12 July 2017

Review

“She thought it was part of the hardship of her life that there was laid upon her the 
burthen of larger wants than others seemed to feel – that she had to endure this 
wide hopeless yearning for that something, whatever it was, that was greatest
 and best on this earth.”  - George Eliot, "The Mill on the Floss"

While in Lanzarote I finished reading "The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot. Despite achieving an honours degree in English Literature and teaching English for thirty five years, I had never read a novel by George Eliot before. Somehow she passed me by. Yes - she - for the name George Eliot was just a pen name for Mary Ann Evans who was born in Warwickshire in 1819.

"The Mill on the Floss" contains strong autobiographical elements. It focuses on the lives of siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver. Life presents them with a range of challenges and they battle for respect, happiness and financial security. The novel was first published in 1860.

I like to get lost in a book and there were certainly episodes in this novel where I had that feeling. The ending was especially gripping as Maggie sought to rescue her brother from the mill on the River Floss after it had burst its banks. However there were turgid phases where the narrator stood back from the plot and moralised or reflected upon the characters. I found several of these sections hard work and somewhat self-indulgent though others were fascinating diversions.

Set in Victorian England, the book reveals a great deal about the priorities and manners of middle class Victorians. From a socio-historical viewpoint, it is a mine of information. Life is governed by unwritten moral codes and shared suppositions. It is extremely difficult for the characters to act freely and simply be themselves. They are forever looking over their shoulders and weighing up how their actions will be viewed  by others.

With notes and a lengthy introduction by A.S. Byatt, "The Mill on the Floss" was six hundred pages long. Reading it with full concentration was a challenge but I read every single word. It's another box ticked but for me this work seemed far less accomplished than the best fiction of  Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy.

31 comments:

  1. I liked The Mill on the Floss, but I've never liked anything by Dickens or Thomas Hardy. (I know, I know...they're masters...but I can't help it!) I also like Wilkie Collins and the Brontë sisters, but despise Jane Austen. Reading Pride and Prejudice was a few hours of my life I'll never get back! Haha.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We each have our own tastes. I am impressed that you have tackled such novelists Jennifer. I am also not so keen on Jane Austen.

      Delete
  2. You've given this story your best shot and it doesn't compare well with others. I'm sure others would see this story differently. I've never read it so count me out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How could I count you out Red? The only time I'd count you out would be in a boxing ring.

      Delete
  3. Sounds like a great read and very nice review. Warm greetings!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe you are the kind of fellow who would love George Eliot Mr B.

      Delete
    2. Ha, I believe so too, and I will be adding this to my reading list soon. Many thanks indeed!

      Delete
  4. It has been such long time since I read The Mill on the Floss I can't remember if it's worth a second read! And there are only a few books I've ever read more than once, so that is not a question I take lightly.

    Please don't cringe, but I've never been able to get through a single Dickens work to the end ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. There are some big words in Dickens Jenny.

      Delete
  5. While you were reading a book first published in 1860, I am still on "The Book of Household Management" from 1861 - like the novel, a mine of information about life in Victorian times. Yes, there is little - if any - personal freedom in that corset of written and unwritten rules and codes, and I am truly glad to be alive today, when men and women (at least in our part of the world) can largely make their own choices as to where, how and with whom they want to live, and how to earn their living.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had that same feeling of gratitude as I compared my life with the lives of the people in "The Mill on the Floss".

      Delete
  6. oh boy, when people start talking about literature I am always ashamed because I have only ever read what was required at school. I did develop a love for Romeo and Juliet after studying it in year 10 and again in year 12 (who was responsible for that??)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Let me get this right - you loved Romeo AND Juliet? Well, I guess it is 2017.

      Delete
  7. I still shake my head in disbelief when I meet school kids at the bookstore who come in to get books for their middle and high school reading lists. So many teachers assign Dickens and Hawthorne and Hardy....which is fine for advanced classes (college bound kids) but for those who don't read well or don't like to read....well, let's just say they're not helping turn reluctant readers into book lovers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point Jennifer I had to teach Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" to thirteen year olds from a council estate in preparation for a national exam. It was a very hard play to "sell" and it never seemed right to me.

      Delete
  8. I haven't read Mill on the Floss, but I did read Silas Marner at school and can thoroughly recommend that. In fact it was only a few weeks ago I rediscovered it on my bookshelves and vowed to read it again. I love Thomas Hardy too, in fact anything from that era.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have always loved Hardy's work - including his poetry. Imust get round to reading Hardy's "A Pair of Blue Eyes" which is still on my list.

      Delete
  9. Not a book I enjoyed reading, and I'm not a fan of Victorian "angst", morals, and melodrama. I've ploughed my way through Hardy, Dickens et al, when they were prescribed reading at school, but can't say I've enjoyed any of them.
    Have never had any desire to re-read them as an adult. Somehow the Lanzarote sunshine and George Eliot seem an unlikely mix to me.
    Agree with Jennifer, these heavy tomes don't encourage reluctant young readers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right CG - Tom and Maggie Tullver seemed at odds with lounging in the sunshine and diving in the pool like a dolphin.

      Delete
  10. I loved Dickens and still do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does Dickens know about your infatuation Jill?

      Delete
  11. I wonder how a bloke with a degree in literature is being paid for teaching language. My Ex spoke and wrote three languages before she left university, got a second. I speak Spanish, French and Arabic a bit. Had to, part of the job like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The content of an academic degree often has little direct connection with the kind of teaching content required in secondary schools. You have to descend several rungs on the ladder.

      Delete
  12. We have a George Eliot Hospital down here. She's well known in these parts. I like modern prose as opposed to Thomas Hardy, who I read recently. Hardy is such a handful to manage whereas someone like Stephen Leather is easier to understand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After finishing "The Mill on the Floss', I went straight into reading a modern life story called "Gypsy Boy". It has been so very easy to read in comparison - you can romp through the pages.

      Delete
  13. As an older teenager and in my early twenties I devoured the Russian novels (having read three English translations of War and Peace for enjoyment not academia) but I could not abide Dickins (and whilst I recall he made words up I don't recall any of them being too long - see previous comment!)and never managed to complete a Thomas Hardy (I recall much miserable depression). For the most part I think I gave up 'serious' literature after The Gulag Archipelago in about 1973.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have enjoyed picking up classic novels that had previously passed me by. It's good to come at serious books in my sixties just for pleasure - not for a degree or for teaching purposes.

      Delete
  14. I agree with ADDY, Silas Marner is a lovely story. I read it at school, and twice in the 50 years since. I read Gypsy Boy too a few years ago, assuming it's the same book, but don't remember if I enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wow! Many years have flown by since I read this book...way back in the early Sixties. Maybe I should read it again.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I never read "The Mill on the Floss" but I read "Middlemarch" and I liked it a lot. She's a very good writer.

    ReplyDelete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.