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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 7–10 : The Great Temptation | Summary



Chapter 7: Philip Re-enters

Philip arrives the next day, and Maggie greets him with warmth and tears. Lucy leaves so they can talk privately, and Maggie explains that Tom has consented to their meeting. Nonetheless, she plans to go away again and not be dependent on her brother. Philip does not press her too hard on leaving the people she loves because he doesn't want to seem needy. The two are interrupted by Stephen's arrival, and when he and Maggie greet each other coldly, Lucy thinks her cousin is not Stephen's type of woman and that Maggie is annoyed by his conceit. Philip, however, immediately becomes suspicious. Lucy now asks the men to sing a duet, and Philip takes a seat at the piano. Maggie is enchanted by Stephen's voice and cannot help but listen intently to the music, while Stephen cannot help but look at Maggie when he stands to sing. Philip begins the next song alone—one he used to hum in the Red Deeps, and Maggie is "touched, not thrilled" and wishes she had told him more plainly how it must stand between them, given her brother's prohibitions. The singing is interrupted by lunch, and Mr. Deane asks Philip a few questions related to his father's business. Later Mr. Deane shares with Lucy his desire to buy the mill for Tom, and she strongly advises him to take Philip into his confidence. She assures Mr. Deane he can help, although she doesn't tell him how Philip feels about Maggie.

Chapter 8: Wakem in a New Light

Lucy herself talks to Philip about the mill, and he is determined to move forward his own cause as well as the Tullivers'. To this end he confides in his father his feelings for Maggie and their previous relationship in the Red Deeps. At first Mr. Wakem bristles at the idea and threatens to break off contact with his son if he marries Maggie. But then he reconsiders and relents, even agreeing to sell the mill back for his son's sake. Nonetheless, he tells Philip, "I shall have no direct transactions with young Tulliver. If you like to swallow him for his sister's sake, you may; but I've no sauce that will make him go down."

Chapter 9: Charity in Full-Dress

On the day of the charity bazaar, Maggie makes a strong impression, with her beauty and simplicity, on everyone, particularly the young men. Maggie and Stephen have been aloof from each other, but at the bazaar he can't help but speak to her softly in an unguarded moment, but she asks him to go away. He joins Philip, who is sketching Maggie from a distance and has been watching their interaction. Stephen explains Maggie snapped at him when he offered her some refreshment. "There's a natural antipathy between us," he says, to which Philip angrily replies, "What a hypocrite you are!"

When the women come back from the bazaar, Maggie tells Lucy she plans to take a new teaching situation at the end of June, and Lucy is surprised and disappointed. She had told her cousin about Tom's getting back the mill, and in Lucy's mind the rest of the obstacles between Philip and Maggie can also be swept away. But Maggie tells her it is impossible because of Tom's feelings. Lucy says she can talk to Tom and asks her frankly if she doesn't love Philip sufficiently, but Maggie replies that she "would choose to marry him" but cannot divide herself from her brother and asks Lucy to drop the subject.

Chapter 10: The Spell Seems Broken

The cousins attend a dance at the Guest home to which Stephen's sisters have invited all the middle-class young people in town. Although Stephen attempts to stay away from Maggie, he approaches her while the others are waltzing, and they take a walk in which both attempt to repress their passion. However, Stephen at one point begins showering kisses on Maggie's arm, and she pushes him away, admonishing him harshly for insulting her. She is now more determined than ever to quash her attraction to Stephen. Philip visits her at the Deanes the next morning, and she tells him she cannot do anything that will alienate her permanently from her brother. He also asks her if that is the only obstacle between them and she answers definitively that is "the only reason." Although Philip ought to have been happy with that answer, the narrator opines, "jealousy is never satisfied with anything short of an omniscience that would detect the subtlest fold of the heart."


Maggie's inability to rein in her emotions as well as her refusal to own up to the truth about herself begin to take its destructive toll on the people around her. When Philip arrives she greets him more warmly than she ought to because she is using him to ward off the strong sexual feelings she feels for Stephen Guest. The narrator says: "For Philip, who a little while ago was associated continually in Maggie's mind with the sense that Tom might reproach her with some justice, had now, in this short space become a sort of outward conscience to her, that she might fly to for rescue and strength." The narrator pardons Maggie, saying Philip's appeal was to her pity and not her "vanity and other egoistic excitability." But the narrator may be mistaken to attribute Maggie's strategy—really a subterfuge—to her pity. If she truly pitied Philip she would be honest with him and not continue to lead him on, time after time. Rather, it is more likely that Maggie cannot face her own sexual desire, and in an attempt to avoid still another transgression—appropriating the blonde girl's lover—she would rather use Philip as a shield.

She tells Philip she cannot tolerate living with her brother, yet she insists on following Tom's command to stay away from Philip, but to what purpose? If she really meant to make Philip happy, she would choose him over her brother, the way he would easily choose her over his father. But she does not love Philip, so she uses her brother as a shield to avoid sharing her true feelings with Philip. "I begin to think there can never come much happiness to me from loving: I have always had so much pain mingled with it. I wish I could make myself a world outside it, as men do," she says. But the need for love is equally felt by men and women. While it is true that men in Maggie's time had a much wider compass to sublimate their desires or do something worthwhile in the world, Philip correctly sees that Maggie wants to use renunciation to "mutilate" and "pervert" her own nature.

Mr. Wakem's attitude toward his son's forbidden love for Maggie makes a strong juxtaposition with Tom attitude toward the Wakems. When the lawyer's son first confides in him, he threatens to break off contact, but his resolution doesn't even last a day. When he learns that his son has a chance with Maggie, he not only agrees to accept her as a daughter-in-law, but he even agrees to sell the mill to Mr. Deane so that Tom can eventually buy it back. This is the sign of a mature love that wants for the loved person what is good for them and what will make them happy, even if that creates a hardship for the one who is loving. Mr. Wakem was severely beaten by Mr. Tulliver, and he knows that the younger Tulliver carries on the family grudge and hatred of him. Yet he is willing to put aside what is due to his ego for the purpose of assisting his son in obtaining his heart's desire. Tom, on the other hand, neither cares what Maggie feels nor whether she is happy. He treats her not as a person, but as a function—an extension of himself and the Tullivers. He cannot move past his rigid ideas about what is right and wrong and what is owed to the memory of his father. He puts the imagined needs of the dead ahead of the real needs of the living.

Unlike innocent Lucy Deane, Philip immediately sees that there is something between Stephen and Maggie. As her feelings for Stephen get stronger and he continues to pursue her, Maggie plans to escape to a new teaching job. Even so, she continues to lie to both Lucy and Philip, saying the only obstacle to her marrying Philip is her brother's prohibition. Meanwhile, she temporarily feels that the spell on her with regard to Stephen has been broken because he has taken a physical liberty by kissing her arm. What enrages her most, however, is that "Stephen thought more lightly of her than he did of Lucy." Thus, she has been unconsciously thinking of her cousin as a rival, and she is angry that the disputed lover seems to treat her with less respect than he does her blonde cousin.

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