Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Art and Culture

By George Eliot

Art and Culture

She was fond of fancying a world where the people never got any larger than children of their own age, and she made the queen of it just like Lucy with a little crown on her head and a little sceptre in her hand [...] only the queen was Maggie herself in Lucy’s form. (1.7.38)

Maggie’s overactive imagination, clearly influenced by the books she has read, is at work here. What is fascinating though is the psychology of this passage. Maggie imagines herself to be Lucy, getting rid of her own self in the imaginative world that she herself creates.

Poor Maggie sat down again, with the music all chased out of her soul, and the seven small demons all in again. (1.9.55)

The "seven small demons" refer to the seven deadly sins here. Music has a lot of thematic importance for Maggie and is here linked to a sort of inner peace and happiness that Maggie has a lot of trouble keeping.

In books there were people who were always agreeable or tender, and delighted to do things that made one happy, and who did not show their kindness by finding fault. The world outside the books was not a happy one, Maggie felt [...] (3.5.72)

Books are a way for Maggie to escape her real-life troubles, but that escape is increasingly short-lived here. It is notable that, while books and fiction don’t reflect reality, Maggie wishes that reality reflected books. Maggie’s standards for judging reality is largely influenced by her love of fiction.

[Maggie] added that early experience of struggle, of conflict between the inward impulse and outward fact which is the lot of every imaginative and passionate nature [...]. [Her past] had been filled with so eager a life in the triple world of reality, books, and waking dreams, that Maggie was strangely old for her years in everything except in her entire want of that prudence and self-command [...] (4.2.2)

The idea of Maggie’s "triple life" is really intriguing. Maggie is so passionate and imaginative that she has essentially lived three times the amount of other people, requiring extra outlets and experiences. Fiction and imagination count as life experience here.

When uncultured minds, confined to a narrow range of personal experience, are under the pressure of continued misfortune, their inward life is apt to become a perpetually repeated round of sad and bitter thoughts […] (4.2.6)

The narrator implies that culture and imagination are extremely important here, since, otherwise, people who are suffering experience a shrunken and deadened inner life.

"Certain strains of music affect me so strangely - I can never hear them without their changing my whole attitude of mind for a time, and if the effect would last I might be capable of heroisms."

"Ah! I know what you mean about music - I feel so," said Maggie, clasping her hands with her old impetuosity. (5.1.40-1)

Maggie and Philip discuss the power of music to actually transform a person and to illicit, or cause, a strong emotional response in them. Music can really alter and even improve a person – Philip mentions that he gains confidence through music.

[It] was rather that she felt the half-remote presence of a world of love and beauty and delight, made up of vague, mingled images from all the poetry and romance she had ever read, or had ever woven in her dreamy reveries. (6.3.4)

Imagination has the power to become reality here, as Maggie begins imposing the "vague, mingled images," or books and daydreams, into her new, happy daily life. This world is so bizarre to Maggie that she understands it in terms of fiction.

Philip had brightened at the proposition, for there is no feeling, perhaps, except the extremes of fear and grief, that does not find relief in music [...] Philip had an abundance of pent-up feeling at this moment, as complex as any trio or quartet that was ever meant to express love and jealousy and resignation and fierce suspicion all at the same time. (6.7.40)

It is interesting that the narrator references a musical "trio" here. This recalls the "triple life" that Maggie led in books, daydreams, and reality. Philip too uses cultural experiences like music to express his excess of emotion.

Maggie, in spite of her resistance to the spirit of the song and to the singer, was taken hold of and shaken by the invisible influence - was borne along by a wave too strong for her. (6.7.55)

The narrator unites two motifs here – music and water imagery – as Maggie is carried away by a "wave" of emotion coming from the music she is hearing. Stephen is effectively seducing Maggie through music here.

But Maggie, who had little more power of concealing the impressions made upon her than if she had been constructed of musical strings, felt her eyes getting larger with tears as they took each other’s hands in silence. (6.7.4)

Maggie is described as a metaphorical "musical instrument" here, which, given the importance of music as a theme and a symbol in Maggie’s life, makes sense. Music isn’t just important to Maggie, but music essentially is Maggie, and vice versa. Music is a symbol of Maggie herself.

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