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The Mill on the Floss As a Novel On The Varieties of Love Theme Dr. Sandip Sarang (Lecturer in English) G.C.G.-11, Chandigarh GEORGE ELIOT 1819-1880 The Mill on the Floss As a Novel On The Varieties of Love Theme It may be tempting to call The Mill on the Floss a poignant and tragic love-story of Maggie and her involvement with two gentlemen. But more clearly, it is a novel about the failure of human relationships, particularly in love as opposed to social custom and morality. George Eliot was here portraying a love knot or tangle which is inextricably linked with larger issues like respectability, duty; class, and values of different cross sections of the English Society. The complexity of Maggie's relations can best be judged by observing and analysing the limitations or boundaries of love in different contexts. Broadly speaking, The Mill on the Floss presents three type of variations on the love theme: The brother-sister theme. Maggie's relationship with Philip Wakem oscillating between renunciation and indulgence. Finally the Maggie-Stephen episode which is based purely on passion and sexual attraction. The difference between these relationships is marked in the sense that Maggie's growth in terms of intellectual and religious development alters successively the nature of these relations. She is the common factor in the complex web of change and growth, her willfulness, childhood histrionics and affectionate possessiveness to renunciation, tolerance and conversion. Maggie is raised to the level of those from whom much is required. She is one of those who seek perfection. Her returns to it make her one of the most interesting cases among George Eliot's characters. Her story is problematic and turns The Mill on the Floss into a problem novel. The brother-sister theme is the one that overlaps the rest of such relationships. The love of Tom and Maggie is rooted in the soil, in their life at Dorlcote The Mill on the Floss where they can imaginatively look back to an invisible past and its continuity. The language of childhood love and its quick mercurial nature is reflected in the contrast between Maggie's imaginative and reflective nature and Tom's practicality. Apart from her deep sense of possession and love for Tom. Maggie always looks for an object for idolatory and security. In this relationship it is Tom. and to some extent Mrs.Tulliver who predicts a "death by the water" for Maggie due to her irresponsible acts and wilful temper. Tom's rebukes have a similar effect in that Maggie reacts to them either furiously or with extreme sentimentality. George Eliot herself had been having like relationship with her brother and regretted his indifference for almost in her whole life. It is not clear whether Maggie's love, passion and admiration for Tom is purely out of a protective feeling or feminine crush, or it has some extra filial attachment. George Eliot nowhere hints at the idea of sex or incest. But Maggie's depression, her missing Tom while he is at school, his slightest rebuke at her folly, and his finally trying to make her-laugh or reconcile indicate her strong desire to be near him and to be admired and cared for by him. She carries this childhood need which develops as a complex into her adolescence and adulthood. The results of this wilfulness and impetuosity prove disastrous. Behind this personal disaster and misfortune of Maggie are factors which are beyond her control. The falling apart of Tom and Maggie is also in part due to the respective role assigned by society to the man and the woman or the conflict of duties. When Mr. Tulliver loses his property, falls off the horse, is sick and humiliated, Tom has to go out and retrieve the family honour. Maggie has nothing else but her golden memories and romantic memories to bank upon or to fret about. The economic loss, the Dodson, Tulliver code of conduct, the social pressures and restraints underline the flux and confrontation between Tom. and Maggie. While Maggie's instinct is of revolt and freedom. Tom, like the Dodsons believes in triumphing over destiny the hard way but also submits before fate and events. Tom-Maggie relationship, the fabric of emotional and passionate life amidst placed surroundings, settled and economic comfort is destroyed due to the loss of law suit which uproots Tom and alters Maggie's whole way of feeling. Her growth from adolescence to womanhood is marked by this depression, loneliness and the increasing alienation from Tom. The emotional outlet is now blocked and she feels stifled for want of love and attention. There is also George Eliot’s special treatment of crises and decision. She, either implicity or through authorial comment gives an impression of inevitability. Her characters, Maggie in particular, make a moral possibility of love. Happiness and imaginative life is conveyed through the imagery of the river, its enchantment, its powers, its isolation, its languor and above all, its air of free movement. The central contrast of Tom and Maggie is always part of personal relationship. It is understood in the novel in the fairly explicit critique of social problem of education and work. The theme of tragic personal division which is only healed in death as life could never do, strongly emphasizes the brother-sister relation. It is this relation and the indestructible form of love rather than the formal opposition of two ways of life which is prominent throughout the book. This love relationship has an urgency and an elemental simplicity so that it plays on natural instincts and emotions. Maggie’s attraction for Philip is rooted in her intense sympathy and pity for those one cares for. This is a form of love in which frustration and defeat are obvious to both Maggie and Philip. Maggie knows she is caught between her love and commitment to be warm to Philip Nobody else in the world knows the futility of his dream of Maggie’s possession. The relation is caught between a fiery family feud. Tom’s moral stance and his severe reprimand of Philip’s ungentlemanly conduct pose a clash between the personal and the familial. Perhaps the most successful mentor and rescuer is Philip. His understanding and love for Maggie are perfectly in character. He is one of George Eliot’s characters who convince us of his humanity as his power of moral criticism. His elation with Maggie has a strong didactic element, though practically it does little for Maggie. He recognizes her need, her constraints and all the consequent dangers. He sees to that, the irony of her temptation by Stephen lies in the very fact of Stephen’s unworthiness. For him a relationship is based on partial hope of success of that “better side” of Maggie’s nature. It remains a hope because Maggie’s emotional vulnerability is strong in time of stress and agitation. Philip like Stephen, feeds Maggie’s sensibilities. He tempts her too, but more through pity and his tragic lot. Maggie’s inexperience is nowhere more ironically and calmly presented than in the account of this love she feels for Philip. She breaks in to her dream of renunciation which is just as romantic as her earlier dream of love beauty and glamour. The friendly and relaxed gentleness of Maggie’s relation with Philip meets its contrast in the uneasy embarrassment of the early stages of her relationship with Stephen. Before she meets Stephen she thinks that her belief that she loves Philip, is another of her illusions. But later the thought of Philip and her eagerness to meet him makes her realize that after all she does love Philip in quite another way. The last phase of Maggie’s love-her strong temptation is portrayed mostly in terms of sexual attraction. It is also the part where one finds Maggie falling from her earlier status. While, Maggie’s love for Tom is nourished by the rivers, streams, nature and childhood dreams. Her relation with Philip is based on understanding, sympathy and balance. The encounter with Stephen is sudden and dramatic. It is carried on in a different world of music, fashion, affected society and its manners. This change in social terms, is also a new opening for Maggie’s yearning for love. She is now once again carefree, which makes her lose her balance earlier than one expects. The strong attraction of Maggie and Stephen is shown as violent rapid which is entirely reconcilable with sexual tension and superficiality. Structurally, too, the novel is hastily done with her return from Mudport her social rejection, her last temptation and her death. George Eliot continuously shows her characters in the free and active process of ‘making’ themselves though always in the context of social influences and human collision or collaboration. In Maggie’s case her encounter with Stephen has elements of fantasy and dream. He has handsome personality, richness and artificial manners and grace. The difference between her childhood and adolescence is apparent. Now her sexual desires are the stronger having entered adulthood. She is equipped with a chance in a series of temptations: She is tempted to Philip, first resists, then refuses, then succumbs. Then comes the stronger temptation by Stephen. Both are temptations to betray a loyalty rooted in the family and her childhood. With Stephen she first resists, then capitulates, then resists and renounces him. She oscillates between Tom’s rebukes and her rejection of Stephen. This is a pattern of Maggie’s desire and her renunciation. But now she is ‘more than drift’, for her the drift means not only uncontrollable desire. But also an alienation from the family, society, honour and her earlier resolutions. In the end, after she has tried to live with her despair, and a life without Stephen she longs for death which is answered in the form of the flood. The flood engulfs Tom and Maggie and there is a calm only of the grave. After her tempestuous and impetuous relationship, her final call for renunciation is answered not by any human mentor or teacher but the Nature itself. Tom and Maggie being overwhelmed by the flood from The Mill on the Floss.
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