Tess, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss: The Endings 

In modern storytelling, the ending is usually wrapped up in a pretty bow with loose ends being tied, generally leaving a satisfied and happy ending for the reader.  However, in Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Frankenstein, and Mill on the Floss, this is not necessarily the case.  All three authors included the tragic deaths of the main characters, with Tess being the only one who had just one protagonist die and not two of them, like Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss.  All the deaths throughout the three books (Tess, Dr. Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s creation, Maggie, and Tom) serve as the reason for the endings to contain themes of grief and injustice, as the main character usually lives to the end and has a happy ending, especially in modern works. 

 

In Tess of the d’Ubervilles, Tess is executed for stabbing Alec to death in the end of the novel.  This death can initially be viewed as a justified death, but because Tess is the main character of the book and subject of the title, the reader is inclined to observe her death as unjustified.  The author, Thomas Hardy, intentionally makes Tess the character that the reader focuses on to possibly affect this response to the ending specifically.  Her death, although technically justified because she murders Alec, can be seen as injustice because she is the protagonist, and this is essentially her story being told.  Tess herself is “almost glad – yes, glad” to die, which makes the reader feel sympathy for her because she thinks that dying would be an end to her suffering (580).  This might help pull the reader in the direction of Tess’s side of the story because it pulls on the emotion of sympathy from the reader.  This death in the end is the best ending in Tess’s mind, although it may not be the stereotypical happy ending for the protagonist.     

 

In Frankenstein, both Victor Frankenstein and the creature tragically die in the end, Victor succumbing to illness and the creature committing suicide after the death of Victor.  These untimely deaths serve as the loose ends being tied up in the novel, but this does not instantly mean that the ending is a happy one.  The gothic novel starts and ends with misery and dismal themes, with Victor feeling the “thirst of knowledge”, which resulted in him attempting to create life and then the dread that followed his success (Ch. 2).  This ending may have been created by Mary Shelley to correct the initial wrong done by Victor, creating an unnatural life, by forcing Victor to die a natural death and then killing off the creature to show the reader that it should not have been given life in the first place.  The reader might feel grief and sorrow for the two main characters because Victor is trying to correct the wrong that he made by creating the monster, and because the creature shows true love for his creator in the end by killing himself out of pain. 

 

Mill on the Floss, written by George Eliot, is similar to Frankenstein in regard to having two of the main characters dying tragic and untimely deaths in the end of the novel.  However, the reader feels the most sympathy for Maggie and Tom, as they die in a horrific flooding accident and were not executed for a crime, like Tess of the d’Ubervilles.  One reason for this ending would be that Maggie and Tom, who had been apart emotionally and physically, would be finally reunited by Maggie attempting to save Tom.  However, this reunion is cut short by the debris crashing into their small rowboat, effectively killing the two.  The reader, not expecting this ending, may be shocked by the deaths but could also take comfort in the possibility that Maggie and Tom “had gone down in an embrace never to be parted” (Ch. 5).  This is the only comfort that the reader can have regarding these deaths because the incident was so sudden and unjustified, and this theme of being together eternally shows that they at least were reunited in the end, both in life and in death.   

 

Tess of the d’Ubervilles is similar to these two novels, Frankenstein and Mill on the Floss, because all of the deaths were not fully expected by the reader and seemed to be very tragic events.  Tess’s death can be seen as unjustified to the reader because of the use of sympathy because of the rape, much like the deaths of Maggie and Tom pulling on the same emotion because they are finally reunited in order to convey the deaths as unfair.  While Frankenstein’s ending may have been more predictable than the others, all three novels did not explicitly hint at the turn of events at each ending, with both Victor and the creature dying, Tess being executed for the murder of her rapist, and Maggie and Tom being suddenly crushed by flood debris.  Tess is different in the sense that it is a more singular death in the end, even though Alec is killed somewhat close to the end.  The reader may not be inclined to include his death as a tragic one because of the rape and his overall character presentation in the novel.  Overall, the deaths in these three novels are similar in many ways, with a few exceptions.   

 

Sir Michael’s Fate

One of the prominent male characters in “Lady Audley’s Secret” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon is Sir Michael, the second husband of Lady Audley.  Toward the end of the novel, Sir Michael “has no fancy to return to the familiar dwelling-place” that he and Lady Audley had shared before her secret of her past was revealed (Ch. XLI).  He has no desire to revisit the home that he was supposed to live in with his wife because it would only remind him of the happiness that building a larger family would bring him.  He decides to stay with his daughter in Europe until her marriage, and will eventually move into another estate that Sir Michael had bought.  This ending, or fate, of Sir Michael simply shows him as a disappointed man who is ready to move on from the wrongdoings of someone he loved.

Sir Michael is possibly one of the least problematic characters in the novel, always going on “his morning walk around his farm” and always having “presents spread out” for Lady Audley (Ch. IX, Ch. VII).  His peaceful nature and generous heart allows the reader to judge Sir Michael as one of the “good guys” in the novel, as he seems to not have any deceit or malicious motives, much like Lady Audley.  His character is consistent throughout the novel as one of the bystanders who got hurt by the lies and secrets of Lady Audley, his wife.  The reader may tend to be on his side toward the end of the novel simply because he is so hurt by the secrets that he does not have the heart to return to his home that he had shared with Lady Audley.

A significant scene in the novel that cements the idea that Sir Michael is innocent and was unsuspecting of his wife’s murderous past was when Lady Audley confesses to him that she has been lying and deceiving him about Robert being mad and her past.  He begins to remember a “crowd of unheeded words and forgotten circumstances” that had not held much importance individually (Ch. XXXIV).  This shows that Sir Michael had been lied to by her, and that he did not make the connections until he heard the full story from Lady Audley.  He honestly had been living in the dream world that Lady Audley had created for them, and the reader can observe the raw emotions that Sir Michael experiences after he is told that that world is based on lies and possibly murder.  He is so distraught that he flees with his daughter Lucy, who is conveniently headed to London, indicating that he truly had no idea about his wife’s past throughout the entire novel.  Even though Sir Michael did not reveal any of his personal secrets, the secrets that were revealed by Lady Audley affected his life to the point that he had to eventually leave his home permanently because the memories caused too much pain.

Mill on the Floss as a Bildungsroman Novel

     If one were to define the bildungsroman genre as one that contains a story of a character’s growth, then Mill on the Floss by George Eliot could be considered a bildungsroman novel.  This is because the main protagonist, Maggie, grows with the maturity of her emotions in the novel throughout the story in various instances.  Maggie struggles to deal with impulse behaviors as she is attempting to figure out who she is and how she can express her emotions.  In the first book installment, Maggie feels pangs of jealousy as she watches her sibling, Tom, spending time with one of the more feminine characters, Lucy.  She becomes angry, and she is compelled to “push poor little pink-and-white Lucy into the cow-trodden mud” after Tom angrily tells her to leave them alone (Bk I, Ch. X).  Instead of being mature and asking to join them, Maggie is selfish by interrupting their plans and does something extremely immature by pushing Lucy into the mud, indicating that Maggie is emotionally on an immature level in life in the beginning.  Towards the middle of the novel, Maggie realizes that the books that they grew up with are gone and threw herself into a chair, with the big tears ready to roll down her cheeks” (Bk. III, Ch. VI).  While her emotions are still exploding outward as the tears roll, the reader can see some growth of emotions within Maggie because of the reasons why she is crying.  She is not angry or jealous, like in the scene with Tom and Lucy, but she is heartbroken because their childhood books are gone.  Heartbreak is more of a mature emotion because it requires the person to feel a deep sense of love and attachment for the object or person, which Maggie obviously is attached to the memories and sentiment behind the books.  Instead of being violent to others, Maggie simply breaks down in a healthier way of letting her emotions be known.  Her decrease in violence tells the reader that she is growing by learning consequences of violence and learning how to express her emotions in a normal way, like crying.  Toward the end of the story, Maggie felt as if “she was no longer an unheeded person, liable to be chid, from whom attention was continually claimed” after she is introduced to the life of a young lady at St. Ogg’s (Bk. VI, Ch. VI).  Maggie finally feels comfortable in her own emotions as she is starting this new chapter of her life as a young woman.  This shows to the reader character development because Maggie feels content instead of violent or tearful, much like the varying emotions of a child.  This novel is a bildungsroman novel because its protagonist, Maggie, continually grows throughout the story regarding her emotions and how she deals with them, both internally with herself and externally with other characters.  In the beginning, Maggie does not know how to deal with her emotions of jealousy, so she externally releases them by pushing Lucy into the mud.  In the end, Maggie is happy and content with her emotions and herself because she feels as if she is starting her life over at St. Ogg’s.   

Mary Barton and Her Struggle with Love and Money

     “Mary Barton”, written by Elizabeth Gaskell, is an industrial novel that not only touches on the financial statuses of the working and upper classes, but it also contains a theme of love and struggle that comes along with it with the characters of Mary Barton, Jem Wilson, and Henry Carson.  In the beginning of the novel, Mary is a bright “bonny lassie of thirteen or so, who came bounding along”, full of energy and positivity toward life (Ch. 1).  When Mary thinks of love at this point in her life, she dreams of being a married lady, rich enough from her husband’s wealth to take care of herself and receive a better standing in life, and to take care of loved ones.  She is “fond of power… [and] the money-spending”, which will later come into play with Jem Wilson and Henry Carson, a lower-class man and an upper-class man, begin to propose marriage to this young girl years later (Ch. 2).  Mary, like most young people, want to be able to have money and material items because owning items that cost money indicates your social and financial status and level of happiness, to an extent.  One aspect of her life that seems to be more important than money and material things is family.  Mary loves her father, John Barton, and she “knew his ways, and coaxed and planned for the future so cheerily” when John started to look into apprenticeships for his daughter (Ch. 3).  Mary and her father have a very close relationship, which only strengthens after the untimely death of her mother, Mrs. Mary Barton. With her growing into a young woman throughout the novel, Mary begins to think about her duty as a woman in this era, and she receives not one, but two marriage proposals from two young men in her life.  The first one to propose was Jem Wilson, a lower-class man who has a “heart as true as ever man had to love” Mary, although his financial status is on the same level of Mary (Ch. 11).  This equality of money between the two indirectly causes Mary to shut down and become agitated with Jem.  She rejects this proposal, not yet knowing her true emotions regarding Jem, determined to show the people around her who she should  marry, which is a man more similar to Henry Carson. However, as soon as Jem leaves, Mary breaks down with “her head hidden in her hands, and every part of her body shaking with the violence of her sobs” because she has realized that she truly loves Jem instead of the wealthy Henry (Ch. 11).  This is the major turning point in Mary’s love life, because shortly after, Henry comes to her with his own marriage proposal.  She immediately rejects him and his proposal, telling him to never speak to her or think of her ever again.  This shows a maturity in her emotions because she does not accept the wealthy man’s proposal over her true love’s proposal just because of the financial status.  Mary has grown from the beginning of the novel in this sense because she had planned to marry into the upper-class and has since come to the realization that marriage should occur out of love, and not money.  

Victor Frankenstein and Responsibility

Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessed with biology and life itself, is the sole person who is responsible for the creature that he created.  When Victor finally completes his goal of creating life, he does not celebrate.  Rather, he “rushed out of the room” when he realized the monstrosity that he had put into the world (84).  He is plagued with disturbing nightmares that night and has one more encounter with his creation before running away once more.  He immediately refuses his responsibility as creator of the creature because he cannot mentally cope with the thought of what he had done.  However, he is still seen as the creator in the novel and therefore should have the sole responsibility of the creature and its actions. 

Victor is right in thinking that he should take the blame for the deaths of William and Justine.  After he realizes that it was his own creation that could have possibly murdered William, and will indirectly kill Justine, he states that, “the tortures of the accused did not equal [his]; she was sustained by innocence, but the fangs of remorse tore [his] bosom” (106).  He, at the very least, assumes part of the blame in this statement because he realizes that he has indirectly caused this tragedy by attempting to create life.  While he is reveling in the fact that Justine will die because of his mistakes, he fails to do anything to save her.  This shows the reader that not only does Victor realize his guilt, but he refuses to tell the truth in order to save Justine because he is too selfish.  He ran away from this situation, quite like he ran away from his creation on its first night of life.  However, just because Victor does not immediately take on the responsibility, does not mean that the creature is not still his sole responsibility, much like a father is to his child.   

Mary Shelley criticizes the false security that is given to Justine and the Frankenstein family during the trial by letting everyone assume that because Justine was “guiltless of this murder”, that she will not be tried guilty and executed (102).  Victor and his father discuss how Justine will be freed simply because she must be innocent, which Shelley proves to be incorrect later in the story.  Victor seems to be calmed by his father’s statement that Justine will be okay because he did not realize at this point that his own creation had committed the murder.  Once he realizes this, he is filled with obvious guilt because he states that she is his “unhappy victim” that he has condemned (106).  The reader can readily assume that Victor not only has, but should have the full responsibility of his creation, even though he may not want that responsibility.