By Chet Yarbrough
By George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)
Narrated by Wanda McCaddon
George Eliot rejects convention in her depiction of American families in the 19th century. Eliot is a woman by the name of Mary Anne Evans. The name George Eliot hides and explains a double standard that existed before Adam and Eve and continues through today. George Eliot transgressed morality in the 1860s by living with a married man, until his death, when writing “The Mill on the Floss”. “The Mill on the Floss” is semi-autobiographical.
Very little social stigma follows men for illicit love affairs but no review of Eliot’s work escapes her association with George Henry Lewes. (As noted in Wikipedia: George Henry Lewes was an English philosopher and critic of literature and theatre. He became part of the mid-Victorian ferment of ideas which encouraged discussion of Darwinism, positivism, and religious skepticism Lewes became an important part of Eliot’s awakening as a literary artist; a role given substance by her life and experience with Lewes; not that Lewes was the source of her inherent ability, but an ability that could have been constrained, if not lost, in the social conventions of that day if not for Lewes’ support.
“The Mill on the Floss” is a coming of age story about Tom and Maggie Tulliver. (The Floss represents a river; the mill is a working agricultural farm.) The story resonates strongly with fathers that have daughters because of the psychology of a relationship that idealizes fathers; i.e. psychology that is riven with distorted visions of unconditional love; with expectations of that same love by daughters from future husbands or lovers. Unconditional love is not in the nature of human beings; however families that love their children often project that belief onto their children. This is not to say familial love is wrong but familial love’s misinterpretation by children has consequence in the trials of life.
Eliot portrays the lives of Tom and Maggie Tulliver in many ways that show how our children’s lives are deeply affected by distorted views of human nature that come from family relationships. Tom grows into “the man of the house” when his father dies but he is psychologically crippled by his estimation of his father’s victimization by others for his family’s bankruptcy and loss of dignity, losses largely brought on by his father’s own weaknesses. Maggie expects to find unconditional love, like that she perceived from her father. She looks to one person that seems to fill that need but succumbs to another’s seduction that leads to a short engagement and disillusion.
Life is life in “The Mill on the Floss” with many trials and tribulations that as often end in tragedy as in happiness,
just like lives lived today. Eliot’s Maggie reminds one of Charles Dickens heroine in “Dombey and Son”; Tom Tulliver reminds one of Dickens’ David Copperfield; Bob reminds one of Samuel Clemens’ Tom Sawyer or
Huck Finn. The difference is in their endings but “The Mill on the Floss” reminds one of the interconnection of great writers.
This is a wonderful classic that has as much to say about today as it did when it was published in 1860. Eliot’s book is not meant to change human nature (as if any book could), or the way we raise our children, but it helps explain why things happen as they do. [contact-form-7 id=”1710″ title=”Contact form 1″]