This novel has been written by George Eliot. It was first published in 1860 in three volumes. It is considered as one of the best psychological fictions written by George Eliot. A period of ten to sixteen years has been covered in the present novel. The author has tried to present a detailed description of the lives of Tom and Maggie Tulliver who are siblings. They grow up at the Dorlcote Mill which is situated at the bank of the river Floss, near St Ogg’s in England. The setting of the novel is late 1820’s or early 1830’s.
Third person narrative technique has been used in this novel. Maggie Tulliver is a nine year old girl who is attached deeply to her brother Tom. She is the protagonist of this novel. The story has been narrated by an unknown narrator. Mr. and Mrs Tulliver are worried about the education of Tom. Mr. Tulliver wants to make Tom highly educated. After consulting one of his friends Mr. Riley it is decided that Tom will join the school of Mr. Stelling. Maggie loves her brother more than herself. She feels uncomfortable when Tom accuses her that she is responsible for the death of his rabbits. When he was away from the house busy in his school, it was the duty of Maggie to look after the rabbits. They were not properly fed and looked after which resulted in their death. She feels sorry for this ignorance and later Tom forgets his grievances and Maggie feels happy. Sisters of Mrs Tulliver have come on a visit to the Tullivers. Maggie and Tom do not like the behavior of Mrs Glegg. She criticizes them in the family. Lucy Deane is the cousin of Tom and Maggie. These children love to play together. Mrs Glegg criticizes Maggie for her black and long hairs. Maggie feels irritated. She goes on the attic and cuts her hair with scissors. However, she realizes soon that she has committed something wrong because all the elder members of the family were laughing at her. During this visit of Mrs Glegg an argument between her and Mr. Tulliver brings out a change in their relationship. Mr Tulliver decides to return three hundred pounds to Mrs Glegg which he has borrowed from her. Now, he does not want to be her borrower. Mrs Tulliver is disappointed at this incident. She went to her second sister Mrs. Pullet. She believes that Mrs Pullet will solve the problem between Mrs Glegg and Mr.Tulliver. Maggie creates a problem there. Tom and Lucy were playing together in absence of Maggie. When Maggie went there she felt jealous that Lucy was playing with her brother. She pushed Lucy in a pond and fled from there because she got scared of this incident. She returned back to the house in evening. Some men helped her in coming back to the house. Mr. Tulliver is bound to return back the money of Mrs. Glegg. He went to ask for some money to his sister Mrs. Moss. She is also struggling in her house and she has no money to help her brother. Mr. Tulliver returned back without telling anything to her sister. On the other hand Tom was spending a miserable time at the school of Mr. Stelling. He was weak in Geometry and Latin. Mr. Stelling was trying hard to help him in his studies. During Christmas time there emerged another problem in the life of Mr. Tulliver. He lodged a legal suit on his neighbor Mr. Pivart. This case of Mr. Pivart was looked well by a successful lawyer whose name was lawyer Wakem. This was the reason that Mr. Tulliver disliked lawyer Wakem. When Tom returned from his school he was astonished to see one of his classmates whose name was Philip Wakem. He was the son of lawyer Wakem. He was physically disabled but superior in studies in comparison to Tom. Before going to her school Maggie visited her brother and met Philip Wakem there. Philip and Maggie both liked books and later they both fell attracted towards each other. The plot moves ahead and we find Mr. Tulliver got defeated in the legal suit. He lost his Mill, wealth and property because of this legal suit. One day he fell down from his horse and became critically ill. This was conveyed to Tom through Maggie. Tulliver family was hugely indebted and declared bank corrupt. The situation has become so worst that they are compelled to sell their household and furniture. This was highly intolerable for Tom. Now, Tom decides to repay the indebts and restore the dignity of his family. Tom went to his uncle Mr. Deane in search of a job. There he was made awre that he can get a job in the shipping industry if he has any knowledge and skills related to book-keeping and accounting. We all know how good was Tom in his studies. Thus, it was miserable for him on the other hand lawyer Wakem has bought the Mill and Tulliver is bound to work in the Mill as an employee. It was so humiliating for Mr. Tulliver. Maggie and Philip used to meet in the forest behind the Dorlcote Mill. They exchanged their mutul love and understanding towards each other in the forest. This went for an year but later they were caught by Tom. Their meetings and hopes were shattered and Tom warned Maggie that without his permissions she cannot meet Philip Wakem. After some weeks Tom declares that he has earned enough money to repay the loans and debts. It was possible because he was helped by his friend Bob.Mr. Tulliver was so excited to see his fortunes growing again. He went to the Mill and proudly quits his job. He was angry and in a fit of rage attached Mr. Wakem and fell down. This time he became critically ill and died. Before his death he took promise from his son that he would not spare his enemies and he must get back the lost Mill and respect of the family. Tom was living with Bob and Maggie has taken the job of a school teacher. One day Maggie went to meet her cousin Lucy Deane. There she met a charming boy whose name was Stephen Guest. They both became attracted to each other. Lucy was to marry Sthephen Guest but destiny was something else. Maggie and Philip also met and Philip said her that he will talk to his father regarding their relationship as well as the Dorlcote Mill. Maggie was not convinced because she knew that Tom will never approve their relationship. Her priorities have also been shifted from Philip to Stephen Guest. One day Maggie and Stephen Guest eloped together but dramatically they returned back. Tom declared that Maggie cannot be his sister because she was adding dark spots to the family. People in the town have started gossiping about Maggie and Stephen Guest. Tom stopped talking to his sister however; she was supported by her mother Mrs. Tulliver. Philip wrote a letter to Maggie that he still loves her. One night misfortune attacks the town in form of flood. Maggie takes a boat towards Dorlcote Mill to rescue her brother Tom. He was taken aback that his sister has came alone for saving his life. He understood how precious his life was for his sister. They were helpless because of fast water currents. They hugged each other and finally they were drowned. It was their destiny, they died together. Stephen, Lucy and Philip buried them. They were separated in life but united in death.
Critics and scholars have admitted autobiographical references in this novel. Relationship between Tom and Maggie closely mirrors Eliot’s own understanding with her brother. Eliot always desired acceptance by her brother because she loved him a lot. Barbara Hardy has remarked that-
“As she dwells on the relationship between a brother and sister we can discern an understandable and undisfiguring nostalgia; a need to explain and justify in concretely imagined terms; and the falsifying pressures of a wish –fulfilling reconciliation.”
Readers have liked this book because of its psychological understandings. It was considered as one of the greatest books written by Eliot. Eliot herself has said about the book that –
“From all we can gather ,the votes are rather on the side of ‘The Mill’ as a better book than ‘Adam’.”
Henry James has criticized the conclusion of this novel as it reflects melodrama.