Sometimes I feel learning is a kind of enjoyment allowing me to drift into that somewhere quite near to my truest self, while now and then I feel quite suffocated and isolated from the real world. When I read a novel, I may feel the same pain from which the heroin suffers. I cried and sighed but never know exactly what I was crying for. It’s true that I’m too sentimental and imaginative. I always tend to mix my own emotion with the feelings of the heroin, which makes it difficult for me to get a sensible judgment of the works. Recently, I’m reading The mill on the Floss by Gorge Eliot, a touching story about love between the sister and the brother. I found myself immensely fond of the heroin Maggie, which in turn aroused my great interest in the great author George Eliot.
It’s ridiculous that when I googled Eliot’s pictures, I found once Henry James described her as "magnificently, awe-inspiringly ugly". While when refer to her writings and thoughts, we common people may feel amazed that such a quiet and sedentary lady, who limited within her little countryside world could have so deep an insight into people’s personality and psychological struggles. Among all the special beauty of her writhing, Eliot’s narrative techniques impressed me strongly. As for this The mill on the Floss, it’s not the kind of novel which can attract my heart immediately. On the contrary, at first when I still hadn’t got used to Eliot’s writing style, I felt too bored to read such a long and earnest Victorian novel focusing on the narrow and tradition-bound countryside life, especially with a wordy writing style. But when I read on, I suddenly found myself deeply attracted by her writing skills, which often make me feel as if I myself was in that setting, but once in a while her narrative methods brought me out as a stander-by analyzing and sharing the characters’ interior moral problems and strains objectively.
The novel’s evocation of childhood in the English countryside, rich with delight and vividness, is my favorite part. Eliot depicted for us such a memory- recalling picture about the pure childhood. Blamed for her messy hair, the little Maggie, with pursed up lips and tear-brimmed eyes, crouched in her small attic, longing to share the delicious food downstairs, but unwilling to break through the embarrassment. She cried painfully not because of the criticism from other relatives but only for that her brother did not care about her. She loved him so much that she just wanted him to pay whole attention to all her happiness and sorrows. She sat in that corner waiting for Tom to caress and comfort her, but he was too obstinate to show his kindness. At last, Eliot used the word “hunger for love”, which I like so much, to compel her to steal downstairs and sat at the table while teased by all her relatives. The second impressive scene about the little Maggie is her running away from home because of the girlish jealousy of her cousin Lucy, to whom Tom showed too much care. Always teased by others that she looked like gipsy, little Maggie rambled alone for a long time and finally met some real gipsy. But when darkness arrived, loneliness prevailed, imagining she had been deserted by the whole world, she was frightened to cry. When I was reading this part, I felt like hugging the little naïve girl. I took out my own album and looked at my pictures of childhood. All the bygone days returned to my mind. At that time, I used to be so naïve and silly that whenever blamed by anyone, I would think nobody would love me any more. I struggled with this thought and repressed by the hunger for love. I still remember the scene when I rushed out of home on a rainy night with tears rolling down my cheeks, indulged in self-imagined pain. Still another time I tore up all my dairies just because I felt nobody understand and care about me. I chucked at my old little self when these pictures floating in my mind. Is that painful girl really me? Alas, my little girl, how silly and pitiful. “Ah, my child, you will have real troubles to fret about by and by”.
As childhood staggered to the end, Maggie experienced a sudden pang in her life. Her father was bankrupted and immediately fell ill. Since then, she and her brother Tom had to shoulder the responsibility for the whole family, which was thrown into an endless abyss. Here Eliot endowed in Maggie her own experience of taking care of her sick father. The terrible loneliness and dullness of life suffocated the soul of the growing Maggie. “she could make dream-worlds of her own but no dream-world would satisfy her now. she wanted some explanation of this hard real life…” This long and detailed depiction of psychological struggle stands as a all-time memorable passage of Eliot’s writing. As we know Eliot’s concept of art is to carry out the mission of educating and modifying human nature, so here she points out a way for Maggie to get out of this mental struggle, that is abandonment of egoism-the path of martyrdom and endurance, which is quite an important process for us to grow up after experiencing some sufferings in life.
As the plot goes on, the complicated conflicts between the sister and brother become more and more obvious. Maggie loves Tom, and is willing to give up all the other things in life for him, but their conflicts, between romance and reason, daring and caution, rebellion and acceptance are too inevitable and indelible. Among all these troubles, Philip, whose father became the enemy of Maggie’s family because of business affaires crushed in with his true love for her. Proud and narrow-minded as her father and brother were, they never allowed Maggie to get touch with this kind and pure-hearted boy. So, struggle continued, and giving-up continued in Maggie’s life just because of her love and sense of duty for the family. As for me, I like this Philip very much. His love for Maggie is in more sense connected with soul. For him, Maggie is the only day-star which can console and shine his sad spirit. Compared with his love, the latter-appeared Stephen, who as Lucy’s lover also fell in love with Maggie, seemed to be more passionate and powerful in his love. When depicting love between her characters, Eliot inherits a commonly accepted belief that love is first learned in the lovers’ eyes. So, we can find many long “gaze” reflecting all deep human passion between Maggie and Stephen. From this, I may think that Maggie’s feeling for Philip is in more sense sympathy or Philia than love or Eros. Maggie was totally attracted and induced by Stephen’s passionate, or we may say coarse love, while the struggle in her mind never stopped. Here Eliot sounds especially didactic when Maggie at last decided to renounce her love by saying “I must not, cannot, seek my own happiness by sacrificing others.” “I couldn’t live in peace if I put the shadow of a willful sin between myself and God.” There are lots of touching love letters and monologues which moved me deeply in this novel. Although pointed out by many critics that too many detailed monologues mar the structure of the whole novel, I still think them as typical merit of Eliot’s writing because they give more space to show the real mixed feelings of characters.
As for the ending of the novel, I agree with many critics that it’s not as good as it should be. With the never ending conflicts in the heroin’s life, we can have a clear idea that there must be some tragedy in the end, but the sudden coming flood is still too unexpected and fierce because it wipes out all the meaning for Maggie’s long struggle immediately. Perhaps in my deep conscious, I still hope Maggie can break through the limits and her sense of duty, to get the value and love of her own life, but it finally turns out that her kinship love triumphs all her desires and dreams. Just think, if Maggie does not go to rescue her brother from the flood, she may have her love and enjoy her life, but the tragic ending comes from her own choice. Form here, we can draw a clear conclusion that Eliot’s tragedy is quite different from that of Thomas Hardy in the sense that Eliot’s hero can choose and decide whether to fight with life or not, while Hardy’s heroes are totally haunted by fate.
“The souls by nature pitched too high, by suffering plunged too low.” perhaps this is the best judgment for my favorite Maggie. For those who like vivid depiction of childhood life and the deep insight to personal psychological struggles in the process of growing up, this is a real all-time romantic classic.