The Mill on the Floss | Study Guide

George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss | Book 7, Chapters 1–3 : The Final Rescue | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1: The Return to the Mill

Five days later Maggie shows up at the mill, asking Tom to take her in, but he turns her away. "You have been base—deceitful; no motives are strong enough to restrain you. I wash my hands of you forever. You don't belong to me." Mrs. Tulliver now steps forward to go with her daughter, and Tom gives her some money. Maggie and her mother go to Bob Jakin, and his family takes them in; fortunately, their lodging is vacant. Maggie now asks Bob to go to the kindly pastor, Dr. Kenn, and ask him to come see her while her mother is visiting Tom.

Chapter 2: St. Ogg's Passes Judgment

Not much time passes before it is all over town that Maggie is back and has not married Stephen Guest. The narrator notes that if the couple had eloped and come back a few months later, "the world's wife" would have forgiven the handsome couple and moved on. But Maggie returns in a "degraded and outcast condition to which error is known to lead," and thus the women of the town pile on, and Maggie's actions are discerned in the worst light. Stephen has sent a letter taking all the blame on himself, but that doesn't change public opinion of a girl cast out by her own brother. Lucy is ill—in a state of "feeble passivity."

While Mrs. Tulliver is gone, Maggie decides to go to the rectory to see Dr. Kenn. He is sympathetic to her, believing Stephen's letter explaining that they did not consummate their passion and understanding the restraint and sacrifice involved in Maggie's coming back to town. Dr. Kenn offers to help her get work at a distance, but she is determined to stay in St. Ogg's. He then says he will see what he can do to help her get work at home.

Chapter 3: Showing That Old Acquaintances Are Capable of Surprising Us

Surprisingly, Mrs. Glegg chides Tom for turning his sister out without knowing whether she wholly disgraced herself, and when Stephen's letter arrives she is ready to fight for Maggie. After Mrs. Tulliver visits her sister, she tells Maggie that Mrs. Glegg is ready to take her in and defend her against all comers. Maggie is grateful but tells her mother she must support herself and is waiting to hear from Dr. Kenn. When Maggie expressed sorrow that she has brought her mother so much trouble, she says: "I must put up wi' my children—I shall never have no more; and if they bring me bad luck, I must be fond on it—there's nothing else to be fond on, for my furnitur' went long ago."

Maggie continues to worry about Philip, who people say may have gone out of town. She finally gets a letter in which Philip makes allowances for her, saying that he believes she meant to "cleave" to him and that only one part of her nature was strongly attracted to Stephen Guest, who would not give her up. He says that despite all that has happened, his love for Maggie has been a blessing in his life and that he remains hers, "not with selfish wishes, but with a devotion that excludes such wishes." Maggie breaks down in tears after she reads this letter, thinking there is not happiness in love that can make her forget the pain of others.

Analysis

While Maggie has refused to live with her brother since her father's death, she now shows up at the mill and asks Tom to make good on his promise to take care of her. Tom has fulfilled his father's dying wish, the narrator says, and has more than regained the "old respectability which had been the proud inheritance of the Dodsons and Tullivers." But once again, Maggie has committed an act to cast a pall on his happiness. The narrator says she returns to Tom "as the natural refuge that had been given her," but in fact, Tom had left Maggie years ago when he first uncovered her subterfuge in the Red Deeps. She has kept alive in her mind the closeness of their childhood and the oneness she felt with him, but this is merely an illusion. Maggie feels Tom's hate "rushing through her fibers," and yet she insists on demanding his acceptance. Perhaps she returns to the mill to punish herself in what has become for her, according to Peggy Fitzhugh Johnstone, a "pattern of impulsive and/or aggressive action and flight, followed by guilt and reparation." This repetitious behavior grows out of her unresolved narcissistic rage.

When Tom turns her out, Mrs. Tulliver steps up to protect her daughter in an uncharacteristic display of maternal care. Maggie immediately goes in search of another father figure in the form of Dr. Kenn, a kindly pastor who had recognized Maggie's need when he first met her at the fair in Book 6, Chapter 9, and extended the promise of being of service to her. Dr. Kenn gives Maggie credit for weathering her crisis of conscience and making the right decision, and, unlike most of the townspeople, he believes Stephen's letter, which says the elopement was not completed, and, in that sense, Maggie has nothing to be ashamed of. But when Dr. Kenn advises Maggie to make a start somewhere else, she suddenly cannot bear being cut off from the people she knows even though she has now become a pariah. While the narrator speaks with some virulence about the world's wife—specifically the women of the town who have passed judgment on Maggie—they have some reason to be angry about the way things turned out. If Maggie had gone through with the elopement, she would have caused less damage, and Philip and Lucy would have eventually moved on with their lives. Now that Maggie is determined to stay in town, she is making it impossible for Stephen to have a possible reconciliation, either with herself or with Lucy. Moreover, her presence in town will keep the wound open in Philip's heart.

Maggie's guilty conscience preys upon her, but when she gets a letter from Philip, her narcissism causes her to focus primarily on her situation and congratulate herself for not going through with the elopement at the expense of others. In fact, she has caused people considerable pain and has not done anybody good by refusing to marry Stephen and insisting on staying in town. Philip's letter reflects his new ability to love her without desiring to possess her, and he confides that in his despair, he was kept from suicide by the knowledge that she would remain in the world and might at some point need him. Philip's love for Maggie has enlarged him to such a degree that it is almost as if he no longer even requires that person named Maggie to benefit from this love. This transcendence through love is something that Maggie is very far from understanding.

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