[Review] The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Publisher and Publication Date: The New American Library/Signet Classic. 1965. First published in 1860.
Genre: Fiction. Classic literature. British literature.
Format: Paperback.
Pages: 560.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of classic 19th century British literature. Readers of family stories.
Rating: Good.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

I am reading George Eliot books for the 2023 George Eliot Chapter a Day Reading Challenge.

The Mill on the Floss is the second book I’ve read by George Eliot. I am currently reading Silas Marner.


Early part of 1800s. England.

The Tulliver family has a working mill in the rural countryside of England. Tom and Maggie are the children. Tom is the older brother. A serious financial hardship changes the dynamics of the family. The children return home from school to help the parents.

The Mill on the Floss shares the story of a great loss in the Tulliver family that effects their financial outlook and stress. But also, those dreams that might have been are halted. It also shows the society and culture of the era towards women in higher education and independence, and the ability to make choices of friendship and marriage. And it shows the parents bent towards showering attention and affection to one child over the other.

My Thoughts:

This is the second time for me to read The Mill on the Floss.

I want to state quickly this is not a feel-good story. It is not a story that when the last page is read, the reader feels a since of happiness about the storyline or characters. It is sad. The entire story is sad. However, The Mill on the Floss is well-written and memorable.

What I have a big problem with is Tom Tulliver. Tom is a disagreeable person. He is selfish. Self-centered. Hateful. Conceited. Abusive. Manipulative. Withholds love. Controlling. He is one of the few book characters (of all the stories I’ve read) I dislike. It is possible that his parents have favored him so much this has negatively impacted his character. It is also possible the stress of expectations placed on him by his parents has negatively impacted and soured his character. This creates an internal conflict for Tom but internal and external conflicts for his sister.

I dislike Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver. I dislike Mr. Tulliver’s unforgiveness and bitterness that seeps into the family and is a great influence on Tom. Unforgiveness and bitterness are strong themes in the story. The impact of these themes carries through to the end.

I believe George Eliot did not write The Mill on the Floss with the intention of a feel-good story. There is a purpose for the story. I realize this, but I still dislike Tom and his parents.

When the story begins, Maggie is a strong-willed child who poses a problem for her dear mother who wants a meek and lady-like daughter. Maggie is a disappointment to her mother. This creates internal conflicts between the two.

Maggie’s father is the only one who seems to be tender towards her; yet his nickname for her I dislike. That name is a reflection of other things going on in the story. {I love you, but I will keep you in the place I create for you.}

The Mill on the Floss is the story of an imperfect family who suffers under hardship which changes the course of their lives. George Eliot uses internal and external conflicts, characters, and a strong plot to capture the story.

The story has strong themes of unforgiveness, bitterness, death and dying, sacrifice, heroism, suffering, judgement, injustice, justice, dreams, grief, hope, greed, trust, innocence, and coming of age.


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