The Mill on the Floss is one of the great works of English literature. It is perhaps the most autobiographical of all Eliot's novels.
The relationship between its heroine, Maggie Tulliver, and her brother, Tom, closely resembles that of George Eliot and her own brother, Isaac. The subject of sibling affection was clearly a deeply poignant one for George Eliot - she also wrote a series of beautiful and evocative sonnets entitled 'Brother and Sister'.
Maggie's feelings as she nurses her dying father also echo those described by George Eliot in a letter when she was in the same situation. And there is something in the essential character and personality of Maggie that reminds us of her creator, of what we know of her from the life she led and the decisions she made.
Like its predecessors, Scenes of Clerical Life and Adam Bede, it is a domestic tale. And, like its predecessors, the book draws closely on people and places in Eliot's native Warwickshire. Although she did travel to Lincolnshire, where the story is set, to identify appropriate rivers for the apocalyptic flood, Dorlcote Mill closely resembles Arbury Mill, where the author played as a child.
It is essentially a story of family loss, tragedy and the sheer cruelty of fate. Like many of George Eliot's heroines, Maggie Tulliver's intelligence and emotional capacity are her undoing; they create in her an appetite for greater things than the social restrictions of the day tended to offer women - a theme which characterises much of George Eliot's work.
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Fiona Shaw makes George Eliot endurable
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