full title The Mill on the Floss
author George Eliot (pseudonym for Marian Evans)
type of work Novel
genre Victorian novel, tragedy
time and place written Richmond and Wandsworth in England, 1859–1860
date of first publication 1860
publisher Blackwood and Sons
narrator The unnamed narrator was alive for Maggie Tulliver's life and is narrating the events many years later.
point of view The narrator speaks in the first person at selective points of narration but for all else, narrates as though third-person omniscient.
tone The tone can vary from lightly satiric when dealing with lesser characters, to elegiac or only slightly ironic when dealing with main characters.
setting (time) 1829–1839
setting (place) St. Ogg's in English midlands (real life model for the Floss was the Trent in Lincolnshire)
protagonist Maggie Tulliver
major conflict Maggie must choose between her inner desire toward passion and sensuous life and her impulse towards moral responsibility and the need for her brother's approval and love.
rising action Incurious Tom is sent to school, while Maggie is held "uncanny" for her intelligence. Mr. Tulliver's pride and inability to adapt to the changing economic world causes him to lose his property in a lawsuit against Lawyer Wakem and eventually die as the result of his fury toward Wakem. To Tom's dismay, Maggie becomes secretly close to Wakem's sensitive crippled son, Philip.
climax At the age of nineteen, Maggie visits her cousin Lucy and becomes hopelessly attracted to Lucy's wealthy and polished suitor, Stephen Guest, and he to her. Stephen and Maggie are inadvertently left to themselves for a boatride. Stephen rows them further down river than planned and tries to convince Maggie to elope with him.
falling action Maggie parts with Stephen, arguing that they each cannot ignore the claims that Lucy and Philip have on them. Maggie returns to St. Ogg's several days later and is met with repudiation from the entire town and from Tom. Philip and Lucy contact Maggie and forgive her. The Floss floods, and Maggie seizes a boat and rows to the Mill to save Tom. Their boat is capsized by floating machinery, Tom and Maggie drown in each other's arms.
themes The claim of the past upon present identity; The effect of society upon the individual; The importance of sympathy; Practical knowledge versus bookish knowledge
motifs The disparity between the Dodsons and the Tullivers; Music; Animal imagery; Dark and light women
symbols The Floss; St. Ogg; Maggie's eyes
foreshadowing As the story is being told in the past tense, the narrator often alludes to future circumstances when describing the present moment. An example of this is the narration of the figure of Maggie at the St. Ogg's bazaar in Chapter IX of Book Sixth, when the narrator alludes to the future attitudes of the women of St. Ogg's toward Maggie in light of her "subsequent conduct." The use of the Floss to symbolize Maggie's destiny throughout the novel also foreshadows her eventual drowning.