The Mill on the Floss | Study Guide

George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss | Book 1, Chapters 7–9 : Boy and Girl | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7: Enter the Aunts and Uncles

The narrator ironically says the eldest of the Dodson sisters, Jane Glegg, who though still attractive at 50 seemed ugly to Tom and Maggie. Aunt Glegg never wears her new clothes until the old ones are entirely worn out, one of her many particular habits. She begins her visit by criticizing sister, Mrs. Pullet, for being late and her other sister, Mrs. Tulliver, for not having dinner ready at 1:00, according to Dodson family custom. Sophy Pullet arrives, magnificently dressed and conspicuously exhibiting grief for a neighbor who has recently died of dropsy (heart trouble). Mrs. Tulliver favors this sister, who feels sorry for her producing two "naughty awkward children." Little Lucy Deane, the Tulliver children's cousin, is about a year younger than Maggie, and when she appears with her mother, Mrs. Susan Deane, Mrs. Tulliver mentally makes unfavorable comparisons between the blonde child and her dark daughter. Mr. Pullet is a gentleman farmer, Mr. Glegg is retired from business, and Mr. Deane works as a manager in the prestigious firm of Guest & Co. Having worked his way up from the bottom, Mr. Deane is now the richest of the husbands.

After Aunt Pullet criticizes Maggie's hair, which she says ought to be thinned and cut shorter, Mrs. Tulliver whispers to Maggie to go back upstairs to have her hair brushed by the servant, but instead, the child goes into her mother's bedroom for a pair of scissors and cuts her thick black hair off. Maggie enlists Tom's help to cut the back where she can't reach. After Tom leaves Maggie realizes how foolish she has been. When she finally comes downstairs to dinner, she is met with shock from the women and amusement from the men. She bursts into tears, and her father soothes her, saying she was right to cut her hair if it bothered her.

At dinner the Dodson clan learn of Mr. Tulliver's plans to send Tom to Mr. Stelling, and Mrs. Glegg voices strong objections. She and Mr. Tulliver get into a serious quarrel, and after she brings up the money she has lent to his family and he tells her she should keep her place, she storms out, her husband following behind.

Chapter 8: Mr. Tulliver Shows His Weaker Side

After the party Mrs. Tulliver worries that Mrs. Glegg will call in their debt, and Mr. Tulliver immediately decides to raise the 500 pounds he owes her. His first idea is to get back 300 pounds he loaned the Mosses. His brother-in-law Mr. Moss is a poor farmer barely eking out a living, and he and Mr. Tulliver's sister Gritty have eight children. Mr. Tulliver speaks to Moss, demanding the money, but then has a change of heart, going back to his sister to say he can wait. He tells her he will bring the children soon, especially Maggie, whom Gritty has specifically asked for. She is Maggie's godmother, and the two are very fond of each other.

Chapter 9: To Garum Firs

Mrs. Tulliver visits her sister, Mrs. Pullet at Garum Firs with Maggie, Tom, and Lucy, the latter having an extended visit with her cousins. When they first arrive, Mrs. Pullet takes Mrs. Tulliver and the girls into her best room upstairs where she has locked up her new bonnet in a box in the wardrobe. She models the millenary for them, and Mrs. Tulliver is sufficiently impressed. When they join Mr. Pullet and Tom in the living room, Maggie inadvertently drops a sweet cake on the floor and crushes it and knocks over her brother's glass of cowslip wine, for which she is scolded by the grownups. When the children are sent out doors to play, Mrs. Tulliver takes the opportunity to raise her concerns about the loan, and Mrs. Pullet agrees to talk to their sister about not calling in Mr. Tulliver's debt.

Analysis

Chapter 7 introduces the Dodsons, and as more than one critic has pointed out, the author spares no irony is painting this bourgeois, conventional, and judgmental clan primarily in unsympathetic terms, despite George Eliot's famous protestations in response to a review that called the Dodsons "mean and uninteresting." Eliot claimed not to hate the Dodsons (modeled on her aunts) and to admire their virtues, such as honesty and thrift. Nonetheless, she mostly faults them for their dogmatism and religion of materialism as well as their lack of sympathy for sensitive souls of deep feeling and imagination such as Maggie. At the same time, the aunts provide comic relief, particularly Aunt Glegg and Aunt Pullet, in what is otherwise a somber novel.

Mrs. Tulliver's three sisters have all married well, and Susan Deane is the only other sister with children (an older, grown child is mentioned in passing later in the novel). Jane Glegg, the eldest and family matriarch, is disliked by both Tom and Maggie because she is bossy and critical. She is the epitome of the Dodson spirit, which is tremendous pride in their own family and particular way of carrying on in the world, coupled with a deeply judgmental attitude toward all who are not Dodsons. True to form, Mrs. Glegg immediately begins criticizing Mrs. Tulliver for not having the dinner ready at 1:00, as is customary for a Dodson, and faults her sister for spending so much money on an elaborate dinner, since Mrs. Tulliver should be pinching her pennies as she does. Unlike Mrs. Glegg, who prefers to wear her old clothes out, Mrs. Pullet's rich costume is so wide across the shoulders that it brushes both doorposts when she comes in. Mrs. Pullet is a hypochondriac and overly dramatic, which is why she is weeping for a neighbor, even as her Mrs. Glegg scolds her for crying over someone who is not kin.

Maggie is accustomed to constant criticism about her hair—too much, too black, too unmanageable—and her skin—too dark—but this time she is determined to retaliate, perhaps driven by both her aunts' words and the implicit comparison between herself and her cousin Lucy. Maggie is understandably humiliated by her own actions, which rains down more criticism, in the form of shock and amusement among her relatives. Her father, the only one who defends her and doesn't judge her, once again comes to her rescue.

The argument between Mr. Tulliver and Mrs. Glegg triggers a series of bad decisions on the part of the miller, who is now determined to pay off the debt to his officious and meddling sister-in-law. The Dodson attitude toward money and material possessions is explored to some extent in these chapters. On the one hand, Mrs. Glegg has loaned her brother-in-law a considerable sum of money, but on the other, she is charging him five percent interest, which is the same amount she would expect from a stranger. The Dodsons are hard-headed and practical about money, unlike Mr. Tulliver, who has loaned his sister 300 pounds, also a large sum (which he is less in a position to afford), but has received no interest and knows he will likely never get his money back from his sister's impoverished husband. The Dodson worship of material possessions is apparent in Mrs. Pullet's display of her new bonnet, which is described by the narrator as an elaborate ritual that takes on the cast of a religious rite. Although her sister properly admires Mrs. Pullet's millenary, for Maggie "the sight of the bonnet at last was an anticlimax. ... she would have preferred something more strikingly preternatural."

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