Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Book 1, Chapter 3

By George Eliot

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Book 1, Chapter 3

Mr. Riley Gives His Advice Concerning a School for Tom

  • We meet Mr. Riley, who is an auctioneer and an appraiser. He’s an educated businessman.
  • Mr. Tulliver complains about lawyers some more. We learn that there’s a man named Wakem involved in some dispute about water rights on the river with Mr. Tulliver.
  • Once again, Mr. Tulliver begins his spiel about sending Tom to a nice school for a good education.
  • This time Maggie is in the room reading, and she eavesdrops accordingly since the grown-ups are talking about her favorite person, Tom.
  • Mr. Riley has an inspirational poster view of education and talks about how Tom will be able to reach for the stars with a good one.
  • Mr. Tulliver says he wants Tom to have a different job some day. He doesn’t want Tom to be a miller and a farmer like him because he’s heard about sons taking over their fathers’ businesses and causing problems. Paranoid much, Mr. Tulliver?
  • Maggie pipes up and says that Tom would never behave that badly.
  • She comes over and Mr. Tulliver brags about how smart she is to Mr. Riley.
  • Maggie starts telling Mr. Riley about the book she is reading and gives him a rather graphic description of the witch hunts in Europe and how people used to drown witches, just like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Mr. Riley sees that she’s reading a book by Daniel Defoe that’s not really meant for kids. He asks if she has more kid-friendly books, like Harry Potter, lying around.
  • Turns out Maggie does – she brings him a book that has a nice illustrated picture of the Devil and describes it in great detail.
  • Mr. Tulliver is getting worried about all this discussion of the Devil and tells Maggie to go away. Maggie runs off to a corner and plays with her doll.
  • Mr. Tulliver notes that Maggie got all the brains once again, but concedes that Tom is really more slow than stupid to Mr. Riley.
  • Mr. Riley says that getting Tom a good education is a good idea, and he knows just the person to do it. Turns out Mr. Riley knows all about a man named Mr. Stelling.
  • Mr. Stelling is a parson who went to Oxford and tutors boys out of his home.
  • (Historical context lesson time! OK, so in this period (early nineteenth-century England), there weren’t public schools and going to school wasn’t mandatory, or required. So parents could send kids to boarding schools or private tutors if they wanted. There were things like Sunday schools and free schools for poorer kids, but the overall education system wasn’t organized at all.)
  • The narrator jumps in here to tell us that Mr. Riley is exaggerating his knowledge of how awesome Mr. Stelling is. Basically, Riley doesn’t know Stelling well at all, but he doesn’t want to sound ill-informed. Riley also wants an "in" with Stelling’s father-in-law, and figures that landing Stelling a pupil will make him popular with the Stelling family.

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