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The Mill on the Floss | Study Guide

George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss | Book 1, Chapters 10–13 : Boy and Girl | Summary



Chapter 10: Maggie Behaves Worse Than She Expected

Tom is angry with Maggie because she knocked over his house of cards in the morning after he said he wished Lucy was his sister, and he is further annoyed because Maggie spilled his wine. To punish her he pays Lucy exclusive attention, leading her toward the pond to look at the pike while Maggie tags along. The children have been told to stay along the walks, as the ground is very muddy. At the pond Tom directs Lucy to bend down in the grass to look at the fish, chasing his own sister away. In a fury, Maggie pushes Lucy into the mud. Tom carries Lucy back to the house to be cleaned up, and he is scolded by his mother for disobeying, saying he should have known his sister would cause some mischief. Meanwhile, Maggie has run off, and Tom cannot find her when he returns to the pond.

Chapter 11: Maggie Tries to Run away from Her Shadow

Maggie has decided to run away to the gypsies, since she often has been called wild, like a gypsy. Her fantasy is that they will accept and respect her, appreciating her superior knowledge. After walking a while she fortuitously stumbles on a gypsy camp but is disappointed by the dirty and disheveled people she meets. She will not take the food offered by an old gypsy woman. One of the gypsy men is chosen to take her home, and they meet her father on the road, also on the way home, and he gives the gypsy some money, grateful his daughter is unharmed. At home Mr. Tulliver chastises his wife and son, and Maggie hears no further reproach from either of them.

Chapter 12: Mr. and Mrs. Glegg at Home

The Gleggs live St. Ogg's, and the narrator takes time out to tell the story of the patron saint of the town. Ogg was a poor boatman who ferried people across the river Floss. On an evening of bad weather, a woman dressed in rags and carrying a child begged to be taken to the other side, and Ogg finally agreed. When the woman stepped ashore after the ride, her rags were transformed into flowing white robes, and she emanated light and glory, which shone on the river. The lady blessed the ferryman who did not question her "heart's need," so that whomever steps into his boat will be safe from any storm. After Ogg died his boat would appear during floods, with the Blessed Virgin (the mother of Jesus) at the prow shedding light to help desperate rowers find their way in the darkness.

Mr. Glegg, a retired wool merchant, is an enthusiastic amateur gardener, known by his neighbors to be amiable if tight-fisted with his money. He is used to arguing with his quarrelsome wife, although their arguments never amount to much. The kind-hearted Mr. Glegg feels sad about his wife's quarrel with her family, and she feels he has not adequately taken her side against Mr. Tulliver, who is "none o' my blood." He becomes impatient, telling her he has provided for her, allows her to keep her own money, and will leave her well provided for when he dies, even though she continues to go on "biting and snapping like a mad dog!" This speech has a calming effect on her. Moreover, he has advised her to keep her money with the Tullivers, who are paying interest at five percent, until a better investment comes along. For both of these reasons she tells him later that she plans to keep her money where it is for her sister's sake.

Chapter 13: Mr. Tulliver Further Entangles the Skein of Life

When Mrs. Pullet shows up to mediate for Mrs. Tulliver, she finds that Mrs. Glegg has decided to drop her grudge and not recall her money. Meanwhile, Mrs. Tulliver makes the same error with her husband that she has repeated on numerous occasions, which is to say something to him that elicits the opposite response from what she intended or desired. In this instance she tells him Mrs. Pullet has gone to Mrs. Glegg to smooth things over so he doesn't have to worry about the loan, and he immediately decides that he must pay her the money as quickly as possible and writes her a letter expressing that intention. Mrs. Glegg, who has the firm principles of the Dodsons, does not alter her will against the Tulliver children in retaliation, but Mr. Tulliver's actions further widen the breach between the two families. Mr. Tulliver finds someone to loan him the money, although the lender is a client of his enemy, the lawyer, Mr. Wakem.


Maggie is mastered by her rage in Chapter 10, this time because of Tom's rejection. Here is an adoring sister who has been waiting for weeks for her brother to come home, but mostly what he has done since he arrived is reject and scold her, most recently by saying he wishes Lucy were his sister instead of Maggie. He then punishes her again by ignoring her in favor of his cousin—even chasing her away. The narrator describes Maggie "looking like a small Medusa with her snakes cropped" as she is kept outside Tom's loving orbit. Maggie's unruly hair is a symbol of otherness and destructive power and is mentioned here in connection with Medusa, the Greek goddess who turned people into stone. Not surprisingly, Maggie pushes Lucy into the mud and, knowing how seriously her offense will be perceived, runs off, imagining to find some solace among outsiders, the gypsies, who must be like her. Maggie defends her fragile self-esteem by bragging to herself as well as to others about how smart she is, which is why she imagines instructing the gypsies. Neither Tom nor Mrs. Tulliver nor the Dodsons ever stop to consider that Maggie's outbursts are responses to their harsh and rejecting behavior. While Mrs. Tulliver scolds Tom for disobeying the adults and taking the girls to the pond, she does so by saying he should have known his sister would cause trouble. "It was Mrs. Tulliver's way," the narrator says, "if she blamed Tom, to refer his misdemeanor, somehow or other, to Maggie." In addition, Mrs. Tulliver is more concerned over what her husband will say about the lost child rather than the lost child herself. Only Mr. Tulliver has some understanding of Maggie, and when he finds her on the road on the way back from his sister's house, he protects her from her mother and brother, who do not dare utter another word against her.

When the action switches to the Glegg household in Chapter 12, the narrator naturally introduces the fable that foreshadows Maggie and Tom's fate and symbolizes Maggie's dilemma. The woman in need, the Blessed Virgin and mother of Jesus, symbolizes both Maggie and the mother Maggie doesn't have. Like the woman in rags, Maggie has a "heart's need," which neither her mother nor her brother respond. While Maggie's father loves and protects her, she requires a lot of attention and validation, and Mr. Tulliver is not equipped to be both mother and father to his wayward child. Furthermore, in some sense he values her less than Tom because she is a girl—for example, he is proud of her intelligence but thinks it superfluous for her eventual role as a wife and mother. The Virgin of Ogg is also a warm and protective mother, unlike Mrs. Tulliver, who is cold and withholding. At the end of the novel, Maggie will become a perverse mother herself, coming to rescue her brother but instead becoming the agent of his destruction when their boat capsizes on the swollen river. In keeping with the demonic aspect of her nature, Maggie will turn the legend upside down, replacing the mother of God (the Virgin Mother of St. Ogg) who appears with her boat to save stranded travelers, with herself, sister and destroyer, conjuring a final reckoning with Tom.

In Chapter 12, Mrs. Glegg is shown to be less of a harridan than the reader might have expected. While she is angry with her kindly husband for not vigorously taking her part against her brother-in-law, she is mollified when he tells her plainly he plans to leave his money to her. The conversation between them points to the inferior position of women with regard to money. In 1829 a woman's money automatically belonged to her husband when she married unless he allowed her to keep it, which Mr. Glegg has done. Moreover, a husband could leave his money to whomever he chose and could legally make his widow a pauper. Mr. Glegg's financial advice about his wife's money—to leave it with Mr. Tulliver since it is accumulating interest—is in alignment with her own inclination to not create additional family dissent. Unfortunately, dull Mrs. Tulliver, who has been married to her husband for 13 years, still hasn't figured out that he does the opposite of what she advises. Moreover, she doesn't understand him well enough to perceive that she will hurt his pride by saying she sent her sister to the woman who holds his loan. Thus, Mrs. Tulliver's stupidity triggers her husband's rash decision, which will have serious consequences.

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