Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Mill on the Floss (88th Book)

I read Mill on the Floss in two chunks: one which had me in stitches, and highly amused by the antics of this interesting family, and the other, after a long break, with quiet dedication and interest to know what would become of the characters. Somewhere in the middle I got lost and had to put the book down.

I don't know what to make of this book. I think my main struggle is that I was really looking forward to it after Middlemarch which just might be the favourite book I have discovered from the Novel 100. This book was nothing at all like Middlemarch, which is not to say it is bad. It has all the marks of great literature, I just don't love it. When ever I get stuck on a novel, only then to finish it with relative ease, I am unsure how to rank the book. It sat on my bedside table for months while I stared at it with disdain. I think I got lost in the middle because the novel was just so bleak.  Maybe it was my mood or maybe the characters were lost on me, but the middle of the novel felt like a slog for me.

When I picked the book back up again, after my several month break the pages flew by fairly quickly. I was interested to know what would become of the characters again. Strangely enough I didn't like any of them. The father was a bumbling idiot, quick to anger which led to his family's demise. Maggie was passionate and flighty and tried to stuff all her feelings down in religious piety and family loyalty. Tom was arrogant and blind to all, but his own honour and redeeming that of his family. The mother was passive and let life happen to her. If there was ever a novel that depicts hubris to a tee, this is it. The fatal flaws in both Maggie and Tom lead to their down fall.

I absolutely HATED the end of the novel, don't even get me started on it. The ending made me angry, but it did make me feel and quite passionately at that. I think that is a sign of great literature. The copy I read had a summary at the end about what the book was about and a bit of George Eliot's history. There was a quote in it that I thought summarized why I can hate the characters, but still not hate the book. George Eliot wanted readers to "be better able to imagine and feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring human creatures"

The one thing I will say for this novel is that it has a completely differ theme and feel to Middlemarch. I have often found that writers have one pet theme and one main idea and they create novels that are simply variations on the same theme. Unlike Middlemarch, this novel sets out to show the idyllic time that childhood is for a lot of people. It is also a bildungsroman as Maggie is a character that goes through a lot of development. Here is a quote that summarizes the tone and feel of the novel well:

"There is no sense of ease like the ease we felt in those scenes where we were born, where objects become dear to us before we had known the labour of choice."

This novel is basically about growing up and moving away from the easy times of childhood. It is also about the ties that hold and bind us in family. Maggie loved her brother Tom and it lead to her demise. She was also someone who chose to sacrifice herself for others happiness quite a bit. Normally I would say that this is an admirable characteristic, but in Maggie's case it is an unnecessary self denial.

"We can't choose happiness either for ourselves of for another; we can't tell where that will lie. We can only choose whether we will indulge ourselves in the present moment or whether we will renounce that for the sake of obeying the divine voice within us, the sake of being true to all the motives that sanctify our lives."

That is a beautiful quote which I wholeheartedly agreed with. Maggie was an honourable individual,  but the choices she made while listening to her inner voice were awful.

I have written my review and I still don't know what to make of this novel. It certainly won't make it to my top ten, but it definitely is not the worst novel I have ever read. I am curious about George Eliot's other novels now. If they are each completely different from each other I would love to see what else she tackles. I am really glad that I didn't completely give up on it when I ran into the snag in the middle.

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