Book Review: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880) wrote her literary work under the pen name of George Eliot.  She was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and a prominent writer of the Victorian era. Her style of writing brought out her characters and the scenes in a very vibrant manner. The Mill on the Floss came into print in 1860; William Blackwood brought out the novel in three volumes. The first American edition was published by Harper & Brothers from New York.


The book is considered as a semi-autobiographical novel – the people in the book match the relatives of the author, in particular, the maternal aunts of Tom and Maggie Tulliver. The story covers a period of 10 to 15 years, and is woven around the fictional English village of St. Ogg. The Mill on the Floss revolves around two siblings – Tom and Maggie Tulliver; their relationships can me described as touchingly painful. For Maggie, her brother is her whole world! Tom certainly cares for Maggie but he is quite different in temperament from his sister who is younger than him. Maggie is impetuous, imaginative and certainly more intelligent than Tom. There is no doubt that Tom is an obstacle to Maggie’s happiness – Tom is conservative, serious-minded and highly critical to some of the ways of his sister. Eventually, the complicated emotional connection between the two illustrates the strength of George Eliot’s pen in creating a heart-wrenching classic which has its own moments of quaint charm and complexity.


Jeremy and Elizabeth Tulliver live with their two children at the mill on the river Floss, and the mill grinds grain into flour. George Eliot’s story indicates an earlier time in the century, though it was published in 1860, whereby, placing St. Ogg in the 1830’s, when the transition towards the industrial revolution was on its way… and social changes due to it would emerge in a very conspicuous manner. Some would be very harsh on the Tulliver family. The local history is very well shared by the author; she utilizes natural imagery to its full scope. It is true to compare the force of the floods with the eventual life of Maggie.


The Tullivers’ life-line was the mill but Jeremy loses it in costly legal battles. To make matters worse, the industrial revolution in England was making the mill outdated; yet, till the end of the novel the mill is to become a goal for Tom.


After Jeremy Tulliver loses his home and hearth in lawsuits, Tom takes on the burden of those circumstances with a sense of deep responsibility. After the demise of his father, he succeeds in putting the family finances in good order but there are other hurdles which come in the way for the Tullivers. In the end, locked together “in an embrace never to be parted” – Maggie and Tom drown in the river Floss when their boat capsizes in the floods. This is the stark, tragic end of the book.


Long and wordy sentences are apparent in the novel; the imaginary and metaphor sketch vivid canvases, thus, enabling the author to deliver a fluid flow to her narrative…which belonged to the era, when “mills”  were run by water, and they  were “mills” which were basically factories producing textiles or refining grains.


The author wrote a lot of her work around her own childhood, her community and her relatives. Adam Bede (1859) was based on the times when George Eliot’s father was a young adult. Her work brought social acceptance. The other books of George Eliot are Silas Marnar (1861) and Middlemarch (1872).

Geeta Chhabra


Geeta Chhabra Comment Form
Form a link. Comment inside the box below. Your views will be published in a coming edition.