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chesilbeach

Lincolnshire - The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

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LINCOLNSHIRE
 
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
 
Synopsis:
If life had no love in it, what else was there for Maggie?
 
Tragic and moving, The Mill on the Floss is a novel of grand passions and tormented lives. As the rebellious Maggie's fiery spirit and imaginative nature bring her into bitter conflict with her narrow provincial family, most painfully with her beloved brother Tom, their fates are played out on an epic scale. George Eliot drew on her own frustrated rural upbringing to create one of the great novels of childhood, and one of literature's most unforgettable heroines.
 
 
Other Lincolnshire books:
Jack's Return Home by Ted Lewis

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I listened to the audiobook of this last month, but only just getting around to writing my review now!

 

It has to be said I had high hopes for The Mill on the Floss after reading Middlemarch by George Eliot last year, also for this challenge, but on the whole I was disappointed.  For me, although this is essentially a book about childhood, I found the whole section which focussed on the family while Tom and Maggie were children, was overlong and actually rather dull.  The whole family seemed to do nothing but complain, moan and bicker, and I found very little joy in it at all, and even in a poor family (which while the Tulliver's weren't rich, they were by no means poor by the standards of the time) there would have been some good times that could have lifted the mood occasionally.

 

Another negative for me, was the narrowness of the story, in that it was just about the Tulliver's and their family.  There was very little society outside of that, and even the move to Tom's education still didn't bring in many characters, and it wasn't until Maggie grew up that I started to enjoy the book more.

 

On the positive side, once Maggie has grown up, and she moves out into wider society, the story had more life to it and I really enjoyed the second half of the book.  Having recently watched a programme about the book (The Secret Life of Books with Fiona Shaw) I was aware of the story behind the book and it added another element to the story (but had also been a bit of a spoiler so it was 50/50 whether it was a good thing to have watched it beforehand!).

 

Far from my favourite book of the challenge so far, but not the worst either, but I suspect I set myself up for a fall having read the excellent Middlemarch first.  It hasn't put me off reading more Eliot, but it certainly won't be one I'd read again.

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Copied from my own English Counties challenge thead:

 

 

I've read just two of George Eliot's books before, Silas Marner and Middlemarch.  I rated both, and whilst I had a few minor reservations about the former, Middlemarch was an easy 6-stars, and probably amongst my top dozen books ever.  However, knowing a little about the nature of The Mill on the Floss, I didn't approach it with quite the sense of anticipation that I would have done otherwise.  Reading it confirmed some of my uncertainties, or rather this knowledge definitely inhibited my appreciation of what is, I am sure of, an outstanding classic.

 

Claire (chesilbeach) wrote in her review about the differing feelings she had towards the two sections - childhood and adulthood - and I can only concur.  One introduction I read (Bel Mooney?) talked of how Eliot felt obliged to rein back the second part because she she wanted to put so much into the first half.  Ironically, that reining in, for me at least, made for a much more engaging narrative.  Maybe because it was a bit leaner and perhaps less self-indulgent??  The childhood section did, after all, closely follow Eliot's own, and maybe she was a mite too close to it to know where to draw the line?  I don't know, but whilst I stuttered for almost three weeks through the first three hundred pages, the last third or so flowed beautifully, and I read it in just two sittings, completely wrapped up in it all.  In that time, Maggie Tulliver proved her position as one of the great heroines in fiction - at least in my eyes! 

 

Funnily enough, now I know precisely what happens at the end, I feel I can read the book again in the future in a much more 'liberated' way.  I do intend to, as even when struggling, I absolutely loved Eliot's writing.  Whilst she does on occasions go off on a typically Victorian philosophical ramble (Middlemarch is peppered with these!), her writing is otherwise a model of clarity and descriptive precision.  Her characters are some of the most vividly drawn and real to life that I have enjoyed, and they are thoroughly human in their contradictions and foibles.  One chapter in particular, when we see a completely different side to Mrs Glegg, after all that had gone before, summed up for me perfectly the strength of Eliot's understanding of  human character.  Equally so, when she writes about people as a mass - the chapter where Mr Kenn struggles against the tide of St Ogg's opinion is absolutely spot on.

 

I find it really hard to give The Mill on the Floss a rating.  I know that I have read a genuinely great book: whilst I can't say, at least on a first reading, that I truly enjoyed it, I don't think it an exaggeration to say that I feel as if I've undergone one of my strongest reading experiences for some time.  One part of me wants to say 3*, but I really do feel that would be a disservice.  On the other hand, I don't yet feel ready to rate it at 5* or 6*.  4* is a compromise, but still doesn't feel worthy enough.  Hmmmm.  Well, for the moment, call it 4*, and put a fifth in brackets.  When I come back to it, who knows? but I'll certainly need plenty of time as this is not a book that lends itself to a quick or superficial read, rather the complete opposite; it pays to really take this one steadily and chew it over.  There is much to think about and much to absorb.  Aside from its length, it would be a brilliant book for a reading group, but even better to study in depth. 

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It's interesting to read your review and our shared experience of reading this book.  I had wondered if listening to the audiobook had coloured my view, in that children's voices (even an adult narrating them) can become tiring to listen to for such a long period, and I thought this might have made the first half seem longer and more challenging to engage with, but you seem to have come to the same conclusion through reading the book too.

 

I still don't think I'll read it again but I will, at some point, read more Eliot, so it definitely wasn't one that would put me off her books.

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7 hours ago, chesilbeach said:

It's interesting to read your review and our shared experience of reading this book.  I had wondered if listening to the audiobook had coloured my view, in that children's voices (even an adult narrating them) can become tiring to listen to for such a long period, and I thought this might have made the first half seem longer and more challenging to engage with, but you seem to have come to the same conclusion through reading the book too.

 

I still don't think I'll read it again but I will, at some point, read more Eliot, so it definitely wasn't one that would put me off her books.

 

Having to listen to children's voices all day long (I'm a primary teacher, although finishing classroom teaching for good in a few weeks time), I can only concur that they are incredibly tiring to have to listen to over any length of time!

I'll be reading other Eliot before going back to The Mill on the Floss, so it'll probably be a while before I give it another go, but I just feel that by only reading in short bursts to start with (not intended, but that's how it happened) I really didn't do the book justice.

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