The Mill on the Floss – Role of Victorian Women

Published: 2021-06-30 07:59:48
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George Eliot was an English novelist, journalist, and translator, and one of the leading writers of her life-time period. Although she would use a number of spelling variations of her name over the years, she was born Mary Anne Evans on 22 November 1819, into a middle-class family, in Warwickshire, England, and was the youngest of five children in her family. George Eliot, actually, was the masculine pen name of the writer Mary Anne Evans, one of Victorian England’s influential novelists.She changed her name 1819-1880 because writing by women’s name, especially which was of a vague nature, was not accepted in the Victorian society in which she lived.
Eliot herself lived a controversial and unconventional life: she has been the subject of much scholarly debates and the study of many biographers. In her time many people were shocked by her choice of “unbecoming a woman”, but she eventually earned the deserved esteem of an accomplished author. Also, it is an interesting fact that her works stand on their own, infrequently being overshadowed by her personal life. Among the best of the Victorian writers, G. Eliot deals with themes of social changes and triumphs of the heart and has a remarkable talent to show us the depth and scope of English life: its classes, pretensions, and hypocrisies. Many of her novels today are included in the canon of classic 19th-century literary works. Furthermore, some of her masterpieces have been adapted to film and many still in print today.
A woman's heart must be of such a size and no larger, else it must be pressed small, like Chinese feet; her happiness is to be made as cakes are, by a fixed recipe” George Eliot Many novels speak of women life, fate, labyrinths in love, and traps in passion, but very few speak of the dynamics that actually make the lives of feminine representatives uneasy. “The Mill on the Floss” is one of these novels: it doesn’t display the fleeing passions as many love stories do. This is due to entirely untraditional for those times George Eliot’s views on relationships between people of different age groups and difficulties in various aspects of life. Without a doubt, today the role of women in society is absolutely different compared with the essence of women’s life in Victorian Epoch, in the 19th century. Since “The Mill on the Floss” was written (nearly two hundred years ago), mankind has come through many social changes, especially women have. Even the fact that Mary Anne Evans had to use the pen name of George Eliot, as she was a woman and her works would not have been published otherwise, emphasizes women’s insignificance in the country and in the social circle. So, obviously, the myth according to which women had to stay at home, to carry out their “natural mission” of raising children, bearing them, and serving as an instrument of pleasure is little by little dying out.

Therefore, this book report is destined for observing the overall life, problems, difficulties, perspectives, relationships, etc. f women during the Victorian Era in George Eliot’s novel “The Mill on the Floss”. Paradoxically, in her work Eliot had tried to demonstrate modern, free women with more personal rights and opportunities, which were banned and impossible in Victorian society of those times. While reading, it is not difficult to notice that the author bravely contradicted society through her writing, and through the heroes, she delivered her perception of life. Maybe particularly Maggie’s character, who is one of the main figures in the novel, reflects her outlook on the relationship between man and woman, on love, and on passion. The author created a woman of free thought, intellect, and strong moral character; probably the same traits Eliot herself possessed. It can be said that a Victorian woman’s value resides chiefly in her femaleness.
Maggie is a romantic character and a dutiful daughter and sister; she is devoted, tender, and longing to give and receive love. But despite this, her world of “unimaginative, unsympathetic minds” (Book III: 59 p. ) sees her as constantly doing harm. Not only does she infuriate her mother by refusing to behave like a real lady, and provoke her brother, Tom, by forgetting to feed his rabbits, by thoughtlessly eating her larger jam puff without sharing it with him, by unintentionally knocking over his card-house, and spilling his wine; but, when criticized, she takes revenge by silly and even naive actions, such as hiding in the attic, dunking her head in water, cutting off her hair, pushing cousin Lucy into the mud, and running away to live with gypsies. Furthermore, almost all members of her family perceive her as unnatural. For her conventional mother, Mrs. Tulliver, she, whose absent-mindedness makes her seem “half an idiot in some things” and whose cleverness “runs to naughtiness,” which is “more natural for a boy,” is a “mistake of nature” (Book I: 13 p.; 72 p.; 14 p. ). Even Maggie’s fond father, Mr. Tulliver, who appreciates her gifts and mind, judges her unnatural on account of them; moreover, he thinks that for “a woman is no business with being so clever” (Book I: 22 p.)
However, particularly around the time of Mr. Tulliver’s illness this clumsy, awkward child grows to a stately, sharp girl. But in a world which will restrict and control her choices most of the time Maggie has learnt to follow some of its external codes: she proves herself as a great nurse to her father, has learnt excellent plain sewing, and is now comfortable with the intricate hairstyles that her mother makes out of her long hair; also, she helps with the housework and even promises to blossom into an incredibly beautiful lady.Yet, Eliot gives her protagonist one more significant skill, namely, the ability to read and think very deeply. In the Victorian Epoch, women, who are supposed to be the decorative objects of a man-predominant society, do not need much reading. They are supposed to stay at home, do needlework, and keep in fashion, rather than go to the real world and learn or study as Victorian men do. In addition to this, Maggie is very clever, unlike the other Victorian women, who seem to be foolish and naive as her aunt Glegg, for example, is, when Bob Jakin easily persuades her to buy his useless things.
Eliot depicts Maggie’s great enthusiasm for education: “she began to nibble at this thick-rinded fruit of the tree of knowledge” (Book IV: 299 p.); and we can observe her high intelligence when she goes so far in her imaginative thoughts on whatever she hears or sees. Obviously, Maggie’s insatiable involving in reading and engagement with different ideas set her apart from all the women and even most of the men in the novel. In fact, Maggie Tulliver, as we see her first as a nine-year-old girl, has been an opposite of a Victorian woman.So this distinction that sets Maggie apart from her community raises a significant question: what roles do the other women in “The Mill on the Floss” perform and what positions do they take up in their lives? Observing Lucy Deane, Maggie’s cousin, the reader can easily notice that she is her opposite in many things: Lucy is blond, well-behaved, quiet, and proper, whereas Maggie is dark-skinned, boisterous, and too noisy. Although all people around consider Lucy to be the perfect little lady and respect her notably more than her cousin, Maggie likes and admires her, instead of feeling hatred.She is kindhearted, naive, and charming, never seeing evil in anyone. Even when Maggie and Stephen are obviously interested in each other, Lucy trusts that they are merely friends.
Consequently, Lucy is in many ways the angelic reverse of Maggie. In the ideology of Victorian Epoch women were predominantly characterized as pure, obedient, and feminine, or as daemonic, insubordinate, and defiant. In literature this opposition existed too: the fair and positive women were rewarded (often with the successful marriage to the hero), whereas the negative, bad women would suffer loss or even death, in the same way as Maggie did.So after Maggie’s death, Lucy eventually marries Stephen and, moreover, she visits Maggie’s grave. And what about other feminine representatives of the novel, and what do they do in St. Ogg’s while their men work at mills, engage in auctioneering, banking, trading, and debts? For instance, Maggie’s mother, Mrs. Tulliver, is a very wide-ranging housewife.
Not only did she weave enormous amount of linen in the years before marriage to Tulliver, she also continues to participate in the housekeeping after becoming a married woman: she makes jam and wine, bakes cakes, and cooks various dishes.Even Elizabeth’s housemaid, Kezia, said: “It is proud to live under a mistress who could make such pastry” (Book I: 52 p. ). The celebration that she organizes in their house for her sisters and their families is one of the many occasions where she demonstrates her skills at cooking and talent in comforting the atmosphere at home. In addition to this, Mrs. Tulliver cares about Lucy through her mother’s illness; moreover, after the death of Lucy’s mother, she cooks and keeps house for the Deanes family.
All the negative females of the novel, basically Mrs. Tulliver’s sisters, with their vices, in definite interpretation, give us another side of a picture of Victorian women and of the society they represent. The three sisters of Mrs. Tulliver are depicted with remarkable force and importance, but all their characters are so hard and disagreeable, that each needs some relief and change. These three representatives of the awful Dodson family are so uninviting, that readers perceive them, unlike all the rest characters of the book, as unnatural creations.They are all vulgar, selfish, and narrow-minded.
For instance, Mrs. Glegg, the eldest sister and the leader of the Dodson family, feels regret being the wife of a “wool-stapler, retired from active business for the purpose of enjoying himself through the rest of his life” (Book I: 106 p.). But though Mrs. Glegg tends to condemn, she is not some sort of evil scoundrel. In fact, she often provides readers with some kind of relief in this long and highly depressing book.For example, the scene where Bob Jakin deceives her is pretty hilarious, since it lets us laugh at aunt Glegg and see her as decidedly less than perfect, whereas she is something more than perfect: she is a Dodson. Yet, at the same time, she possesses a strict sense of respectability that allows Mrs. Glegg to stand by Maggie, when no one else will at the end of the novel.
So in the end she proves that, while it’s impossible for people to choose their families, it might not be a bad thing. After all, aunt Glegg is loyal to her family no matter who they are and what they did.She may not be the aunt Maggie and Tom want to visit, but she is definitely a reliable person to have by their side. On the contrary, Mrs. Pullet, the closest of all sisters to Mrs. Tulliver, is a tearful woman with a passion for tidiness, order, and purchases. She is a superficial character and usually depressed for ridiculous reasons.
For instance, she worries that her cousin will die and that she won’t have a chance to wear her new headgear. Actually, aunt Pullet is the character of difficultly defined role in the novel, with uncertain importance within her society.Going further, Mrs. Deane, the most removed member of the family, is a gloomy woman, of an indifferent, quiet disposition. She is literally removed from them by her growing wealth and her rising social status: “Mr. Deane had been advancing in the world as rapidly as Mr. Tulliver had been going down in it, and in Mrs. Deane’s house, the Dodson linen and plate were beginning to hold quite a subordinate position as a mere supplement to the handsomer articles of the same kind, purchased in recent years. ” (Book III: 126 p. What is more, the wealthier she gets, the more removed she becomes from her family members, who are now of a lower social status than she is.
Figuratively, she is also removed from her family’s misfortunes and problems, and during gatherings she is prefers to be silent and not to entangle herself in family drama. She also worries about Lucy’s communication with her cousins, Tom and Maggie, though her husband doesn’t see any negative sides in it. Mrs. Deane dies while Lucy is still quite young, and after her mother’s death Lucy grows closer to Mrs. Tulliver.All in all, the female clan of Dodson represents a particular concept of morality and society in Victorian Epoch. In fact, they often act like society in isolation. The Dodsons are convinced that they are the best at everything and thus have the right to judge everyone else. One more female character, that is worthy of attention, is Mrs. Moss, Mr. Tulliver’s sister, which represents a world of extreme poverty.
The Moss family is definitely large, in debt, and very poor. The Mosses and their home are the hidden, dark, low-lying sort of Victorian industrial society.It is also important to notice, that Mrs. Moss is frequently drawn in parallel to Maggie: like Tom, Mr. Tulliver takes care of his sister: “It had come across his mind that if he were hard upon his sister, it might somehow tend to make Tom hard upon Maggie, at some distant day, when her father was no longer there to take her part” (Book I: 53 p. ). Overall, Mrs. Moss is a highly sympathetic and very sad character who seems beaten down by life and who expects to be treated badly.Despite all her problems, she is a highly compassionate individual who loves her brother and her niece Maggie, and often provides comfort to her when others fail to do so.
All things considered, the background of “The Mill on the Floss” is the Victorian society that is based on values of money, pride, and prejudice. Women in such a society, with such low values, have been considered simply as ornaments that were evidently (as clearly depicted by the characters of Dodson sisters in the novel) narrow-minded, snobbish, materialistic, and uncompromising.George Eliot herself has been living in this Victorian society and has been successful in clearly depicting not only a traditional images of Victorian women, but also the sufferings and pains of an individual female who is not born to live according to such low values; a rebellious woman that is not able to come along with the conventionalities of the Victorian society and so is to be crushed by the holders of such empty ideals.

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