The Mill on the Floss
by George Eliot
Most people have, or have at least encountered, a relative like Aunt Glegg. She’s the aunt who makes you want to run off and hide when she comes to visit. You conveniently find things to do to avoid being alone in a room with her, because once she’s corners you, she’s going to criticize you. Your hair is too long, your clothes are ugly, you really should behave better, and on and on.
It’s no wonder then that Maggie and Tom often try to make a run for it when Aunt Glegg comes to visit. The woman’s a bit terrifying, really. Nothing is ever right for her. In fact, she disagrees with people just for the heck of it. Her favorite hobby seems to be judging others and finding them somehow inferior to her:
Mrs. Glegg had both a front and a back parlor in her excellent house at St. Ogg’s, so that she had two points of view from which she could observe the weaknesses of her fellow-beings and reinforce her thankfulness for her own exceptional strength of mind." (1.12.6)
It is interesting that this passage references "two points of view," perhaps implying that Mrs. Glegg is capable of having more than point of view, so long as she is still better than those around her.
But, as judgmental as she is, Mrs. Glegg is not some sort of evil villain. In fact, she often provides us with some much needed comic relief in this long and highly depressing book. The scene where Bob Jakin cons her is pretty hilarious, since it lets us laugh at Aunt Glegg and see her as decidedly less than perfect. Mrs. Glegg would probably disagree on that last point, though.
That isn’t to say that Mrs. Glegg is arrogant enough to think she’s actually perfect. She is, however, something more than perfect: she is a Dodson. The Dodson clan represent a particular strand of morality and society in this book. In fact, they often act like society in a nutshell. The Dodsons are convinced that they are the best at everything and thus have the right to judge everyone else:
In short, there was in this family a peculiar tradition as to what was the right thing in [...] social demeanour, and the only bitter circumstance attending this superiority was a painful inability to approve the condiments or the conduct of families ungoverned by the Dodson tradition." (1.6.9)
Aunt Glegg is basically a Dodson par excellence. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For all her harsh judgments and her superior attitude, Aunt Glegg is fiercely devoted to family and manages to surprise us (and even the narrator, given the chapter title) by the end of the book when she boldly stands up for her disgraced niece, Maggie. Granted, Aunt Glegg’s moral support isn’t always the most welcome. She seems to think being supportive involves lecturing people and encouraging them to be humble – not exactly comforting.
But Aunt Glegg proves in the end that, while it's impossible for people to pick and choose their families, that might not be a bad thing. After all, Aunt Glegg is loyal to her family no matter who they are and what they did. She may not be the aunt Maggie and Tom want to visit, but she is definitely a good person to have in their corner.