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The Mill on the Floss | Study Guide

George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss | Quotes


An over-'cute woman's no better than a long-tailed sheep—she'll fetch none the bigger price for that.

Mr. Tulliver, Book 1, Chapter 2

Mr. Tulliver says this about Maggie. He is telling Mr. Riley she is very smart, unlike her brother, and while he is proud of her, he notes that intelligence in a woman is superfluous, much like a long tail on a sheep—it won't fetch a greater price for the animal. Thus, he devalues women by comparing his daughter to an animal to be sold at market—one who will be prized for her docility (like his wife) rather than her intelligence.


We live from hand to mouth ... little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed-corn or the next year's crop.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 3

The narrator is pointing out the thoughtlessness of people in reflecting on Mr. Riley's motives for recommending Rev. Stelling as a tutor. Although he is doing a good turn to a relative of a useful and powerful man in his parish by recommending the clergyman, he is not actually conscious of this motive. For the most part people do not plot their actions ahead of time, whether for good or ill, and are more likely to think only of their immediate need and not much further. This statement also applies to Mr. Tulliver and Maggie, who do not think ahead about the consequences of their rash actions.


O Tom, please forgive me—I can't bear it—I will be good—always remember things—do love me—please, dear Tom!

Maggie Tulliver, Book 1, Chapter 5

Maggie addresses this speech to Tom after she tells him she forgot to feed his rabbits and they have died as a result. Tom angrily punishes her by saying he doesn't love her and she can't go fishing with him. The naked need that is reflected in her prayer to her brother illustrates her relationship with Tom and the neediness that will overshadow her life as she grows older.


In these fits of susceptibility every glance seemed to him charged either with offensive pity or ill-repressed disgust.

Narrator, Book 2, Chapter 4

The narrator says that "Philip felt indifference as a child of the south feels the chill of a northern spring." For this reason he is overly sensitive and finely tuned to any appearance of rejection. When Tom patronizes him because of his disability, he sometimes would "turn upon the well-meaning lad quite savagely," the narrator says. Thus, although Philip is generally an empathetic person, he sometimes misreads other people's signals and intentions because of his sensitivity.


I think it was that her eyes were full of unsatisfied intelligence, and unsatisfied, beseeching affection.

Narrator, Book 2, Chapter 5

The narrator is explaining why Philip is immediately drawn to Maggie. Her eyes remind him of the stories of princesses who had been turned into animals, the narrator says. Philip knows what it is like to feel lonely and unloved; therefore, he readily sees Maggie's need to love and receive love, which is reflected in her glance, and he instinctively reaches out to that need.


They had entered the thorny wilderness, and the golden gates of their childhood had forever closed behind them.

Narrator, Book 2, Chapter 7

This is the last sentence in Book 2. Maggie has come to fetch Tom back home because her father has lost his lawsuit and is now gone bankrupt. Even worse, he has fallen off his horse and lies insensible in his bed. This is a turning point in the lives of the Tulliver children, and they will now have to go forward and face a life of hardship. The days of their innocent childhood are over.


She thought it was part of the hardship of her life that there was laid upon her the burthen of larger wants than others seem to feel.

Narrator, Book 4, Chapter 3

The narrator refers to Maggie. She has just received a packet of books from Bob Jakin. She has had few books to read up until now and wished she had more. She had hoped to find wisdom and an understanding of the meaning of her life in books, but upon reflection admits that they have not been much help. She finds herself always wanting something, but she cannot pinpoint what she yearns for. She thinks that perhaps she carries the burden of desiring more than the average person.


The first thing I ever remember ... is standing with Tom by the side of the Floss ... everything before that is dark to me.

Maggie Tulliver, Book 5, Chapter 1

Maggie says this to Philip in the Red Deeps, when he regretfully says that she will never love him as much as she loves her brother. She doesn't deny it but gives this explanation instead. The first moment of consciousness she remembers is standing with Tom by the side of the river while he held her hand. This shows that she considers Tom to be in essence her parent. Because she has not been properly nurtured, she invests too much love in Tom, which thwarts her ability to love others.


I shall be contented to live, if you would let me see you sometimes.

Philip Wakem, Book 5, Chapter 1

Philip is madly in love with Maggie and comes to meet her for the first time in the Red Deeps. She says they may not see each other because a relationship between them has been forbidden by her father and brother. Philip uses all his wiles to convince Maggie otherwise and at one point says he would find life worthwhile if she would only let him see her now and again.


I was never satisfied with a little of anything. That is why it is better for me to do without earthly happiness altogether.

Maggie Tulliver, Book 5, Chapter 3

Maggie says this when she meets Philip a second time in the Red Deeps. He is trying to convince her to be his friend and meet him periodically, and she has explained to him her philosophy of renunciation. She says she seems to want too much—too much of everything—and thus can never be contented with what she has. Thus, she has determined to forgo earthly happiness altogether in an effort to curb her wanting.


At one time you take pleasure in a sort of perverse self-denial, and at another you ... [cannot] resist a thing that you know to be wrong.

Tom Tulliver, Book 6, Chapter 4

Tom says this to Maggie after she asks him for permission to see Philip as a friend in Lucy's company. He agrees but expresses his doubt that she has given up the idea altogether of being with Philip. He expresses his bewilderment about his sister's behavior, which vacillates between extreme self-denial and a disregard for everything in fulfilling her desires.


We should break all these mistaken ties that were made in blindness, and determine to marry each other.

Stephen Guest, Book 6, Chapter 11

Stephen says this to Maggie at her aunt Moss's house when he comes to apologize for kissing her arm and declares his undying love for her. She admits that she does love him. At the same time, she says they cannot act on their love because they would hurt Lucy and Philip. He disagrees, saying these former ties are a mistake and should be broken to fulfill the true feelings of love they now feel for each other.


She had rent the ties that had given meaning to duty, and had made herself an outlawed soul, with no guide but the wayward choice of her own passion.

Narrator, Book 6, Chapter 14

The narrator is referring to how Maggie feels when she realizes the implications of agreeing to elope with Stephen. She awakens on the boat bound for Mudport, after she dreams of St. Ogg's boat passing, with Lucy as the Virgin and St. Ogg first appearing as Philip and then as Tom. She realizes that if she goes through with the elopement, she will have broken her own code of renunciation. She will have turned her back on duty, which in her view is to not hurt Lucy and Philip or her brother simply to satisfy her own desires.


I must put up wi' my children ... and if they bring me bad luck, I must be fond on it—there's nothing else to be fond on ...

Mrs. Tulliver, Book 7, Chapter 3

Mrs. Tulliver makes this statement after she uncharacteristically stands up for Maggie by leaving Tom's house with her daughter after Tom disowns her. Maggie sorrowfully notes that she has caused her mother a lot of grief, and Mrs. Tulliver responds that she has no choice but to put up with it, since she only has her children to love now that her possessions are gone. This quote shows that Mrs. Tulliver has not really changed in her view and still values possessions more than people. She loves her children because she has no things left to love.


Brother and sister ... living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together.

Narrator, Conclusion

The narrator makes this statement about the death of Maggie and Tom in the flood. Tom calls his sister "Magsie" when he comes down and says, "It's coming, Magsie," clasping her at the moment when he knows they are doomed. Thus he seems to forgive her, and the siblings are reconciled. But this is hardly a moment of heavenly bliss, and the comparison to the Edenic moments of the Tullivers' childhood seems forced and unnatural. This quote points up the unsatisfying ending and the author's blindness in understanding the full meaning of the story she told.

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