Eliot and Human Nature

After the lecture, it seemed clear to me that The Mill on the Floss is very much a social commentary on the everyday lives of English people in the 1830’s. Eliot portrays all her characters with an astute realism; she seems to understand human nature and the social and political conditions of the time so well that her book reads quite intelligently and perhaps even didactically. At times, Eliot’s humour reminded me of Dickens. When describing Tom’s painful experiences with education, she writes it is “as if he had been plied with cheese in order to remedy a gastric weakness which prevented him from digesting it [the classics and geometry]” (139-140). Descriptions such as this show Eliot to be a clever woman. Throughout Eliot’s novel, I found that all characters are portrayed with such depth that they really seem like living, breathing people, such as Mr. Tulliver with his profound love for Maggie and similarly his sister Mrs. Moss as well as his stubbornness and perplexity to the changing times. I find it impressive that none of the characters are ‘flat’ or uninteresting in any way. Mrs Tulliver, although is apparently not as smart as her husband, still has her own philosophy to life, such as that she cares about Tom being fed well and being washed, which is important, and she foresees Maggie being “drownded” one day which comes to be true. One of the things that I find interesting in the novel, is the theme of education. While Maggie seems to represent the bookish type of education, Tom on the other hand, embodies the practical kind. Is it any good for a person suited for the hands-on, practical type of education to be opened (if not forced) to learn from books–Latin, the classics, mathematics and abstract thinking? What about the other way around? What does this say about adaptability, survival and common sense?

2 Thoughts.

  1. i agree that the characters are conveyed with great depth. I was especially impressed with how much Eliot focused on the childhood of the characters, and how formative the early years of one’s life could be- it was almost as if the is what Tom and Maggie were striving to return to later in the novel

  2. Yes, Tom definitely seems unsuited to the kind of education he gets from Mr. Stelling, but then again that education is actually quite useless to him in what he is going to go on to do as well. I’m not quite sure what this aspect of the novel says about adaptability and survival, except that that particular education didn’t help him adapt to his environment! His later education, working at Mr. Deane’s company, working with Bob on his own projects, seems to have been much better in that regard.

    Maggie wanted the kind of “bookish” education that Tom got, and had to do some of that herself. But then she focused in on books that were about self-renunciation, denying pleasures to oneself. I’m wondering: did this help her survive better in her environment? It is probably what allowed her to say “no” to Stephen Guest and leave him, but was this the best move? I still haven’t decided what I think about that. It’s interesting that the “world’s wife,” as mentioned in lecture, would probably have accepted the situation more if she had actually married him than with what she did. Does this mean she wasn’t adapted to the particular environment in which she lived?

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