Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Gender

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"But it’s bad - it’s bad," Mr. Tulliver added, sadly, checking this blamable exultation, "a woman’s no business wi’ being so clever; it’ll turn to trouble, I doubt." (1.3.15)

Mr. Tulliver frequently complains about the fact that Maggie's so smart and Tom isn't. Even though he is proud of Maggie, his view of her intelligence is influenced by the Victorian era’s views on women.

"Well, you’ll be a woman some day," said Tom, ‘"so you needn’t talk."

"But I shall be a clever woman," said Maggie, with a toss.
"O, I dare say, and a nasty conceited thing. Everybody’ll hate you." (2.1.46-8)

Maggie once again runs into trouble because of her intelligence, and her own confidence in her intelligence. Tom’s tendency to mock Maggie’s brains may stem in part from the fact that Mr. Tulliver is always praising Maggie and writing off Tom as an idiot.

While Maggie’s life-struggles had lain almost entirely within her own soul, one shadowy army fighting another, and the slain shadows for ever rising again, Tom was engaged in a dustier, noisier warfare, grappling with more substantial obstacles, and gaining more definite conquests. So it has been since the days of Hecuba, and of Hector [...] women [...] filling their long empty days with memories and fears: outside, the men in fierce struggle with things divine and human, quenching memory in the stronger light of purpose [...]." (5.2.1)

This section has powerful imagery – Maggie’s battles are seen as "shadowy" and almost supernatural and scary, while Tom’s battles are linked to "real" warfare, which is dirty and noisy. Maggie’s internal struggles and Tom’s external ones are also tied to the condition of men and women more generally. Men can go "outside" to fight, so to speak, while women must remain inside.

Kept aloof from all practical life as Philip had been, and by nature half feminine in sensitiveness, he had some of a woman’s intolerant repulsion towards worldliness [...]. (5.3.40)

Even the narrator often considers Philip somehow "feminine." It is interesting that traits like being sensitive are linked to women, which begs the question as to whether or not it is "manly" in this period to have traits like compassion. It is often unclear as to how the narrator feels about Philip’s "femininity" as well.

"Because you are a man, Tom, and have power, and can do something in the world."

"Then, if you can do nothing, submit to those who can." (5.5.85-6)

This is one of a few instances where characters, Maggie and Tom here, directly comment on political issues, in this case the Victorian era’s gender inequality. Politics often has a direct impact on personal lives, as we can see with Tom and Maggie. Tom expects Maggie to "submit" to him partially because she is a woman. But Tom doesn’t appear to see this world as divided by gender for the most part. Tom’s world is divided into him (always right) and everyone else.

[You] presently find yourself in the seat you like best - a little above or a little below the one in which your goddess sits - (it is the same thing to the metaphysic mind, and that is the reason why women are at once worshipped and looked down upon) [...] (6.7.1)

This is a good example of the narrator’s humorous voice, which is here mocking the way women are viewed as either divine or pathetic (never equal) in Victorian society.

"I mean your extending the enmity to a helpless girl, who has too much sense and goodness to share their narrow prejudices. She has never entered into the family quarrels."

"What does that signify? We don’t ask what a woman does - we ask whom she belongs to." (6.8.25-6)

This is a great conversation about gender between Philip and his father. Wakem expresses the typical political and social view regarding women in Victorian society. Women basically have no existence outside their family, or who they "belong to." But, while Philip encourages Mr. Wakem to see Maggie as an individual and not as a Tulliver, he still casts Maggie as "helpless" and in need of assistance and kindness from men.

And it was clear that he had given way in spite of himself - he had shaken her off as soon as he could: indeed, their having parted so soon looked very black indeed - for her. (7.2.2)

St. Ogg’s gender prejudices come for the forefront here after the scandal between Stephen and Maggie. Maggie takes the blame for the entire affair because the two didn’t get married. This is definitely a bizarre line of reasoning, but if they had been married Maggie would have basically "belonged" to Stephen and wouldn’t have been held accountable for anything as an individual.

"I am determined to read no more books where the blonde haired women carry away all the happiness." (5.4.6)

Maggie’s joking ban on reading books where the blonde woman wins reveals the Victorian social prejudice against "dark" women like Maggie.

[She] could note help seeing young Torry step out a little with his glass at his eye, and bow to her with that air of nonchalance which he might have bestowed on a friendly bar-maid. (7.2.6)

After breaking things off with Stephen, Maggie’s reputation is ruined and she is treated with disrespect.

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