My current battle: reading paper books vs online articles

How tremendous the impacts of smartphones are. I have been using a Chinese-made smartphone less than one year and I can’t believe how much it has changed my daily life. I used to have underestimated the influence of smartphones but now I can’t count how many hours have gone unnoticed while browsing articles in the smartphone. While I can still satisfy my curiosity in various fields by reading online articles, I feel guilty for neglecting some good novels at the bag. I currently reading “The Old Curiosity Shop” by Charles Dickens, a very wonderful, funny, touchy book yet I prefer online articles.

The problem with an avid reader like me is that I am curious on many things. I can read almost all kind of topics. Positive psychology is currently my field of interest. While that brings a lot of benefits, I easily get distracted. It’s hard for me to focus on one article let alone on one novel for just one hour. My eyes can’t stand of reading one article or a few pages of a novel within certain amount of time. As a result, I am struggling reading “The Old Curiosity Shop” simply because I find online articles are so irresistible.

Before I have the smartphone, I made use of my daily commute as the best time to read novels. I mostly read “The Mill on The Floss“, for instance, inside a Transjakarta bus. But now, I prefer reading online articles or check social media accounts while I am on the ways of going to and from the office.  I don’t know how many books that I am going to read this year. Actually, I have some great to-be-read novels in my mind but unless I can return to my old reading habit they will be mere plans.

 

 

 

Oh the unfinished ‘Middlemarch’!

middlemarch.jpg
thanks so much to the-toast.net for the picture

While ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ are my great losses, ‘Middlemarch’ is definitely the biggest loss of all because it has recently been voted as the best British novel of all time by selected participants all over the world by the BBC Culture. I have still failed to complete reading it after two attempts.

Middlemarch’ and ‘The Mill on the Floss’ are both initiated by my kind of favorite lines; the showing of what the major characters doing. George Eliot brings them up at the very first page of the books by doing small things that perfectly meet my expectations. What makes the two strikingly different is that ‘Middlemarch’ is somehow heavier even through petty things. I can sense something bigger awaits Dorothea Brooke by just reading the first page, whereas ‘The Mill on the Floss’ introduces me on the gloomy future of the major characters as the book enters its one third.

I can’t write much here because I stop reading ‘Middlemarch’ after only completing some dozens of pages, which is very far from the conclusion. I purchase the Wordsworth version of the novel long, long time ago. I have tried to read it twice but give it up too soon. Apart from its heavy language, the presence of several characters within just a few pages discourages me.

And like ‘Wuthering Heights’, I also edit the translated summary version of ‘Middlemarch’ in Wikipedia. Unlike ‘Wuthering Heights’ whose plots is quick and easily understood, ‘Middlemarch’, even after has been summed up, remains complicated.

Probably, I will reconsider giving it a third try after I complete reading ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ by Charles Dickens. The review from Micheal Gorra in the BBC Culture intrigues me to try reading the book. He says that ‘If you really read this novel, you will find out about yourself.’ His statement challenges me for I wonder if I will find myself somewhere in the book should I read the novel.

Let me be honest. Four things I dislike from Victorian novels

Reading less than 30 Victorian novels from four different writers is, I know, insufficient to call this dislikeness list a representation of the overall canon literature era. I have created this list, however, according to my readings so far that will likely change in the near future for I promise to myself to read more books written by authors, except Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Oscar Wilde.

Too women centric

This may sound too subjective but I always feel women bear too much in almost each story that I have read. Even if they are heroines I find women during Victorian era suffer too much. The first sample is Molly Gibson in ‘Wives and Daughters’, a super thick novel that has been completed this week after a 3.5-month of an on-and-off reading process. She is a flawless character; honest, really good-tempered, compassionate, very tender, lovable girl. She is too soft-hearted that she acts kindly to her stepsister Cynthia who gets engaged to the love of the former. Even when Molly becomes the subject of gossip among Hollingford people as resulted from her intention to fix the relationship between Cynthia and Mr. Preston, Molly remains in good terms with Cynthia. What distresses me while reading the novel is how much Molly disturbed by the Victorian womanhood standards set by, particularly, her stepmother, Clare or Mrs. Kirkpatrick who later changes her last name as Mrs. Gibson. The stepmother is so noisy and annoyed with Molly’s curly hair, messy dress and her relatively tomboyish traits. I feel this kind of similiar disturbance when reading ‘The Mill on the Floss” in which Maggie Tulliver is often teased by her relatives and is compared to her girlish cousin because of her tomboyish personalities, too. How hard it is to be a good woman in the eyes of the soceity at that time even if Molly and Maggie come from rich families. How complicated their lives are…

For women from low social status their sitution is much more difficult, for instance is Tess Durbeyfield. This heroine is my most unforgettable one because of her tragical, depressive life story. It’s her real life struggles that are just beyond my senses. Not only her romance is so heartbreaking but also her impoverished family forces her to do whatever she can to make ends meet. Although yes she marries the love of her life, Angel Clare, yet their sweet tale lasts so quick, incomparable with their long separation.

Excessive details

There are some novels which I think contain too many details, some of which are unnecessary, making the reading process sometimes burden my mind. For instance in ‘Adam Bede’. George Eliot allocates a number of pages about Methodist whenever she wants to describe the characterization of Dinah Morris. Apart from my limited knowledge about Methodist, I think that it does not really shape Dinah Morris as a distinctive character compared to, say, someone who is a Catholic follower but not a Methodist one in particular. She is really a religious person who spends a lot of time to help those in need but what makes her especially distinctive to those who are close to God without any certain sect is uncertain. Or may be you can shed another light on this topic for this is beyond my understanding.

Another sample for this point is in ‘Wives and Daughters’. As this super thick book wants to depict the growing period of Molly and another character, needles to say that Elizabeth Gaskell needs to write this really long story. Yet there are some chapters which I think are insignificant to the formation of the characters. For instance is when Gaskell puts a chapter on Cynthia’s visit to the Kirkpatrick family in London which although she meets Mr. Henderson whom later she marries with, I don’t think this should be a certain chapter for another visit to the family takes place later on.

Too depressive

Some stories in this Victorian era proves to be too somber with “The Mill on the Floss” is my leading example. It is very miserable to recall what happens between Maggie and Tom Tulliver for it costs their lives to eventually realize how much the latter loves the former.

Another fine example is of course “Jude the Obscure”. Very desolate, dark, pathetic. Sorrowful tone is all over the book even if yes, there are some lovely moments between Jude Fawley and Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead or called as Sue. Hardy’s attempts to go against social norms by presenting the affairs between Jude and Sue, who are distant relatives, turn out to be disastrous. Their decision to elope then register their marriage only after they get sick of people’ gossips make the matter even worse. You can find almost all tartness here: divorce, poverty, sickness, death, rumours, forced reunion. And the finale sparks my anger as Sue gets back to her old lover Mr. Richard Pillotson while sadness leads Jude to death.

Some of you may choose “Jude the Obscure” as more depressive than “The Mill on the Floss” but I select the other way around because “The Mill” is very heartbreaking while “Jude” is sometimes like a karma as they should not get married given their relative status. While Hardy ignites controversy at that time due to their forbidden romance and illegal union the end of the book suggests you that he advices readers not to go against the norms.

Where is the romance?

 

If you want to read Victorian novels for finding romance story, like major scenes about romance, well I think you’ve got a relatively wrong reason although this depends on which books you choose. I think most of Victorian writers put society norms, family mattters, materialism, manner aspects above love stories. From Oscar Wilde to George Eliot, they have the same tendency; that society completely influences characters’ personal affairs. Worse, there are some books that reveal happy love stories after the novels almost come to a close. For instances are ‘Mary Barton’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Wives and Daughters’. Elizabeth Gaskell reunites the love of Mary and Jem just after they have gone some misunderstandings and have escaped from death penalty.

In ‘Tess”, things get much wretched. While the joy between Tess and Angel begins at the center of the novel when they meet in a dairy I think their most enduring lovely moments start only when they have separated for quite a long time. Their joy lasts too quick for Tess is later executed for killing Alec.

Although ‘Mary’ and ‘Far’ are written by different authors yet Gaskell and Hardy’s views on romance is similar in a way that the love story can only tasted only when characters have gone through difficult moments that test their faith. In ‘Far’, Batsheba and Gabriel Oak gets married in a very quite, modest ceremony just when the book is about to end.

I get dissapointed with the ending bond between Roger Hamley and Molly Gibson for they don’t even verbally confess their true feelings. In the last chapter, Roger is seen to have given gestures that attract Molly’s attention. It’s too bad Gaskell leaves this novel unfinished after 766 pages long yet readers can fancy that both Roger and Molly share the same feeling. And that happens just a few pages after the book ends.

How I wish to complain to those authors who give little enjoyment when it comes to real romance!

Under the Spell of Gaskell’s Magical Words in “Mary Barton”

“Mary Barton” is such a beauty. I lack of adjectives to describe how magnificent the language of the book is. Beautiful words are all around in the thick book. I even type many lovely, memorable phrases and sentences in my BlackBerry to make me easier reread them all whenever I wish to read something artsy.
It’s the first book that I would like to put it into my most favorite novel list because of its language. If there were people who later ask me on why they should read the novel, I would say the language is all what makes it really worth your precious time.
Mind you. Almost all of the novels that I have read so far, particularly those by Victorian writers, are indeed artistic. “Far from the Madding Crowd”, “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and “The Mill on the Floss”, to name a few, fall into this category. I am completely hooked by “The Mill on the Floss”, by the way, but its sentimental, sad plot is the most memorable aspect that is left in my mind until now. “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, for me, is outstanding for its characterization. “Far from the Madding Crowd” is the kind of story that leaves me with contentment because of its relatively gloomy plot, unconditional faith that ends in a happy, modest marriage among its two protagonists.
I can say I feel so sad reading “Mary Barton”. There are some quite funny moments but most of the time the book is all about bitter facts faced by the working class people in Manchester where the poor really suffer from unfair payment while the rich keep living luxuriously. Coming to the parts where several minor characters, one of them even passes away, due to hunger, is indeed heartbreaking. But nothing is more depressed than the scene where John Barton says farewell to his only kid, Mary Barton, on the night before he sets out a journey to Glasgow for labor-related affairs. I almost cry when I read those parts. So sorrowful because, as I expected, nothing is not the same again after that. John goes away without any news, and when he returns home, he looks lost. Although Mary and Jem are two characters that become the centre of the novel, I think it is the traits of John that makes the book “a complete story of human being”.
While Mary and Jem are described to be those who are mostly kind-hearted, John is the one that makes me hard to define. He is the one who is so overwhelmed with the labor condition at that time that he neglects Mary. He puts the interests of others above Mary’s future. He feels so miserable when he is out of work. Even when George, his best friend, dies, John looks unmoved. He says to Mary that is better for George to have passed away than to watch the worsening condition in Manchester.
I have sympathy for him for voicing, representing the needs of the laborers. However, I pity him for being unbalanced between labor-related affairs and his domestic matter. The way he abuses Mary after his London mission is fruitless triggers my anger. And my reaction gets harsher whenever he ignores her super tenderness with all the meal service despite his joblessness.
And the climax when he shots Harry Carson to death is unbearable. I pity him even more because the burden of all the labor issues carry him so far away from he used to be. When he admits he does not even know why he acts as cruel as that, I completely understand.
I can not blame John, though. He suffers a lot. He loses Mary’s brother because he can’t afford paying hospital fees. He witnesses the death of his fellow because of poverty. He has no pride when he does not work. He sometimes says he does not need meal, even when he is about to depart for Glasgow he refuses to eat. All he wishes to have is a job as the source of his dignity. John’s agony reaches his peak with the murder story. Probably, the only thing that he should have not opted is getting too much involved with his comrade in arms in fighting for their rights. He should have focus on his daughter. He makes a choice, somehow. The one that really costs his life. Again, he has faith in his option and that what makes the novel leaves a crack in my heart.
While for Mary.. what can I say about this character? Almost flawless. The only thing that causes my disrespect is when she has a giddy flirting with Harry Carson that makes the latter to put a high hope on their future marriage. It is this trivial act that causes the two male figures to have come in a misunderstanding with the final consequence of putting Jem’s life at the risk of being executed. But, Gaskell brilliantly makes Mary to pay her foolishness. She sacrifices her life to rescue Jem. When she almost dies to do this, I regain my respect for this protagonist. The way Jem loves her and vice versa is very touchy because their actions speak it all. This is what I really like with the romance story in the Victorian era. I once read this kind of love-based action when I read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd.’
Mary is the best daughter one can hope for. Her obedience is beyond everything. Her beauty is far deeper than her skin. And the one thing that makes me feel relieved with the fate of Mary is the presence and the love from Job Leigh and his granddaughter, Margaret. It would be so wicked should Gaskell leave Mary to face the hardness without their help throughout the book. She might not have a full love from her father but she has a best friend and best neighbor of all who stand by her side whenever she needs them all, especially when Jem is at the prison.
All in all, the book is perfect. It has a simple good story that really reflects people at the time the novel is written. The romance is influenced with social status and society perspective when the potency of the marriage between Mary as the daughter of the poor and Harry Carson as the son of the employee emerges. The complicated trait of John Barton, the innocence of Jem and the compassion from Job Leigh and Margaret confronts me with mixed feeling. And the reading journey is paid off with its pleasant closure. The very last, as it becomes the first point that I say here, is the language. To close this post, I’d like to share some of my favorites:
The passionate grief of youth has subsided into sleep
She could catch a wink of sleep
A lovely girl of sixteen, fresh and glowing, and bright as a rosebud
The mists and the storms passed clearing away from his path, though it still was full of stinging thorns
… used to dazzle her eyes by extraordinary graces and twirls
Where the distant horizon is soft and undulating in the moonlight, and the nearer trees sway gently to and fro in the night – wind with something of almost human motion, and the rustling air makes music among their branches, as if speaking soothingly to the weary ones, who lie awake in heaviness of heart. The sights and sounds of such a night lull pain and grief to rest. (This one is my most favorite.)

Thank God I Am Done with ‘Adam Bede’, Thank God!

What a great struggle to have finally completed reading ‘Adam Bede’. The effort does not lie on its 561 pages. It goes way more than that. Apart from personal problems that have caused me to abandon the reading process for a while, I still may find it unable to understand few topics in the book.

As I have written in the previous post, this novel discusses a lot about Methodist. As a Moslem, though I know this should not be an excuse, this kind of sect is a bit confusing. And since this is a romance novel after all, I don’t really pay a lot of attention to this topic. Somehow, understanding this sect would indeed help me along the way with Dinah Morris. Or religion situation when which the book is written. That would contribute to a much better post because I strongly believe George Eliot, the author of the book, wants to signify something by discussing much about this. Given its super thick novel, I have no intention and time to do that somehow.

One thing that completely distracts me along the reading process is the use of language of several characters in the book; particularly the one spoken by Lisbeth Bede and Mrs. Poyser. Their language reminds much of the language of those I have read in novels that take place in the southern part of the United States. I’m pretty much sure their utterances lead to something, not just a mere verbal expression. I wonder if their language depicts a social background of the people at that time.

Well, yeah, those are two topics that slightly keep on spinning in my head until now. But since I read the book for pleasure I don’t do further research on those topics. May be one day I’ll go for that for this time being I want to enjoy the novel as the way it is. I mean, digesting the novel on the surface. Enjoying the language, the plot, the characters and delving into Eliot’s mind.

In Goodreads.com I give three out of five stars to this novel. I don’t know what to say. I feel the novel is hard. The language is actually as stunning as I read in ‘The Mill on the Floss’. I think the presence of abundant informal dialogues with too many aposthropes really hinders me from completely enjoying the novel. But you can’t argue that Eliot is the master of putting her imagination into this super novel. I have no doubt on how she can put her soul into each of the character she wants to present.

The core, the best, the heart of the book lies on the page 300 onwards (in my book edition). When you come to the point when Hetty abandons Adam on the days leading to their marriage until she faces her execution day, you’ll get raptured, shocked, wowed, amazed. You’ll get KNOCKED DOWN! You won’t get alarmed that the plot will turn out that sadistic, wicked, shocking as ever given Eliot’s wonderful, beautiful, smoothing words. That’s Eliot’s magic, just any other Victorian writers do, though I must frankly say Eliot’s spells work more efficaciously than her peers.

I can completely fancy how dark, bleak, frustrating the climax of the novel is. I can imagine how depressed Adam knowing Hetty can be that cold. And I can fully comprehend on how Hetty can be that way. And I can get into her soul, I can understand her anger toward Arthur. And if Arthur stands in front of me right now I will punch him in the head! Yeah, the novel is such powerful that I, as a reader, can feel such emotions. It’s George Eliot anyway. No one could ever doubt her proficiency.

Somehow, the enjoyment stops there. The novel is still long way to go but I can easily guess the ending. The union of Adam and Dinah is so easily to be predicted in the early book when Dinah, who is dressed in a sleeping gown accidentally meets Adam when she spends a few nights at his house. The way they look at each other in that morning is sufficient to explain how they actually feel a kind of love at the first sight. Eliot saves their affection when the novel is about to come to a close.

It’s a happy ending for the book. A good guy, who initially sets his heart to a wrong girl, eventually wins the heart of a good girl. On the other hand, the wrong girl who commits a adultery with a player ends up in a distress while the player’s fate is a bit lucky for his name remains undisturbed although he has to leave his hometown. Eliot is too kind to Arthur Donnithorne and I strongly reject her standing on this matter.

Surely, this novel is a satisfying one for those who wish for a happy ending. However, I would not like to emphasize the greatness of the book according to that factor solely. That doesn’t mean I am against happy closures since I get used to read books that end in sad or even depressive endings. What bothers me is that the book does not completely satisty me. My pleasure stops when Hetty is transported. The rest of the story is too clear while the novel is still a bit long way to go.

It’s different with ‘The Mill on The Floss’. I don’t even get bored reading the thick novel not only thanks to its amazing words but also to its unpredictable ending till at least a few last pages of the novel. When I have known the destinies of the major characters I really want to throw the book away. It’s like you have finished watching a great movie with mixed feelings as you leave cinema. It’s like what happens to me after reading ‘The Mill on The Floss.” I feel satisfied yet devastated at the same time until the last pages of the book. I don’t get that kind of feeling as I close “Adam Bede”, unfortunately.

Reading ‘Adam Bede’ makes me feel like a champion

Currently, I am on the page of 172 out of 561 of the George Eliot’s masterpiece Adam Bede. It’s still long way to go but being at the recent page I already feel like a winner.

I buy the novel on June 4, 2014, at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Jakarta thanks to previous impressive reading experience with her another book The Mill on the Floss. The first few pages of the Adam Bede steals my heart away so I purchase the book despite the fact my money runs out. Third-person narration, lots of beautiful descriptions, less dialogue.. that’s the type of my favorite novel writing method. Out of so many great writers, it is only Thomas Hardy and George Eliot who satisty my reading appetite.

Alas, the 6th page of the book causes a headache already. I completely have no idea on what the characters of the book talk about. They discuss about religion, Methodist I suppose. And I have no clue about this thing. The following pages stress me even more. Some characters in the novel use certain dialect in their conversations. They do speak English but I don’t really get what they want to say given strange dialect, abbreviated words Eliot write in the novel. And that last for dozen of pages to come. Can’t tell how hard the struggle I have to go through. Let me take one example as follows:

“I shanna rest i’ my grave if I donna see thee at th’ last; an’ how’s they to let thee know as I’m a-dyin’, if thee’t gone a-workin’ I’ distant parts, an’ Seth belike gone arter thee, and thy feyther not able to hold a pen for’s hand shaki’, besides not knowin’ where thee art?…”

Those are the words from Lisbeth Sede, the mother of Adam Bede, the protagonist of the story.

I put it down for a while.

I don’t even open the novel when I experience a very heartbreaking moment after the already difficult early reading phase (I mention about this in previous posts by the way). As the pain fades away, I read the novel once in a while. But this lasts for a few pages only as the weird spoken language remains such a great problem for me.

Bit by bit… I get used to the weird language eventually. I then know what to do when it comes to this kind of language. Slowly but surely, I grasp the plot of the novel although I have yet to completely enjoy reading the novel.

Only after a short visit to the bookstore last month that I really regain my reading spirit. I open the novel again with better understanding and thankfully everything now runs smoothly. After like, 80 pages on, I know where the story goes. I fancy each of the major character and how they may look like in the novel. All in all, I can gradually feel myself in the book. Oh God! It takes such a great attempt to be where I am now and it is so worth it.

Adam Bede is way more difficult than The Mill on the Floss. Given Eliot’s magical writing touch I feel the novel is so worth the struggle. I won’t say anything about the story line of the novel for I have completed one fifth of the total pages of the novel only. All I can write here is that Eliot’s narration never fails to blow my mind away. It entertains me so much. I love it…

 

 

No fourth try for Jane Austen’s books, not yet

jane austen-picture source www.janeaustenfestival.org

picture credit for www.janeaustenfestival.org

So, I have enjoyed so much reading Thomas Hardy’s masterpieces and currently have praised George Eliot’s ‘The Mill on the Floss’. Even, I put Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend’ in my to-be read novel. But there seems one big name is missing in my reading list: Jane Austen.

During my last several visits to Kinokuniya bookstore, I tried reading the first few pages of Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ and “Persuasion” but then I was left unimpressed. How would I complete reading the novels if their initial pages have failed to move my feeling?

Don’t say I have never given you a try, Miss Austen. The fact is, long before I came to the bookstore I had read ‘Mansfield Park’ when I was in the university and the first experience turned out to be tiresome.

I still remember very well the afternoon when I went to the American Corner library of the Gadjah Mada University. Skipping a lot of titles, suddenly my eyes were set to “Mansfield Park” (because ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ were too widely discussed at that time ). I borrowed the book and read it afterwards. After a few days I returned the novel to the library. The novel is so boring. So many characters in a too circular plot within just a few pages. I was so confused.

Then, I stopped reading any of her works. Some years later, I was kind of rebuilding my relationship with the writer but this time around was through movies. It was the ‘Becoming Jane’ movie starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy that encouraged me to learn more about her. Indeed, I borrowed ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ DVDs from my pal not long after that. But the idea of reading both commonly-regarded masterpieces remained far away and it is still.

Surprisingly, ‘Becoming Jane’ is the one that I love the most compared to the other two. Aside from the fact that I like the coupling of Hathaway-McAvoy, I did not see anything special about the plots in the other two movies. I should really have read the books instead of enjoying the films to get ‘the feel’ of the stories. My bet!

Also, probably because ‘Becoming Jane’ tells the real tragic love story of the author that I remember it so well than the other two. Given those fair watching experiences about Austen’s novels, I decided to give it a second and third try. Even every time I visit the bookstore, I look at Austen’s titles and open some of them. ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ are the two titles that once attracted my eyes. Until now, I have no intention reading ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as I have known the plots coupled with the fact that I did not really like the film versions of the novels.

And as I have said earlier in the post, I got bored reading the first pages of ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’. Unlike the joyful experiences that I have with Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, Jane Austen remains the blur name that will be untouched in the near or even distant future.

Why the ending of “The Mill on the Floss” is a drawback

the mill on the floss-pict from www.georgeeliot.org

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.

 

“The Mill On The Floss” by George Eliot

the mill on the floss-pict from www.slideshare.net

picture from http://www.slideshare.net

Although Tom and Maggie Tullier are siblings, they have opposite characteristics. Tom is a very proud boy. He rarely causes troubles and his behavior defines his background as the first son of Mr. Tulliver who owns Dorlcote Mill that runs through the Floss River at St Ogg.

His sole sister, Maggie or sometimes he calls her as Magsie when they get along, is a rebellious and tomboy girl who often causes headaches for her parents. Even her aunts, especially aunt Glegg, despises her, saying she does not deserve to carry the Dodson’s blood who is known for their ladylike manner and noble status. Tom is very fond of physical activities. He dislikes Latin, grammar, in contrary with his sister, who really loves reading and studying. Maggie’s intelligence always fails to impress her brother somehow. He always underestimates her knowledge. The book begins with the conversation of Mr. Tulliver and his wife regarding with Tom’s future school. After some discussions with his relative, Mr. Tulliver eventually sends his sole son to a private, luxurious study under the supervision of Reverand Walter Stelling. This decision comes at a price. Prior to sending his son to the Reverend’s house, Mr. Tulliver has a heated argument with his wife’s sister, the arrogant Mrs. Glegg, about the matter, causing him to return Mrs. Glegg’s money investment in exchange of his whole pride. As such, Mr. Tulliver has to borrow some money to cover his son’s pricey tuition fees.

the mill on the floss-pict from www.gutenberg.org

The illustration of Tom and Maggie as taken from http://www.gutenberg.org

While Tom is at the King’s Lorton to study, Maggie joins her cousin, Lucy Deanne at a girl’s boarding school. Lucy is such a princess who becomes the centre of the Dodson’s family likeness, including Tom. He even once says he prefers to have Lucy as his sister than Maggie. Although Maggie is jealous with Lucy when they are children they end up being very close when growing up.

As expected, Tom doesn’t really enjoy his schooltime at the King’s Lorton as he hates Latin, grammar and such things. On the contrary, Maggie looks forward to experience what Tom has. Thus, she sometimes visits her brother at the King’s Lorton and one day, she meets Philip Wakem, Tom’s only mate at the Reverend’s house. She really admires Philip’s diligence but not with Tom. For him, Philip is his eternal enemy although the latter once helps him when Tom gets injured for carelessly playing a sword.

What Tom bears in his mind is his father’s commands to not befriend with any relatives or families of Mr. Wakem, the lawyer who helps his client to win a case on irrigation against Mr. Tulliver. Since then, Mr. Tulliver considers Mr. Wakem as his immortal enemy.

the mill on the floss-pict from etc.usf.edu

The illustration of Tom and Maggie as taken from http://www.etc.usf.edu

While Maggie, who is very kind and affectionate in her nature, never regards Philip as her enemy. Thus, they become good friends and even Philip loves her. Unfortunately, Mr. Tulliver suffers from a stroke that forces him to stay at bed some a few months after learning that he loses the mill and goes bankrupt.

From riches to rags is the best phrase to describe the downfall of the Tulliver family. Maggie and Tom discontinue their study as they have no money left for financing their education. Mrs. Tulliver has to sell her beloved properties to pay all the debt. While Maggie helps her mother at home, who falls to the hand of Mr. Wakem, Tom finds a job thanks to the help of his uncle.

Mr. Tulliver now acts as the manager of the mill and becomes the employee of Mr. Wakem. Bit by bit the now-poor family rebuilds their life. Actually, Mr. Tulliver has a credit with his sister but given her poverty, Mr. Tulliver does not want to take the money back. On the other hand, the Dodsons family does not help much and instead curses Mr. Tulliver’s unwise legal acts against Mr. Wakem’s client. Years of gloom surrounds the once well-to-do family.

Once Mr. Tulliver’s health recovers, his mind is mostly occupied on how to pay the debt and get the mill back. He and Tom works very hard to collect penny by penny then put them all in a box that once in a while will be calculated. Mrs. Tulliver falls silent in between the struggle. She frequently mourns the loss of her favorite items. Maggie is completely sad with the condition, not because she is no longer a rich girl but because she hardly see the smiles from her beloved family. Her parents and brother fall into paralysis. It is she who senses the full loneliness because of the material loss.

george eliot-pict from en.wikipedia.org

The brilliant George Eliot as taken from en.wikipedia.org

Unlike her tomboy appearance, Maggie grows as a beautiful, stunning and attractive young girl. Unfortunately, her pretty face is in contrast with her inward situation. Maggie, who was a girl full of dreams, now gets stuck in the hard family condition. She turns into a very silent woman, abandons her childhood dreams, and spends her spare time knitting. She visits Red Deeps located nearby the mill to seek peace and remember the sweet past memories. This is the place where she meets Phillip who deliberately follows her movements. After a few secretive meetings, Phillip declares his love for Maggie. Though Maggie shares the same feeling with him, the deep conflict surrounding both familes discourages Maggie to fight for their love. And despite Phillip’s strong willing to tie the knot with Maggie, he can’t do anything to force her winning her father’s consent for the marriage.

As years pass by, Tom with the help of his friend Bob Jakin, emerges as a very successful businessman. And with all the money he earns, finally he rushes to his father and informs him that the money is enough for paying the debt. After attending a gathering with his son, Mr. Tulliver, who is too excited with the debt payment, runs into Mr. Wakem on the way of his return to the mill. Mr. Wakem complains to the manager on some problems revolving about the mill but to earn harsh words from the latter. The quarrel between the two is inevitable. This quick fight leaves Mr. Tulliver falls deeper in sickness then passes away. Just a few moments before his last breath, Mr. Tulliver asks for his children to not have any relations with the Wakem family and Mr. Tulliver curses them until the day he is laid to rest. Tom and Maggie take vows they will no longer fight against each other soon after their father dies.

Lucy invites Maggie to stay in her house for some moments to help her relative to cheer up a bit. She shares the invitation with her boyfriend, Stephen Guest, whom he suggests to also persuade Phillip to come. Both men are best friends. At the stage, both Lucy and Stephen do not know that Maggie and Phillip love each other not enemies as they think given the bitter story between the Tulliver and Wakem family. After learning Lucy’s ideas about the meeting, Maggie asks for the permission from Tom, who surprisingly agrees without much quarrelsome.

Ahead of the meeting, Maggie and Lucy prepare to take part in a bazaar where Maggie will sell clothes she knits. Leading to this bazaar, Lucy introduces Maggie to her boyfriend who is left speechless while admiring Maggie unique beauty. Somehow, they don’t seem quite get along with each other at the beginning of the conversation with Maggie often gets offended with Stephen’s jokes and so forth.

Stephen can’t resist his feeling eventually while Maggie admits she has the same affection to him but the thought about Phillip hinders her to openly entwine a relationship with Stephen. While Lucy does not notice on the awkwardness each time Stephen meets Maggie (as Lucy finally discovers that Maggie likes Phillip), Phillip gets this strange situation. On the other hand, while Stephen aggressively approaches Maggie (he once kisses Maggie in a party), the latter manages to cast her feeling away and convince Stephen that they can not form their love relation for the sake of Lucy and Phillip.

One day, Lucy has an idea to get the four together into a rowing afternoon ride. Phillip who senses a jealousy because of Stephen decides to cancel his joining while at the same time, Lucy takes the same option. So, Stephen and Maggie are left alone in the same row. As Stephen rows along, he once again tries to win her heart of escaping the town and gets married. He regards no one must get hurt should they elope because in fact, Stephen and Maggie are in love. They must be honest with their own feelings and must not sacrifice them to satisfy Lucy and Phillip, whom Stephen and Maggie don’t really love.

Tide comes along then brings to ashore, far from St. Oggs. Stephen’s efforts to persuade Maggie are fruitless because she determines not to go with him. Stephen is devastated but Maggie sticks to her decision. She returns home at the Dorlcote Mill which finally falls again at the hands of Tom. Just when she arrives at the yard of the mill, she finds Tom already waiting for her. A gossip has reached the town that she and Stephen run away, leaving Lucy falls so ill in bed.

No matter how strong Maggie tells her brother about the real story, Tom rejects it. He curses her, saying how much her deed brings so much disgrace to the family. Tom chases her away. Maggie then stays at the Bob’s lodgings with her mother. Maggie seeks for the help of Dr. Kenn who is so kind to her during the bazaar along with his deceased wife. But he can’t find any available jobs because Maggie’s bad reputation has so widely spread out. Even after Stephen explains the whole thing, Maggie remains secluded. At the end, Dr. Kenn employs her in his house but this makes the matter even worse as some considers the doctor-cumclergyman has an affair with her.

At some final pages leading up to the finale of the novel, Maggie is visited by Lucy and they make peace. Lucy forgives her and that they remain good relatives. After their last embrace, Maggie receives a long letter from Phillip who tells her how much he believes in her innocence. Phillip thanks her on how much his strong love for her has helped him passing through the hard life he has to face. That loving her is his weapon against the loneliness.

Another letter comes at her hand when she returns at the Bob Jakin’s lodging. It is from Stephen. He, for the very last one, persuades Maggie to escape and get married. Her difficult situation should convince her that this is the best solution, he thinks. Maggie can only bursts into tears. She cries for some time until finally realizes the water in the mill goes up. She calls the Jakin’s family to leave the house immediately. The flood comes. Maggie tries to reach her family and with her hard efforts she picks up Tom and saves him. They don’t speak many words. Maggie informs Tom that she has the boat that can carry them through and she asks for her mother whereabouts, who, according to Tom, is at their uncle’s house.

the mill on the floss-pict from www.georgeeliot.org

The illustration of Maggie rowing to reach her house as taken from http://www.georgeeliot.org

As the siblings are in the boat, Tom looks at his sister with eyes full of apology. But no words are uttered to express how they feel about the past and how Tom regrets his actions to his sole sister. Somehow, the meeting of the eyes is enough to say how relieved that they can get through the fights and now eventually they are back together with no grudges.

The peaceful moments last very quick as the water comes again and strikes the boat. They hug each other then get drowned.

The final page of the book

Some years have passed after the deadly flood. All characters are still alive except those two in the boat. A tomb is erected to honor the bodies, who remain in a tight embrace, under one hole. Once in a while, two guys visit the grave. Tom and Maggie, who frequently argues each other in their life, eventually bury the hatchet in the hereafter. In eternity, they unite, never to be parted again.

the mill on the floss-pict from en.wikipedia.org

A love-and-hate relationship between Tom and Maggie. Picture from ed.wikipedia.org