I almost quit after 120 pages. I did for awhile and read another book, then I decided to give it another chance to keep me awake. I didn’t like the characters. The story centers on the Tulliver family. Mr. Tulliver owns the Mill on the Floss River, which has been in his family for generations. The mill has given him some village distinction as a successful tradesman. The family lives comfortably. Mrs. Tulliver has 3 irritating sisters, who constantly correct and criticize the children, Tom and Maggie. The story is Tom and Maggie’s, but more Maggie’s. No one has patience for the little free spirited child. She always seems to be in trouble for one non-conforming action after another, like getting dirty, being outspoken and cutting her own hair when everyone complains about how messy it is. Maggie is tall with a dark complexion and black unruly hair. She is constantly being compared to one of the sister’s fair, petite and proper daughters, Lucy.
Maggie’s older brother Tom is favored and plans are made to send him to school when Maggie is the real scholar. Maggie loves her brother and longs for his acceptance and attention. Tom has Maggie’s heart but his frequent censures constantly wound her. The disappointment in this sibling relationship will plague Maggie to the end. She willingly sacrifices her own happiness for her brother’s good favor.
The family wrangling over money and criticizing the children was oppressive in the first 100 pages. I felt that Elliot spent too much time on developing the characters before anything happened, but I understood when the plot began to be evident in the last half of the book.
Mr. Tulliver sacrifices to send Tom to be schooled with a pastor in a semi-private situation. Tom is not happy there learning Latin and classic literature. He is more at home in the woods killing rats. Philip Wakum is Tom’s classmate who is indeed a scholar and an artist. Philip has a hunch back that makes him repugnant to Tom. Maggie comes to visit Tom at school and stays on several occasions, developing a connection with Philip. Their minds meet as friends and intellectual equals, with no thought of Phillip’s looks and disabilities.
Mr. Tulliver loses the Mill and family fortune in a nasty lawsuit with Philip Wakem’s solicitor father. This event creates an intense hate and hostility between the families and ends Tom’s schooling and the friendship between Maggie and Philip. Tom and Maggie leave home to work.
Tom’s childhood friend Bob plays a pivotal role in the story. There is an interesting contrast between this very poor boy and the rich Aunts, who are stingy, judgmental and non-supportive to the Tulliver family in trouble. Bob earns a 10 pound reward for stopping a fire on the wharf. He spends a pound on himself and comes to Tom and Maggie, in their time of need, to offer them the remaining 9 pounds, because he believes they need it more than he does. He buys books for Maggie because he knows she loves them. Later he brings Tom into his business ventures and ultimately shares his home with them with no motives for personal gain.
Maggie grows to be a uniquely beautiful woman, losing her childhood clumsiness, but not her spunk and free spirit. Her lovely cousin Lucy has long been her friend and ally. Maggie leaves her position to visit Lucy and have a needed rest. Lucy is almost engaged to a dashing young man, Stephen Guest. Stephen is thrown together with Maggie for the long visit and becomes quietly besot with her. Philip is also back in the picture. The plot thickens as Maggie is forced into a situation to break her brother’s heart (he has forbid her to see Philip) or her dear cousin Lucy’s if she responds to Stephen’s advances.
The story ends as a sad and poignant romance. George Elliot continues to write her philosophical interludes as the story moves along, as she did in Adam Bede, almost as a Godlike over looker of the events...not as often, but I still liked her insights. I am glad I read it but you must have some stamina to get through the beginning. 3 ½ stars.
The BBC has a 3 hour production of the book. The movie begins with the irritating aunts and they are as hard to take as they were in the book, only now they scream and hurt your ears. I have a great tolerance for British drama. I enjoyed it, but someone without my patience or if you haven’t read the book you might not enjoy it as much. It was made in the 70’s and looks quite dated. But it does follow the storyline nicely.