Friday, January 27, 2017

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

In every single book I've read by George Eliot, the characters are unhappy in love yet press on to do what is right. (Adame Bede, Daniel Deronda, Middlemarch). But Mill on the Floss wins the prize for the most unhappiness.

Maggie Tulliver, grew up with her brother Tom on the Floss River where her father was a mill owner. Although she is twice as smart as her brother, he gets sent off to school and she is left to languish in poverty (both mental and financial). She receives some schooling later, but it is cut short through poor decisions made by her father. Throughout the book she is torn between being dutiful to those she loves and snatching at bits of joy that come her way. She is miserable with a capital "M," but that's all I can say without giving any spoilers.

Eliot's prose is always exceptional and her insights into human nature and human suffering are thought-provoking. Like Trollope, her wit is an occasional, lovely surprise in the midst of heavier text. Nevertheless, I don't know if it could have kept up with this book if it had not been for the audiobook, narrated by Wanda McCaddon. She did a wonderful job with all the voices, making the reader sympathetic to each character no matter their faults and foibles.

Although this was not a happy book, I take my hat off to Eliot for having written love stories that are antithetical to what comes out of Hollywood. The Mill on the Floss may be the only book you ever read that asks the question, "If two people are madly in love, why shouldn't they marry?" and then gives a negative answer. The people in Eliot's books love deeply, but the cost of their love comes very high. Because of that, her stories are unsettling - in a good kind of way.



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