picture from http://www.georgeeliot.org
I honestly say I am disappointed with the finale of “The Mill on the Floss”. This is a bold statement but that’s the ugly truth. It’s not the sad ending that matters most. Mind you, I have been accustomed to read great novels by Thomas Hardy, most of which have bitter endings. But I love them all because they are so fantastically written and end in logical, not-simple ways. What disturbs me a lot even until this moment is the fact that George Eliot uses natural disaster to put a close to the fate of the novel’s major characters; Maggie and Tom Tulliver. That’s too easy, Miss Eliot. Yes, that is.
Although Eliot has put a foreshadowing about the fate of the siblings, I expect she puts a different twist that unites the two. I wish Eliot knows that the way she chooses to use the flood as the cause of their deaths has instead opened a new twist that will never be answered. So, after spending about three weeks enjoy reading the 590-pages book, I am left speechless as I close the book. I feel like, what the hell with the finale?
Surely, Eliot completely turns my expectation around. Like many Victorian books, I expect the book would inform readers on the love relationship between Maggie and Stephen Guest or between Maggie and Phillip Wakem. Instead, Eliot opts to focus on the troubled kinship of Tom and Maggie. I have once read that this is sort of Eliot’s autobiographical novel that tells readers on her problematic real story with his brother. Putting that information away, I think Eliot chooses the simplest way to end this grand novel. If I were her, I would present another conflict that makes the two realizes how precious their relationship is. Given Tom’s stubborn characteristic, I can’t accept how easy he regrets his wrongdoings by smiling at his sole sister in a boat right before the tidal sweeps them away. That’s a strong symbol, I know, but, surely Tom must encounter a serious accident that slaps his face; that tells him that his sister is genuine and innocent. The coming of Maggie in the middle of the flood hints that Tom’s remorse is instead insincere.
If you have read the novel, I hope you agree with me that Maggie has had enough emotional battles with Tom, a bit too much I think. He always underestimates Maggie, calling her elopement with Stephen Guest a disgrace for the family. So, the way he ‘pays’ the sin to her in the boat is too easy. I must say, the ending taints the lovely novel. The future of Phillip, Stephen Guest, and Lucy is unclear (though I have read Stephen Guest and Lucy finally get married).
Another point of the book that annoys me is Stephen Guest. I get this idea from one of the reader reviews and I can’t agree more. When I first read about him then Lucy’s idea of introducing him to Maggie I think this would be an intermezzo, that nothing would significantly alter the plot of the book. But how shocking it is to find out that the more I read the preceeding pages, the more I can feel that Maggie is in love with him; that her feeling is stronger than what she has with Phillip. The presence of Stephen Guest is, as written in the reader review, is a bit too late. Eliot brings up the character after Maggie passes the most bitter phase of her life with the death of her father. Probably, Eliot intends to make the emergence of Stephen Guest as another inner conflict Maggie has to encounter, but given her already complicated love with Phillip, Stephen Guest’s story instead spoils Maggie-Phillip relation. Worse, Maggie’s true feeling to Stephen causes me a bit disrespectful toward her; that I feel so sorry to Phillip although Phillip admits he has been so blessed with his love to Maggie that this makes him to survive and live the life. Should Stephen Guest arrive early in the novel, the story would be lovelier because I would not be drawn to have so much pity to Phillip. All in all, however, Maggie puts her family above all else, including her love story, so .. either she prefers Stephen Guest or Phillip that wouldn’t change the ending of the book.
I’m just a reader anyway. George has personal opinions about the plot of the novel and a modern reader like I can only enjoy then absorb the values in the novel. “The Mill on the Floss” is a highly-recommended Victorian novel somehow, probably, not until you stumble across this post that contains so many spoilers here and there… hehehe.