Study Guide

The Mill on the Floss Book 4, Chapter 1

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Book 4, Chapter 1

A Variation of Protestantism Unknown to Bossuet

  • That is one wacky chapter title, so let’s explain that first. Bossuet refers to a French Bishop who was alive during the seventeenth century. And the chapter title is a reference to a book that Bossuet wrote, a history of English Protestantism. So the title is a weird way of saying that we’re going to hear about a type of Protestantism that Bossuet didn’t write about in his book. Also, the title of the fourth book, "Valley of Humiliation," is a reference to another book, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. OK, moving on to this admittedly bizarre chapter…
  • The narrator rambles for a bit about castles on the Rhine, a river in Germany. These castles are very romantic and cool. But then the narrator describes some houses on the Rhone River which are poor and run down and depressing. This is a giant metaphor about two different kinds of history: the romantic history of castles and adventure and the depressing history of anonymous poor people.
  • OK, so all of this is just a set up for the narrator to start discussing the depressing lives of the families along the Floss. The narrator directly addresses the audience and notes that "we" probably would go crazy living among stupid, narrow-minded people like the Tullivers and the Wakems.
  • But wait, there’s more. The narrator agrees that Tom and Maggie’s lives are really depressing (and will likely be getting even worse). But the narrator says that we have to see all this stuff and to get these really detailed narratives in order to understand how the circumstances of Tom’s and Maggie’s existences effect them. Basically, circumstances like where they live and who their families help to make-up Tom’s and Maggie’s characters.
  • Now we switch over to religion. The narrator gives us a lengthy run-down of the type of religion that the Dodson clan practices. The Dodson’s are good Protestants. But religion isn’t a matter of belief for the Dodsons, and others like them. It’s a matter of habit, custom, and social respectability.
  • The Dodson’s major beliefs revolve around money and blood: always be thrifty and work hard and always be loyal to family.
  • The Tullivers have the same beliefs and customs as the Dodsons, though they are a bit more emotional and prone to crazy schemes.
  • Overall, the families populating St. Ogg’s are essentially the same and St. Ogg’s on the whole is really lacking in spirituality. Thus concludes the weirdest chapter in the book.

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