FEMININE is more often than not used as a negative adjective to describe the fragile feature of women. Even Shakespeare expressed such view through the mouth of Hamlet, ‘fragile, your name is woman.’ Yet is fragile, or sensitive, gentle and emotional, which are often regarded as criticism of the nature of a person, the nature of woman, or is it constructed by the values, norms and institutions of society which is dominated by men? For such a long time, we use tender, slender and gentle to praise a woman for her feminism and morality. They are either regarded as a sacred trophy (such as in Troy), or viewed as a sort of auxiliary to men.
It is true that physically women are inferior to men on strength, size and energy. However, Hamlet imposed another factor ‘reason’ upon women, as he thought, that women were fragile, for they had no reason. Indeed, Gertrude’s marriage with Claudis was unreasonable, yet she had no initiative on this issue. Therefore, a question can be raised. Is the concept ‘women’ socially constructed or inborn?
I am not trying to overthrow the traditional view thoroughly, but through analyzing George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, I expect to make some counter arguments against it.
One of George Eliot’s masterpieces The Mill on the Floss was published in 1860 when the Victorian Britain was reigned by monarch Queen Victoria and difficulties escalated due to the vision of ‘ideal woman’ shared by the society. They were deprived of their right to vote, sue or own property, and they were evaluated almost solely by their purity and submissiveness. Their education was limited; their roles were bound to the households; they could not give free rein to their thoughts; their essential and only challenge in life was to ingratiate themselves with their husbands. It is almost precise to say that, before 1792’s publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, women voluntarily remained the state of sub-citizen of the society, and few women dared to violate the rule (if there were any, they were sure to perish in their furious struggle). However, Wollstonecraft conspicuously, had not subverted the mainstream of the values of the general public. To most men, they prohibited women to be, or to have the notion to be, superior to him, or rather, their equal.
Before the industrialization agriculture was the prevailing productive force, it is possible that women were not in advantage, since they made less contribution to the production. However, when machine replaced the manual work, and women could manipulate machines as well as, if not better than men. While men still wanted to continue their domination, the only way they could possibly realize the unjustifiable aim was to overstress the physical weakness of women, expanding it to unreasonability, incapability and doing badly at everything. The first step they took was to prohibit them from entering educational institution.
Michel Foucault coined the concept ‘power-knowledge’. In his theory, power is based on knowledge and makes use of knowledge; on the other hand, power reproduces knowledge by shaping it in accordance with its anonymous intentions. Knowledge is the basis of power, and women were deprived of the source to gain knowledge. The education was prohibited mainly by the society creating a set of educational norm that did not fit women, and therefore, under the pressure and social prejudice, they were willing to remain ignorant and in the state of subordination.
Maggie Tulliver, although did not think the educational system unfit, was influenced strongly by the social prejudice, as her family prejudiced against her gaining access to education. She is one victim of such education. Her behaviours in childhood forcefully denied the prevailing view that women were incapable of rational or abstract thought and was too susceptible to sensibility and too fragile to be able to think clearly. Quite to the contrary, the child Maggie had a distinctive line of thoughts, and her conversation with Luke accidentally revealed her inborn intelligence and rationalism.
‘I think you never read any book but the Bible, did you, Luke?’
‘Nay, Miss—an’ not much o’ that,’ said Luke, with great frankness, ‘I’m no reader, I aren’t.’
‘But if I lent you one of my books, Luke? I’ve not got any very pretty books that would be easy for you to read; but there’s “Pug’s Tour of Europe”--- that would tell you all about the different sorts of people in the world, and if you didn’t understand the reading, the pictures would help you--- they show the looks and ways of the people and what they do. There are the Dutchmen, very fat, and smoking, you know--- and one sitting on a barrel.’
Maggie’s speech was logically fluent, and showed her ability to reason. For example, if one did not understand the book, it was easier to get information from the picture; through the book one might derive knowledge and tour the world, etc. Maggie was given the education which taught, or rather, forced her to be gentle, benumbed and dependent. Education differed according to gender. For women, education moulded them into submissive and highly sensitivie creatures eternally depending on men, and their utmost task was to please men. Women were made to fall prey to ‘violent and constant passion’, and were consequently made to think irrationally. There are even some great thinkers of that age, such as Rousseau (he is believed to be a believer in the moral superiority of the patriarchal family on the antique Roman model) staked a claim that women were somewhat incapable to think independently, and they had to largely rely on men. We could also regard Maggie’s gradually falling prey to her sensitivity as the clue of this novel. As women had to be submissive, gentle and fragile, all the distinctive features that had the potential to violate this accepted social regulation even slightly bit would be viewed as reproachful. In the third chapter, Maggie was threatened by Mrs. Tulliver to make her hair curl, and later, when exasperated by all such restrictions, she cut her hair short, in an attempt to triumph over her mother and aunts, but only to be smocked by Tom as ‘the idiot we throw our nutshells to at school’. Lucy, on the other hand, was depicted as a model for Maggie, for she was gentle in behaviour and obedient to her superior, or in other words, accepted her situation willingly. She had curly hair, which was the butt for her mother and aunt to reproach Maggie. Even though Maggie herself, as a young child, might not be aware of this, yet no doubt, she had strong consciousness of feminism. She constantly regarded herself as an equal to Tom, so that when Mr. Riley and Mr. Tulliver were discussing about providing Tom education, she was eager as well to be educated, even though her request was scoffed and looked down upon by the adults. In her subconsciousness, she realised that reading was somewhat a privilege to the superior, and she was born fond of reading books and brainy. To her, reading was the utmost entertainment. She eagerly informed Luke of her knowledge while they were out on the Floss, offering her book ‘Pug’s Tour of Europe’ and ‘Animated Nature’. It was the feminism consciousness which lay in her subconsciousness which made her collapse every time she was despised by Tom or other adults, or when she felt being looked down upon. She craved for education, equality and friendship. Moreover, she gradually came to realise that she was, in fact, unequal to her less intelligent brother, because of incessant frustration from endless criticism. Her pride and sense of feminism was hurt every time she was reprimanded.
For a long time, I agree with Marixst feminism’s point of view that private property, which gives rise to economic inequality, dependence, political oppresion and ultimately unhealthy social relations between men and women, is the root of women's oppression in the current social context. I do not believe that women are inborn more sensitive, fragile and incapable than men, just as the child Maggie reflected, she was endowed with brightness, but it was the society that shaped the women to be feminine, since without private property, they had to rely on men for financial income, and in order to attract a man of higher social rank, she had to be morbidly graceful and vulnerable so as to arouse men’s sexual desire. Tom’s superiority to Maggie arose to a higher stage when he started to help his father pay off the family’s debt. Since women were prohibited from working places, the gulf between the brother and sister deepened.
In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie’s feminist consciousness is divided into three stages. The first stage is strong, when Maggie was still a child, uninformed of the social prejudice and discrimination on women. She followed her nature and crazed for books and knowledge.
Maggie’s failed attempt to run away from home connoted that women in that period would never succeed in breaking the shackles of the socially accepted regulations. The metaphor which Eliot applied to is the gypsy queen, a symbol used in romantic poetry and painting, standing for an escape from the zero-sum game of Victorian social codes. Maggie craved for freedom, education and happiness, and desired to break the shackles of the Victorian codes bound on her, yet her incapability to escape from the reality incarnated the helplessness of all the women who, with dream of gaining freedom and independence, had to recede to the reality and accept their social roles. This chapter, entitled ‘Maggie Tries to Run Away from Her Shadow’, indicatively expressed the author’s attitude, that is, women’s world was overcast by shadow.
The first book came to an end with Maggie’s failure to escape from all such restrictions. The second book commenced with Tom receiving education along with Phillip Wakem from Mr. Stelling. Phillip Wakem here was a contrast to Tom,who was a character supporting absolute masculinism and showing disregard to women, including her sister’s intelligence. Phillip here was sort of androgynous. His handicapped back prevented him from being physically strong and dominant as Tom, nor could he concede to fragility, as his identity of being male reminded him that he was supposed to be powerful. He acted a positive role in Maggie’s life, but was often scoffed by Tom, the masculine principle personified.
Yet in the first half of the second book, Maggie’s desire for knowledge and her feminism consciousness had not extinguished yet. Her every visit to Tom revealed that she was capable of learning, and was fitter for education than Tom. During Maggie’s first visit to Mr. Stelling, while Tom was entangled in the mess of Euclid and Latin, Maggie, for the first time, offered patronising consolation on Tom. At this moment, Maggie had absolute superiority to Tom in her knowledge as she excelled in Latin and her intelligence to learn Latin enabled her to master Euclid if given a chance .Yet even thus, Tom still had not cast away his air of patriarchy.
‘I’ll help you now, Tom,’ said Maggie, with a little air of patronising consolation. ‘I’m come to stay ever so long, if Mrs. Stelling asks me. I’ve brought my box and my pinafores, haven’t I, father?’
‘You help me, you silly little thing!’ said Tom, in such high spirits at this announcement, that he quite enjoyed the idea of confounding Maggie by showing her a page of Euclid. ‘I should like to see you doing one of my lessons! Why, I learn Latin too! Girls never learn such things. They’re too silly.’
‘I know what Latin is very well,’ said Maggie, confidently, ‘Latin’s a language. There are Latin words in the Dictionary. There’s bonus, a gift.’
‘Now you’re just wrong there, Miss Maggie!’ said Tom, secretly astonished. ‘You think you’re very wise! But “bonus” means “good”, as it happens---bonus, bona, bonum.’
The unabridged version of The Mill on the Floss had the three words ‘I’ll’, ‘you’ and ‘my’ marked in italics. When Maggie put her emphasis on ‘I’ll’, she obviously felt a sense of triumph and dominance, as she herself thought that it was a moment when she could hold dominance onto her brother. She had not grown out of her purity yet, and the sense of feminism consciousness was still upon her. Moreover, by reasoning the meaning of ‘bonus’, Maggie showed strong rationality. In the dialogue following what I have quoted, Maggie analysed the deeper meaning of ‘lawn’, and won a smocking-like praise from Mr. Tulliver, which aroused Tom’s disgust, as he always showed disgust on Maggie’s knowingness. As for Tom, through his ‘secretly astonished’ feeling, we could easily conclude that in his innermost he unwillingly admitted that Maggie’s intelligence had far exceeded him. Her intelligence was commented as ‘showing her cleverness to appreciating strangers’ Her trying to correct Tom’s Latin was regarded as ‘chatter’ or ‘any donkey can do that’.
The story proceeded to Maggie’s first encounter with Phillip. This chapter revealed the inborn ability to reason in Maggie. Tom’s prejudice against Phillip was rooted in the hatred between Mr. Tulliver and the lawyer Wakem, and he followed the rule ‘like father, like son’, and defined Phillip as a rogue without observing him objectively. Quite to the contrary Maggie seemed to have more reason, as the dialogue between she and Tom formed sharp contrast in their reasonableness.
‘I think Phillip Wakem seems a nice boy, Tom,’ she said, when they were out of the study together into the garden, to pass the interval before dinner. ‘He couldn’t choose his father, you know, and I’ve read of very few bad men who had good sons, as well as good parents who had had children. And if Phillip is good, I think we ought to be the more sorry for him because his father is not a good man. You like him, don’t you?’
‘O, he’s a queer fellow,’ said Tom curtly, ‘and he’s as sulky as can be with me, because I told him his father was a rogue. And I’d a right to tell him so, for it was true--- and he began it, with calling me names. But you can stop here by yourself a bit, Magsie, will you?’
Tom was lack of judgement, and it was somewhat a kind of defect of men, that they overstressed the notion of hatred between families. Julie committed suicide to follow Romeo to the heaven, because both of them had the ability to reason, and to judge a person according to his or her quality, character and personality, instead of blindly following the opinions of the elders. Yet here Tom was different. Blinded by the hatred and jealousy in the adult’s world, Tom mistook this action as being responsible and just. He thought himself as an adult, by hating the same person his father hated, yet what he did not know that by his blind imitation, he would cause more trouble than he anticipated.
In her later close contact with Phillip when Tom had his foot hurt, she revealed a sense of sensitivity, since Phillip was a poor boy with deformity. She tried her best to avoid mentioning deformity, even though once she accidentally let ‘I should be so sorry for you’ slip out of her mouth.
The first volume ended by Tom returning home for Mr. Tulliver’s mishap. On the whole, what the first volume revealed was Maggie’s advantage over Tom on both academics and social relations. Maggie was thirst for knowledge, equipped with sense and intelligence, possessed with a strong sense of rebellion and also with a touch of sentimentality, which enabled her to communicate more smoothly. Maggie bore blame; she had been blamed all her life, and nothing had come of it but evil tempers. Yet in the volume following, the advantage was gradually nipped by all kinds of prejudice and restriction.
The second volume commenced with the bankruptcy and illness of Mr. Tulliver and the uprising hatred between the Tullivers and the lawyer Wakem. The beginning chapter was replete with the blame on Maggie. Here came the second stage of Maggie’s feminist consciousness, which gradually became weaker and she somewhat conceded by Tom’s brutal oppression and Mr. Tulliver’s indifference.
This is a typical demonstration of what Simone de Beauvoir mainly argued in her book The Second Sex, that men had made women the "Other" in society by putting a false aura of "mystery" around them, and that men used this as an excuse not to understand women or their problems and not to help them. One is not born a woman, but becomes one. We may also find corresponding idea in Wollstonecraft’s assertation that ‘women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mother, that a little knowledge of human weakness, just termed cunning, softnessof temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man’. Women’s mind was shaped from the infancy, and they were not born with the notion ‘dependence’ or ‘need to be protected’. That is how the two words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ were coined. Although they refer to the same object, yet they stress different aspects. Sex is biological, while gender is social.
Tom’s failure to get a position from Mr. Deane reflected his poor capacity and performance. When he returned from Mr. Deane, he was met with Maggie’s amiable joke that if someone had taught her book-keeping she could teach Tom. Yet with the sense of masculinity preoccupied, this joke was not to be accepted. He retorted harsh words by blaming her ‘always sitting yourself up above me and everyone else’ and ‘I can judege much better than you can’. Tom is the typical man in the Victorian society when the country had just been industrialized. Before machine replaced manual labour, man had absolute advantages physically.
The agriculture and farm work were completed mostly by men. However, when manual labour no longer remained the main source for production, such absolute domination was erased and gradually vanished. Men, in desire for remaining absolute domination over women, degraded women to the greatest extent, by emphasizing their physical weakness, from which extended to their inability to reason and to think, and that it was impossible for them to acquire all kinds of knowledge. That is why Mr. Stelling commented that girls ‘can pick up a little of everything’, but ‘they’ve a great deal of superficial cleverness, but they couldn’t go far into everything. They are quick and shallow’. In this way, what Maggie had been taken pride in (quickness) was a sort of defect, and ‘it would be better to be slow like Tom’. However, if Tom were a girl, then he would also be blamed for his clumsiness. In conclusion, in that era, all the qualities, including defects which are possessed in boys were all something worth praising.
Under constant surveillance of the elders and the restriction of the traditional concepts of women, the grown-up Maggie shifted to an ordinary woman, concealing her intelligence and conceding to the social suppression. She gave way to the constant surveillance. Perpetual surveillance is internalized by individuals to produce the kind of self-awareness that defines the modern subject. In the period when Maggie was able to talk, she was incessantly told that her brother Tom would go to school, while she had to keep gentle, keep her hair curly and do the chores which are supposed to be girls’ job. In her childhood, she was thirst for the world of knowledge while Tom was annoyed and impatient with the world of Latin and Euclid. She possessed with the sense to understand the world, to share the mishaps and sorrows with her male family members, yet she was forced to shut out from all those. Having sensed all those, she could appeal to no one but tears, wishing that she had been taught ‘real learning and wisdom, such as great men knew’.
In the beginning of Book Fifth, Maggie and Phillip Wakem met again, after a sequence of conflicts between families and alterations on both of the two youngsters. By then Maggie confessed that she had given up ‘thinking about what is easy and pleasant’ and ‘being discontented because I couldn’t have my own will’, which startled Phillip a bit, for in his eyes, nothing would ever change one’s nature, and he never doubted she would be the same. Yet in this chapter, Maggie’s shift from her innocence to twisted maturity was revealed by her refusal of Phillip’s book. Her reason given was thus, ‘it would make me in love with this world again, as I used to be—it would make me long to see and know many things--- it would make me long for a full life.’ Poetry and art and knowledge are sacred indeed, but of course, not for women of those times. For those women as Maggie, the thirst for knowledge must be extinguished, instead of quenched. Just as Wollstonecraft had stated, ‘strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience; but, as blind obedience is ever sought for by power, tyrants and sensualists are in the right whenthey endeavour to keep women in the dark, because the former only want slaves, and the latter a plaything’. For men, women acted as two roles, slaves and plaything, and for the latter, the plaything must be available in sexual functions. Maggie was the sort of woman that was forced to be kept in the dark, groping her way, at first trying to figure out what had happened in the family and between her father and Mr. Wakem; Maggie’s life was destined to be a series of blind obedience. She obeyed her father blindly by rejecting book, knowledge and joy of the world. She had struggled, of course, yet she conceded. She in the following blindedly followed the tyrannical Tom’s order that she must stay away from Phillip, and in this way her sole encouragement was driven away. Yet, according to what Phillip had told Maggie, such resignation, or rather, stupefaction, would not bring joy and peace, which were what Maggie had been seeking for by shutting herself away from the world. She had been tired of the endless struggle with her brother and father, and had chosen a life seemingly joyful and peaceful. Her nature would never acquiesce that. What she was doing was stupefaction, to be more plainly, self-cheating. Such cheating would bring more pain to her. Yet within such a sequence of blind obedience, her sense had not yet perished. Later her refutation to Tom on Phillip Wakem demonstrated that.
Here Phillip acts a sort of androgynous role. For one thing, he was a man, having chance to get systematic education together with Tom, seeing the world, gaining knowledge and knowing the world. Compared with Maggie, if they were both male, then Phillip was in an inferior state, because of his disability. Maggie started to grow fond of Phillip, because, to some extent, she saw some reflection, and also some of her expectation on herself, on him. Phillip had a feminine sympathetic, while he was talking with Maggie in the Red Deeps. He was sentimental enough to cognize the world, to share others’ feelings, and especially, to see more openly on women’s education and development. It was rare, for a man, to advise a woman to read more, to know and enjoy the world, and to appreciate life. Phiilip, though having disability and not being so masculine as Tom, was being educated. Maggie was longing for such education, and thus she looked up to Phillip, regarding him both as her soul mate and an approachable idol.
Their secret meeting went on for a year, during which under Phillip’s constant encouragement, Maggie picked up reading again, enjoying a few happy moments. It was obvious, that only books would cheer Maggie up, and fulfill Maggie’s world. Yet in the book, their relationship ended by Phillip confessing to Maggie his love, Maggie accepting it indirectly. All these were discovered by Tom, eventually, and he insisted on Maggie leading him to where Phillip Wakem was. In this scene Maggie might be the first time brave enough to stand up to Tom that he had been ‘reproaching people all his life’, always sure that he himself was right, and this is directly reflected in Tom’s refutation that Maggie was showing her affection to father by merely disobeying and deceiving him. Maggie had realized that all her struggle was in vain. After all, her fate was controlled by anybody but herself.
Yet in here Maggie’s sense still remained. As a woman who could be permitted to do nothing, she roared vehemently but helplessly to Tom, ‘So I will submit to what I acknowledge and feel to be right. I will submit even to what is unreasonable from my father, but I will not submit to it from you. You boast of your virtues as if they purchased you a right to be cruel and unmanly as you’ve been today.’ All the reading and her thirst for knowledge did not quit her entirely, but built up a strong sense of right and wrong in her mind. That may be what knowledge can offer women, and that is possibly why for a long time women were banned from schools, for educated women would bring their blind obedience to an end. Was we not heart striken, when we found a gifted and lovable Maggie Tulliver repressing her anger and creativity to develop a neurotic and self-destructive personality?
Now we come to the last volume of the novel, and in the last volume, Maggie’s feminist consciousness had come to the last stage. The consciousness was eliminated from appearance. Even though there were conflicts every now and then, she conceded to her fate and started to obey. That is how come when Elaine Showalter compared Jane Eyre with The Mill on the Floss, she commented, ‘Bronte’s Jane Eyre is the heroine of fulfillment; Eliot’s Maggie Tulliver is the heroine of reununciation’ .
The last volume began with Maggie introduced to her cousin Lucy’s boyfriend Stephen Guest. Maggie fell into deep thinking when Lucy offered her the Sketch Book. The lapse of time had altered everything. Rush of memories surged into Maggie’s mind as her eyes fell upon the sunshine on the rich clumps of spring flowers, such as Tom’s brotherly friendliness; she was also hit by what she was now, distasteful days, intense and varied life she once yearned for, her future even worse than her past and all those years’ contented renunciation. Maggie’s first encounter with Stephen Guest alarmed Lucy a little, for beforehand she had never been awared of Maggie’s renunciation all those years. The old Maggie must appear to be too ‘odd and clever’ to please. Yet it also revealed the fact that Maggie had not been used to the society, where people spoke from the lips merely, and therefore she was infuriated by compliments, which appeared absurd to the experienced ladies and also made Maggie feel ashamed of herself. Having given up the life she yearned, nor could she get used to lives of ordinary ladies, which is also a cause for her tragedy in the end.
Phillip Wakem’s name was mentioned again by Lucy, as he was a good friend of hers. Maggie, encouraged by Lucy and out of her own initiative, went for permission from Tom, since she had promised him not to see him without telling him. As Phillip met her, she told her that she wished she could make a world outside love as men did, since she derived no happiness from it. When she was a child, she also wished to create a new world as men did, but that was to live independently and knowledgeably, and now she returned to her old thought in a new form. Wishing to create a world outside love was only an escape from pain, from reality and from submissiveness. Viewing Maggie’s life on a whole, to a great extent, she had been living for Tom’s love. She would sacrifice anything of her own personality in order not to be rejectd by Tom. When Lucy asked her not to go away and be apart from Phillip, she refused the forthcoming happiness by saying that Tom asserted she could only marry Phillip on the condition of giving him up. In this way, she appeared to be self-doubting and unassertive all the time, because we know that in fact Tom had never brought Maggie genuine happiness and use.
I say that Maggie has developed a neurotic and self-destructive personality, because she is perversely drawn to destroy all her opportunities for renewal, such as refusing Dr. Kenn’s offer to be a permanent parishioner in another town, her endless plea for Tom’s forgiveness, simply waiting for others to validate her existence, etc. Her personality, now, could best be described by quoting ‘the souls by nature pitched too high, by suffering plunged too low’ .
Although many critics regard Maggie's entanglement with Stephen Guest as a discordance, discrepancy, and a significant failure in Eliot’s work, yet it was an indispensable part in the ending. Maggie moved to live with Lucy and Lucy’s betrothed Stephen fel for Maggie, which seemed natural by reason. After a struggling night with Stephen, Maggie refused him and got away. Yet she was thrown into an abyss of anguish when she eventually managed to return from the grasp of Stephen Guest, while what confronted her was Tom’s icy response and the disgrace she had brought to St. Ogg’s. Having been cruelly driven away by the furious Tom, Maggie plunged into a surge of agony. She agonized, not for her notoriety in the village, but again, for she had disgraced Tom. Her emotional attachment with Tom was reinforced, instead of diminished, by Tom’s endless criticism and oppression.
The ending was dramatic, and for a long time, it had been commented on by critics. Personally I was hit upon by Tom’s utterance ‘Magsie’ and ‘it’s coming, Maggie’. All their grudes, misunderstanding and conflicts for so many years were drowned in the flood along with their human bodies. I deem Tom’s sudden emotion as the denouncement of his conscience. Yet such denouncement was incompatible with the social background. The drowning of the brother and sister was not designed by the author; it was developed naturally. That is to say, only Tom’s former attitude would survive the society. When Tom and Maggie reunited, Tom accepted Maggie, yet Maggie was not to a woman to be accepted. Her intelligence, her disobedience and her struggle were all against the social trend. Dying together unable to fit the secular world, may them find peace and joy in the paradise.
There could be another explanation of Maggie’s drowning. In the medieval times, women were thrown into water to test whether they were witches. Those that drowned were regarded as innocent. Eliot applied to such a tale to illustrate that Maggie was innocent; intelligent women were innocent; in fact all women were innocent yet fell into the trap of the society. She paid homage to those victims. Those women who were with feminist consciousness were incompatible to the society, and their characteristics were annihilated by the oppression wrapped them.
This work created in 1860 was full of feminist consciousness, whether explicitly or implicitly. Throughout the novel, Maggie’s feminist consciousness existed, in the former part explicit, trying to break the shackles of the Victorian Age; in the latter part, such consciousness was hidden until it became subconsciousness. After the work was published, a lot of feminists hated Geroge Eliot. For one thing, Eliot was a success produced in the Victorian Age, but in almost all her works (The Mill on the Floss was arguably the most autobiographic novel), she wrote about how women like she herself failed in their struggle. In this way she denied such struggle, meanwhile she succeeded and benefited through it.
Dated back to 1792 when Mary Wollstonecraft first called upon women’s rationality, her radical thoughts were too ahead of the development of human consciousness and the society, so that her theories failed to break the shackles that cuffed the women to their households. Mary’s own scandals offset her achievements. It was almost the end of the 19th century when her theories rose to the surface and caught the eyes of the radical feminists. Between the shadowy period, numerous intelligent women became victims, either choosing renunciation or being persecuted by fate. Apart from Maggie, Sue Bridehead ( the heroine in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure) was a typical example too.
The Victorian Age was complicated. Because of the struggle of all kinds of people, many outstanding literary works were created. War promoted the development of technology; struggle reinforced the production of novels. I would like to end this dissertation by a poem by Emily Dickenson, ‘they shut me up in prose’.
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet --
Because they liked me "still" --
Still! Could themself have peeped --
And seen my Brain -- go round --
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason -- in the Pound --
Himself has but to will
And easy as a Star
Abolish his Captivity --
And laugh -- No more have I --
Deborah L. Madsen Feminist Theory and Literary Practice (Foreign Language Teaching and Rsearch Press, Pluto Press, 2006)
Elaine Showalter A Literature of Their Own: From British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing (Foreign Languge Teaching and Research Press , Princeton University Press, 2004)
Elizabeth Ermarth Maggie’s Long Suicide ( Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 14, No. 4, Nineteenth Century (Autumn, 1974), pp. 587-601)
 Geroge Eliot The Mill on the Floss (The Commercial Press, Beijing, 1995)
 George Eliot: Her Life and Books (London, 1947)
Maragaret Walters Feminism: A Very Short Introduction (Foreign Language Teaching and Researching Press, 2008)
Mary Wollstonecraft A Vindication of Rights of Woman (Dover Publications, Inc, 1996.7)
 Raman Selden, Peter Widdowson, Peter Brooker, A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2004. 5)
 Thomas Pinney Essays of George Eliot (New York, 1963)
 The George Eliot Letters, ed. G. S. Haight (New Haven, 1955)
Virginia Woolf George Eliot (First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 20 November 1919)