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The Mill on the Floss | Study Guide

George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss | Book 6, Chapters 1–3 : The Great Temptation | Summary



Chapter 1: A Duet in Paradise

Book 6 opens two years later in the Deanes' drawing room. Lucy Deane wears mourning for her mother and is entertaining Mr. Stephen Guest, the son of the manufacturing magnate at the head of her father's business. Something of a dandy, the handsome Stephen has been courting Lucy and intends to marry her, even though she is slightly below him in social status. Lucy is pretty but not beautiful, and she has many excellent traits, so he is "not surprised to find himself in love with her." Lucy tells Stephen that her cousin Maggie, whom she loves very much, is leaving her current teaching job and will be visiting for a month or two. Stephen assumes she will be fat, blonde, and dull-witted like Mrs. Tulliver, who is living with the Deanes, and Lucy thinks it a good joke not to disabuse him of this notion. She also tells him the little history of the Tullivers she knows: Mr. Tulliver blamed Mr. Wakem for his misfortune and had a terrible quarrel with him the day before he died, and Maggie will not live with her aunt, Mrs. Pullet, or be dependent on Tom, so she took a position as a teacher. Philip is friends with Stephen and Lucy, and the three of them play and sing together, but Lucy asks Stephen to tell Philip to stay away until she writes to him. Lucy wants to avoid a meeting between Philip and Tom and to check with Maggie to see if she feels comfortable seeing Philip, given the history between the families.

Chapter 2: First Impressions

When Maggie arrives, Lucy tells her she is very much in love with Stephen and expects he will propose at some point and they will become engaged. The cousins continue a heart-to-heart talk, and Maggie says, "I don't think I could ever bear to make any one unhappy; and yet I often hate myself, because I get angry sometimes at the sight of happy people." Lucy answers she is just depressed because of her hard life. Since Lucy knows her cousin loves music, she intends for her to have "a riotous feast of it." She now broaches the subject of Philip, who is their "third voice," and learns that Maggie has no objections to meeting him. Before the conversation gets much further, Stephen shows up and is astonished and quite taken by Maggie's beauty and even blushes, which Maggie finds gratifying. The young people tell Maggie about a bazaar that will take place to raise money, and while Lucy is doing "fancy work," she wants Maggie to contribute some "plain sewing," which she does very beautifully. Maggie explains she got good at it because she did it to make money, and while Lucy is somewhat embarrassed that her cousin has exposed her poverty to Stephen, it only heightens Maggie's beauty in his eyes. Lucy proposes that they go out rowing on the river, and when Maggie leaves to get her bonnet, Stephen claims Maggie is too tall and fiery for his taste, but in truth he is much intrigued by her.

Chapter 3: Confidential Moments

Maggie has been awakened to the "presence of a world of love and beauty and delight" by Stephen's "fine bass voice" and the attention he has paid to her. Lucy asks Maggie if she dislikes Stephen because he seems conceited, but she reassures her cousin he is charming and approves him since he will make Lucy happy. Maggie then tells Lucy of her whole history with Philip. "It is very beautiful that you should love Philip," Lucy says. "And in my opinion, you ought not to give him up." She thinks the obstacles in the way of their happiness will eventually disappear.


Book 6 opens two years after Book 5 ends, and while many critics have said the ending of the novel is unsatisfying, not many have paid attention to the crucial missing details about those two years, particularly why Maggie had become so adamant about not living with her mother and Tom. Did Maggie wish to get away from both Philip and Tom? Did brother and sister quarrel again after their father's death? Neither does the reader learn how Lucy and Stephen come to be such good friends with Philip Wakem. Readers find out, through Lucy's explanation of the Tulliver family woes to Stephen Guest, that Mr. Tulliver died the day after he attacked Mr. Wakem.

Lucy's personality has not changed much since her childhood days: she is still a loving and kind cousin with at least as much sympathy and generosity of nature as Maggie. Lucy pities Maggie's hard lot in life, and now she wants to give her a fine holiday. She is also a trusting person without an ounce of guile, and she readily confesses how it stands between her and Stephen. Likewise, Maggie explains her history with Philip, and Lucy thinks her cousin's unusual choice exactly suits Maggie's "general uncanniness." It is "romantic" and "out of the common way" as is everything concerning her cousin. Lucy also has a large enough imagination to guess how it stands between them when she says, "Philip will adore you like a husband in a fairy tale." Philip's adoration is one of his main attractions, but when Lucy says she will contrive to bring them together despite the obstacles, Maggie tries to smile, but shivers, "as if she felt a sudden chill." Clearly, she doesn't love Philip any better as a potential mate than she did when she left St. Ogg's. She has not been completely honest with her cousin, perhaps because she can hardly be honest with herself when it comes to Philip. Maggie tells Lucy another lie when she says she can't bear to make anyone unhappy: clearly she has already made both Philip and Tom unhappy by agreeing to enter into a problematic relationship with the lawyer's son. She also tells a remarkable truth about her resentment around happy people, and perhaps Lucy should have paid more attention. On some level Maggie is aware of her unconscious, destructive rage, although she does her best to keep it on a leash by feeding herself with fine Christian sentiments.

Stephen Guest is more than a "hairdresser's block," as one early critic called him. He is a spoiled member of the upper class, but he has a streak of eccentricity evident in his choosing Lucy to fall in love with rather than a woman of his own class, since he recognizes her excellent qualities of heart and mind. He is conceited, but not exceedingly so, even if he is something of a dandy, and his eccentricity takes him off guard when he is swept away by Maggie's looks and her otherness. She is also immediately drawn to Stephen while the innocent Lucy sits nearby, entirely unaware that the alternating coldness and friendliness between her lover and cousin is a bad sign of emotions already running underground.

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