Thursday, 26 February 2009

On George Eliot and The Mill on the Floss

Finished The Mill on the Floss last night.

Very good book...and very of its time. As an edcuated woman, it makes me very frustrated and grateful to read books like these. Frustrated at the way women were thought of at that time (little more than ornamentation and home help), and grateful that things have progressed so much in the last 150 years. We don't have everything men do yet, but compared to then, well...

The Guardian called this novel George Eliot's most autobiographical work, so I did some reading up on her to make the comparisons. Like Maggie, Eliot (or Mary Ann Evans, to use her real name) never felt part of the society in which she grew up. She felt compelled to go abroad to escape the stultifying atmosphere of her small home town, and was miserable upon her return. And also like Maggie, Eliot was shunned by her family (in particular, her beloved older brother) when she fell in love with and spent the majority of the rest of her life with a married man. (This man couldn't divorce his wife, who had committed adultery, due to the antiquated divorce laws of the time).

Knowing this about Eliot makes the book all the more poignant. I have now read two books detailing the close (yet contrasting) relationships between a brother and a sister. Paul and Florence (in Dombey and Son) were as close as siblings could be, and supported each other in their mutual loneliness. Tom and Maggie (in The Mill on the Floss) are close, but only as close as Tom will allow them to be. Maggie is willling to give up everything for Tom, but he cannot do the same for his devoted sister. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't read the book yet, but Tom comes round in the very end.

After all this heavy and sorrowful Victorian lit...a diversion!

Next novel: A Fairytale of New York by JP Donleavy.

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