After the lecture, it was clear to me that there are so many things going on in this book! The Mill on the Floss deals with the topics of gender roles, marriage, bildungsroman (coming of age), history and religion. What stood out to me the most, was the theme of natural history and evolution. I never thought a novel could deal with topics like evolution and natural selection. I think it is really cool how Eliot took scientific ideas of her time and put them into a novel that deals with normal people and daily life. The Mill on the Floss then becomes a way to understand evolution/natural selection in a personal, daily life kind of setting.
We see it occur in Maggie and her brother, herself being the smart one while her brother is not. The one who should reproduce and is “fittest to survive” is therefore Maggie. The question of whether or not she will marry and have kids becomes connected with evolution. What Eliot does is the equivalent of taking a modern-day scientific/history theory like for example Hacking’s “looping” theory and writing a novel showing how it takes place in the lives of some normal people.
On another note I was also intrigued by the recurring theme of ‘the flood’. I could not help but connect it with the biblical story of Noah’s ark. This story, although religious, is also a story of survival of the fittest. God decides to save Noah and his sons because they are good people and therefore “the fittest” to father humanity, while the rest do not survive due to a natural cause – a flood. I thought it was interesting how the book deals a lot with religion, in particular Maggie’s faith, and then ends with a flood – a classic Christian motif that it is also inherently scientific and connected to evolution and natural selection.
I also detected lots of religious themes at work in the book. Yet at the same time, it didn’t strike me as preachy or moralistic, rather it left me wondering still where Eliot’s opinions lie in terms of one’s faith.
Good point about how the flood in Genesis is also a kind of story of survival of those who are most adapted to their environment (in that case, the environment being one where those people are best who worship and adhere to the rules of a god).
I, too, was quite struck by how we can connect this book to arguments about evolution, which I would never have thought of just by reading the book itself. I can see how one might think Maggie is most well adapted because she is most clever, but there are other ways, perhaps, in which she is not well adapted to her environment as it existed at the time. She wanted more education than people were willing to give women at the time, at least. Now, of course, we may think that the environment should not have been that way, but still one might argue that she is not actually adapted to the environment in which she found herself at that time? That’s just a thought I’m currently trying out; I’m not sure it makes sense with the interpretation of the novel as talking about evolutionary issues.