statement but that’s the ugly truth. It’s not the sad ending that matters most. Mind you, I have been accustomed to read great novels by Thomas Hardy, most of which have bitter endings. But I love them all because they are so fantastically written and end in logical, not-simple ways. What disturbs me a lot even until this moment is the fact that George Eliot uses natural disaster to put a close to the fate of the novel’s major characters; Maggie and Tom Tulliver. That’s too easy, Miss Eliot. Yes, that is.

Although Eliot has put a foreshadowing about the fate of the siblings, I expect she puts a different twist that unites the two. I wish Eliot knows that the way she chooses to use the flood as the cause of their deaths has instead opened a new twist that will never be answered. So, after spending about three weeks enjoy reading the 590-pages book, I am left speechless as I close the book. I feel like, what the hell with the finale?

Surely, Eliot completely turns my expectation around. Like many Victorian books, I expect the book would inform readers on the love relationship between Maggie and Stephen Guest or between Maggie and Phillip Wakem. Instead, Eliot opts to focus on the troubled kinship of Tom and Maggie. I have once read that this is sort of Eliot’s autobiographical novel that tells readers on her problematic real story with his brother. Putting that information away, I think Eliot chooses the simplest way to end this grand novel. If I were her, I would present another conflict that makes the two realizes how precious their relationship is. Given Tom’s stubborn characteristic, I can’t accept how easy he regrets his wrongdoings by smiling at his sole sister in a boat right before the tidal sweeps them away. That’s a strong symbol, I know, but, surely Tom must encounter a serious accident that slaps his face; that tells him that his sister is genuine and innocent. The coming of Maggie in the middle of the flood hints that Tom’s remorse is instead insincere.

If you have read the novel, I hope you agree with me that Maggie has had enough emotional battles with Tom, a bit too much I think. He always underestimates Maggie, calling her elopement with Stephen Guest a disgrace for the family. So, the way he ‘pays’ the sin to her in the boat is too easy. I must say, the ending taints the lovely novel. The future of Phillip, Stephen Guest, and Lucy is unclear (though I have read Stephen Guest and Lucy finally get married).

Another point of the book that annoys me is Stephen Guest. I get this idea from one of the reader reviews and I can’t agree more. When I first read about him then Lucy’s idea of introducing him to Maggie I think this would be an intermezzo, that nothing would significantly alter the plot of the book. But how shocking it is to find out that the more I read the preceeding pages, the more I can feel that Maggie is in love with him; that her feeling is stronger than what she has with Phillip. The presence of Stephen Guest is, as written in the reader review, is a bit too late. Eliot brings up the character after Maggie passes the most bitter phase of her life with the death of her father. Probably, Eliot intends to make the emergence of Stephen Guest as another inner conflict Maggie has to encounter, but given her already complicated love with Phillip, Stephen Guest’s story instead spoils Maggie-Phillip relation. Worse, Maggie’s true feeling to Stephen causes me a bit disrespectful toward her; that I feel so sorry to Phillip although Phillip admits he has been so blessed with his love to Maggie that this makes him to survive and live the life. Should Stephen Guest arrive early in the novel, the story would be lovelier because I would not be drawn to have so much pity to Phillip. All in all, however, Maggie puts her family above all else, including her love story, so .. either she prefers Stephen Guest or Phillip that wouldn’t change the ending of the book.

I’m just a reader anyway. George has personal opinions about the plot of the novel and a modern reader like I can only enjoy then absorb the values in the novel. “The Mill on the Floss” is a highly-recommended Victorian novel somehow, probably, not until you stumble across this post that contains so many spoilers here and there… hehehe.

 

“The Mill On The Floss” by George Eliot

the mill on the floss-pict from www.slideshare.net

picture from http://www.slideshare.net

Although Tom and Maggie Tullier are siblings, they have opposite characteristics. Tom is a very proud boy. He rarely causes troubles and his behavior defines his background as the first son of Mr. Tulliver who owns Dorlcote Mill that runs through the Floss River at St Ogg.

His sole sister, Maggie or sometimes he calls her as Magsie when they get along, is a rebellious and tomboy girl who often causes headaches for her parents. Even her aunts, especially aunt Glegg, despises her, saying she does not deserve to carry the Dodson’s blood who is known for their ladylike manner and noble status. Tom is very fond of physical activities. He dislikes Latin, grammar, in contrary with his sister, who really loves reading and studying. Maggie’s intelligence always fails to impress her brother somehow. He always underestimates her knowledge. The book begins with the conversation of Mr. Tulliver and his wife regarding with Tom’s future school. After some discussions with his relative, Mr. Tulliver eventually sends his sole son to a private, luxurious study under the supervision of Reverand Walter Stelling. This decision comes at a price. Prior to sending his son to the Reverend’s house, Mr. Tulliver has a heated argument with his wife’s sister, the arrogant Mrs. Glegg, about the matter, causing him to return Mrs. Glegg’s money investment in exchange of his whole pride. As such, Mr. Tulliver has to borrow some money to cover his son’s pricey tuition fees.

the mill on the floss-pict from www.gutenberg.org

The illustration of Tom and Maggie as taken from http://www.gutenberg.org

While Tom is at the King’s Lorton to study, Maggie joins her cousin, Lucy Deanne at a girl’s boarding school. Lucy is such a princess who becomes the centre of the Dodson’s family likeness, including Tom. He even once says he prefers to have Lucy as his sister than Maggie. Although Maggie is jealous with Lucy when they are children they end up being very close when growing up.

As expected, Tom doesn’t really enjoy his schooltime at the King’s Lorton as he hates Latin, grammar and such things. On the contrary, Maggie looks forward to experience what Tom has. Thus, she sometimes visits her brother at the King’s Lorton and one day, she meets Philip Wakem, Tom’s only mate at the Reverend’s house. She really admires Philip’s diligence but not with Tom. For him, Philip is his eternal enemy although the latter once helps him when Tom gets injured for carelessly playing a sword.

What Tom bears in his mind is his father’s commands to not befriend with any relatives or families of Mr. Wakem, the lawyer who helps his client to win a case on irrigation against Mr. Tulliver. Since then, Mr. Tulliver considers Mr. Wakem as his immortal enemy.

the mill on the floss-pict from etc.usf.edu

The illustration of Tom and Maggie as taken from http://www.etc.usf.edu

While Maggie, who is very kind and affectionate in her nature, never regards Philip as her enemy. Thus, they become good friends and even Philip loves her. Unfortunately, Mr. Tulliver suffers from a stroke that forces him to stay at bed some a few months after learning that he loses the mill and goes bankrupt.

From riches to rags is the best phrase to describe the downfall of the Tulliver family. Maggie and Tom discontinue their study as they have no money left for financing their education. Mrs. Tulliver has to sell her beloved properties to pay all the debt. While Maggie helps her mother at home, who falls to the hand of Mr. Wakem, Tom finds a job thanks to the help of his uncle.

Mr. Tulliver now acts as the manager of the mill and becomes the employee of Mr. Wakem. Bit by bit the now-poor family rebuilds their life. Actually, Mr. Tulliver has a credit with his sister but given her poverty, Mr. Tulliver does not want to take the money back. On the other hand, the Dodsons family does not help much and instead curses Mr. Tulliver’s unwise legal acts against Mr. Wakem’s client. Years of gloom surrounds the once well-to-do family.

Once Mr. Tulliver’s health recovers, his mind is mostly occupied on how to pay the debt and get the mill back. He and Tom works very hard to collect penny by penny then put them all in a box that once in a while will be calculated. Mrs. Tulliver falls silent in between the struggle. She frequently mourns the loss of her favorite items. Maggie is completely sad with the condition, not because she is no longer a rich girl but because she hardly see the smiles from her beloved family. Her parents and brother fall into paralysis. It is she who senses the full loneliness because of the material loss.

george eliot-pict from en.wikipedia.org

The brilliant George Eliot as taken from en.wikipedia.org

Unlike her tomboy appearance, Maggie grows as a beautiful, stunning and attractive young girl. Unfortunately, her pretty face is in contrast with her inward situation. Maggie, who was a girl full of dreams, now gets stuck in the hard family condition. She turns into a very silent woman, abandons her childhood dreams, and spends her spare time knitting. She visits Red Deeps located nearby the mill to seek peace and remember the sweet past memories. This is the place where she meets Phillip who deliberately follows her movements. After a few secretive meetings, Phillip declares his love for Maggie. Though Maggie shares the same feeling with him, the deep conflict surrounding both familes discourages Maggie to fight for their love. And despite Phillip’s strong willing to tie the knot with Maggie, he can’t do anything to force her winning her father’s consent for the marriage.

As years pass by, Tom with the help of his friend Bob Jakin, emerges as a very successful businessman. And with all the money he earns, finally he rushes to his father and informs him that the money is enough for paying the debt. After attending a gathering with his son, Mr. Tulliver, who is too excited with the debt payment, runs into Mr. Wakem on the way of his return to the mill. Mr. Wakem complains to the manager on some problems revolving about the mill but to earn harsh words from the latter. The quarrel between the two is inevitable. This quick fight leaves Mr. Tulliver falls deeper in sickness then passes away. Just a few moments before his last breath, Mr. Tulliver asks for his children to not have any relations with the Wakem family and Mr. Tulliver curses them until the day he is laid to rest. Tom and Maggie take vows they will no longer fight against each other soon after their father dies.

Lucy invites Maggie to stay in her house for some moments to help her relative to cheer up a bit. She shares the invitation with her boyfriend, Stephen Guest, whom he suggests to also persuade Phillip to come. Both men are best friends. At the stage, both Lucy and Stephen do not know that Maggie and Phillip love each other not enemies as they think given the bitter story between the Tulliver and Wakem family. After learning Lucy’s ideas about the meeting, Maggie asks for the permission from Tom, who surprisingly agrees without much quarrelsome.

Ahead of the meeting, Maggie and Lucy prepare to take part in a bazaar where Maggie will sell clothes she knits. Leading to this bazaar, Lucy introduces Maggie to her boyfriend who is left speechless while admiring Maggie unique beauty. Somehow, they don’t seem quite get along with each other at the beginning of the conversation with Maggie often gets offended with Stephen’s jokes and so forth.

Stephen can’t resist his feeling eventually while Maggie admits she has the same affection to him but the thought about Phillip hinders her to openly entwine a relationship with Stephen. While Lucy does not notice on the awkwardness each time Stephen meets Maggie (as Lucy finally discovers that Maggie likes Phillip), Phillip gets this strange situation. On the other hand, while Stephen aggressively approaches Maggie (he once kisses Maggie in a party), the latter manages to cast her feeling away and convince Stephen that they can not form their love relation for the sake of Lucy and Phillip.

One day, Lucy has an idea to get the four together into a rowing afternoon ride. Phillip who senses a jealousy because of Stephen decides to cancel his joining while at the same time, Lucy takes the same option. So, Stephen and Maggie are left alone in the same row. As Stephen rows along, he once again tries to win her heart of escaping the town and gets married. He regards no one must get hurt should they elope because in fact, Stephen and Maggie are in love. They must be honest with their own feelings and must not sacrifice them to satisfy Lucy and Phillip, whom Stephen and Maggie don’t really love.

Tide comes along then brings to ashore, far from St. Oggs. Stephen’s efforts to persuade Maggie are fruitless because she determines not to go with him. Stephen is devastated but Maggie sticks to her decision. She returns home at the Dorlcote Mill which finally falls again at the hands of Tom. Just when she arrives at the yard of the mill, she finds Tom already waiting for her. A gossip has reached the town that she and Stephen run away, leaving Lucy falls so ill in bed.

No matter how strong Maggie tells her brother about the real story, Tom rejects it. He curses her, saying how much her deed brings so much disgrace to the family. Tom chases her away. Maggie then stays at the Bob’s lodgings with her mother. Maggie seeks for the help of Dr. Kenn who is so kind to her during the bazaar along with his deceased wife. But he can’t find any available jobs because Maggie’s bad reputation has so widely spread out. Even after Stephen explains the whole thing, Maggie remains secluded. At the end, Dr. Kenn employs her in his house but this makes the matter even worse as some considers the doctor-cumclergyman has an affair with her.

At some final pages leading up to the finale of the novel, Maggie is visited by Lucy and they make peace. Lucy forgives her and that they remain good relatives. After their last embrace, Maggie receives a long letter from Phillip who tells her how much he believes in her innocence. Phillip thanks her on how much his strong love for her has helped him passing through the hard life he has to face. That loving her is his weapon against the loneliness.

Another letter comes at her hand when she returns at the Bob Jakin’s lodging. It is from Stephen. He, for the very last one, persuades Maggie to escape and get married. Her difficult situation should convince her that this is the best solution, he thinks. Maggie can only bursts into tears. She cries for some time until finally realizes the water in the mill goes up. She calls the Jakin’s family to leave the house immediately. The flood comes. Maggie tries to reach her family and with her hard efforts she picks up Tom and saves him. They don’t speak many words. Maggie informs Tom that she has the boat that can carry them through and she asks for her mother whereabouts, who, according to Tom, is at their uncle’s house.

the mill on the floss-pict from www.georgeeliot.org

The illustration of Maggie rowing to reach her house as taken from http://www.georgeeliot.org

As the siblings are in the boat, Tom looks at his sister with eyes full of apology. But no words are uttered to express how they feel about the past and how Tom regrets his actions to his sole sister. Somehow, the meeting of the eyes is enough to say how relieved that they can get through the fights and now eventually they are back together with no grudges.

The peaceful moments last very quick as the water comes again and strikes the boat. They hug each other then get drowned.

The final page of the book

Some years have passed after the deadly flood. All characters are still alive except those two in the boat. A tomb is erected to honor the bodies, who remain in a tight embrace, under one hole. Once in a while, two guys visit the grave. Tom and Maggie, who frequently argues each other in their life, eventually bury the hatchet in the hereafter. In eternity, they unite, never to be parted again.

the mill on the floss-pict from en.wikipedia.org

A love-and-hate relationship between Tom and Maggie. Picture from ed.wikipedia.org