The End of the Fallen Women

Many novels deal with the idea of the fallen woman and her fate. The Mill on the Floss, Lady Audley’s Secret, and Tess of the d’Ubervilles each do just that. While the respectability of the women and their ends differ in each, there is an idea of the woman being replaceable, or at least being unnecessary to the other characters, in all three of the novels. The endings for these fallen women show how they were viewed. While writers garnered sympathy for their characters, in the end they had to be disposed of, and life had to carry on.

In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie is deemed to be a fallen woman after her extended boat ride with Stephen. When she returns, she is rejected by most of society, including her brother. While Phillip, her mother, and others do take her side, most of society sees Maggie as someone to avoid, even though she did not actually do anything with Stephen. However, this is enough not only to gain the ill will of the town she grew up in, but also for her to have to die. When the flood comes, she and her brother Tom die in each other’s arms, their ship sunk by debris in the water. Maggie had to die despite not actually doing anything wrong. In the end, Maggie is dead, and Stephen has moved on to be with Lucy. Life carries on, and while Phillip is sad and alone and Stephen visits her grave, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care about the fate of this fallen woman.

Things are worse in Lady Audley’s Secret, however. When Robert discovers that Lady Audley is the wife of his friend, George Talboys, he exposes her to his uncle Michael Audley. Lady Audley’s fate for marrying two men is not death like Maggie. She instead gets sent off to a sort of mental institution where she cannot bother either of her husbands anymore. She is just shoved out of the story at the end, despite all the sympathy the narrator tries to make the readers feel for her. While she is not replaced by either George or Michael, she is shown to be unnecessary to either. George lives with his sister and Robert, and Michael has his daughter to depend on. Everyone seems to get along fine with Lady Audley out of the picture, almost as though she never existed at all, save for the melancholy of the men who had married her.

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, however, the main character is actually replaced, at her own suggestion. Tess is a fallen woman because of what Alec did to her. She keeps what happened to her a secret, however, and by doing so is able to marry Angel. Once he finds out about Alec, he wants nothing to do with Tess, leaving her to fend for herself and eventually to be drawn back to Alec’s side. When he comes back for her though, Tess longs to be with him, murdering Alec so that she can. She is caught and persecuted for this crime, and interesting change from being punished for being fallen. Lady Audley of course did try to kill people, but Tess here is punished solely for her murder of Alec. She too though is replaced, this time by the younger sister whom she told Angel to be with when she was caught eventually. Tess’s death is in line with getting rid of a fallen woman, but the sister getting with her husband, at her own suggestion, is not. Still, however, to most of society Tess was a fallen woman, so she had to die in the end.

Tess of the d’Ubervilles stands out from other novels about fallen women because Tess is killed for a different, though related, crime and because Tess is replaced by her younger sister. Tess being killed for murder shows that the real crime was that she was influenced into taking such measures after all the terrible things that had happened to make her fallen. Her being replaced by her sister shows a form of sympathy for her, trying to have Angel be with Tess, or the closest thing to her, while still getting rid of the fallen woman who has no place in society. So while all these novels deal with fallen women, giving them bad fates and showing that they are unnecessary to the people in their lives, Tess of the d’Ubervilles goes farther, showing that the fallen women are only criminals because of the extreme situations wrongly forced upon them. It demonstrates that, if the woman had not done the one thing that made her fall, she would have been able to have a good life like readers can presume Tess’s sister can have with Angel. The way this novel deals sympathetically with the fallen woman sets it apart from others and makes it a novel truly worth studying.

Omniscience vs. Intimacy: The Narrator’s Role in Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss

George Eliot once said, “The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from themselves in everything but the broad fact of being struggling erring human creatures.” Although she accomplishes this in several ways throughout her novel The Mill on the Floss, I believe the most interesting way in which she does so is through the use of the narrator.

The characteristic that intrigued me the most about the narrator is her intimate, yet omniscient, presence in the novel. Although we as readers do not have a strong idea who the narrator is – who she is, how she came to know so much about St. Ogg’s, etc. – we are given several clues that the narrator was involved in Maggie and Tom’s lives, which gives her an air of authority over the reader. This is evidenced early on in the first chapter of Book 1 when the narrator first describes one of her memories of Maggie as a child, “Now I can turn my eyes toward the mill again, and watch the unresting wheel sending out its diamond jets of water. That little girl is watching it too; she has been standing on just the same spot at the edge of the water ever since I paused on the bridge.”

In addition to making the narrator more personable, Eliot also appears to have given the narrator an omniscient presence during some points of the novel. The narrator’s omniscience serves as a tool to slow down the reader’s judgment of certain characters, such as Tom, Philip, and Maggie. This allows the narrator to guide the readers toward having compassion for these characters. The narrator best demonstrates this in chapter five of Book 5 when the narrator comments:

“Do not think too hardly of Philip. Ugly and deformed people have great need of unusual    virtues, because they are likely to be extremely uncomfortable without them… Does not the Hunger Tower stand as the type of the utmost trial to what is human in us?”

The narrator’s ability to peer into the lives of the characters makes it difficult for the reader to make quick, easy judgements about them. Additionally, the narrator’s omniscience forces us to apply her insight of the characters to our lives, forcing us to step into the shoes of the character and explore our motivations and desires.

Eliot uses many strategies to successfully foster sympathy in the reader for the main characters. However, I believe the narrator is one of the most effective methods. Her experience with the story makes the story feel that much more real, and her omniscience arms the reader with the necessary tools to feel compassionate toward the main characters.

Maggie and Tom: A Sibling Love Constantly Suffocated

From the very beginning of The Mill on the Floss, I knew the relationship between Maggie and Tom would be of very significant importance to the narrative. I see them as almost being “frenemies,” which is pretty typical of a sibling relationship. Although they do have some sweet moments and ultimately seem to rely on each other and need each other, I see their relationship as being rather toxic. For example, “But Maggie had hardly finished speaking in that chill, defiant manner, before she repented, and felt the dread of alienation from her brother” (Eliot 399). Right after Maggie confronts Tom about taking back his command for her not to see Philip Wakem, she almost seems to subtly regret it. Maggie wants to be independent, and I believe she is. However, she subconsciously seems to need some type of validation from Tom. If he is not happy with her, it affects her more than she would like to admit. In addition to this, “‘Not for myself, dear Tom. Don’t be angry. I shouldn’t have asked it (…) I shall only see him in the presence of other people. There will never be any secret between us again’” (Eliot 400). Right after mentally regretting standing up to her brother, Maggie covers up her bold confrontation with Tom. She takes a step back, and I think this shows some uncertainty and insecurity on her part. Granted, this makes a lot of sense in the culture and time period she grew up in. The fact that she stands up to her brother at all is very impressive and shows her strength and confidence. I think Eliot chose to employ this back-and-forth toxic sibling relationship to bring a sense of raw emotion to the novel as well as to show that gender power struggles were even present in family settings at the time.

Although there is quite the power struggle between these siblings, there is also a sweet display of love and connection. Tom and Maggie seem to gravitate towards each other no matter how much they irritate one another. By book seven, Maggie has endured a lot of shame and is shunned by many people, including Tom. This doesn’t stop her from trying to reconcile with him. “‘Tom,’ she began, faintly, ‘I am come back to you – I am come back home – for refuge – to tell you everything’” (Eliot 483). Tom is always the person Maggie will go to for the hope of safety and comfort, no matter how bad things have gotten between them.

While the relationship between the two siblings is very back and forth, it is ultimately rooted in a mutual love. They know they have each other, no matter how badly one hurts the other. The ending of this novel encompasses their deep love, “…but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted: living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (Eliot 517). The conclusion I draw from this is that Tom and Maggie always had a deep longing for connection with one another. They felt it at times but it was also extremely damaged by their unhealthy interactions. They both longed for a simple loving sibling relationship, but the difficult circumstances in which they lived slowly tore them apart. The way in which Eliot ended the novel with their death shows that despite their many disagreements, they still had unconditional love for each other. I see the central theme of this novel as love and family, and both of those things are summed up in this last sentence.

Justified Unrighteous Anger

In Mill and the Floss by George Elliot, both Mr Tulliver and his son Tom use the family Bible in order to cast revenge on the Wakems. Neither like the Wakems, the father because he lost his lawsuit to Mr. Wakem, and Tom because of his father’s views and the harm that came to him. In using the Bible in this way, however, both men are breaking with what most would consider to be a Christian way of doing things, especially in the fact that they each have another swear upon the Bible to do something that they may not want to do. Therefore the question that remains is why did the two male Tullivers use God’s Word in this way.

One view of the matter would be that they thought this use of the Bible was acceptable. When Maggie tries to tell her father that what he wanted to write in the Bible was wicked, Mr. Tulliver retorted, “It’s wicked as the raskills should prosper — it’s the devil’s doing.” (Book 3 Chapter 9 Page 291) Tom later agrees to sign his name in the Bible under a statement claiming that he will make Wakem pay if he is ever able to. Neither, therefore, seem to show any sort of repugnance of the act, and indeed seem to find it to be the moral thing to do. Tom, after all, follows his father’s example and makes Maggie swear not to see Phillip again without his knowledge “with [her] hand on [their] father’s Bible” (Book 5 Chapter 5 Page 357). Here we see not only that the men do not mind making vows of revenge on the Bible, but also that they do not mind making family members do the same. This would seem to indicate that they believe that this is something that is not inherently wrong.

Another possibility, however, is that the Tullivers don’t care that their actions are wrong. This would seem to be at odds with their behavior, Tom’s especially, as they both tried to be good and honest men. However, in both cases Maggie tries to fight against this swearing on the Holy Book, and both times she is shot down. The men seem set in their ways, her father saying that he isn’t being wicked, Wakem is, and her brother saying that he doesn’t “wish to hear anything of [her] feelings”, he just wants her to choose (Book 5 Chapter 5 Page 357). This shows how stubborn the men are in refusing to listen to Maggie, and this stubbornness could lead from them being in the wrong. They know they are wrong but are so upset or angry, or devoted to family in Tom’s case, that they are still willing to carry through with the act, nevermind the morality or the consequences of it.

One other reading of this is that neither man actually places much stock on the Bible itself. Obviously the family goes to church, and are at least somewhat religious, but each seems to treat the Bible as more of a tool. Mr. Tulliver has all the names of the family written in the Bible, and uses it almost as a spiritual will when he has Tom promise to get revenge in it. Tom uses it as insurance that Maggie will do what he wants. When Maggie claims that she can swear just not on the Bible, Tom tells her that he can’t trust her and that she must “do what [he] requires” (Book 5 Chapter 5 Page 357). Therefore the Bible here is just a tool to make sure that Maggie keeps her word, nothing more. Of course each shows that there is more significance to God’s Word than other things, as that is what they use as a tool, but they use it as a tool none the less and therefore it could be argued that they do not place much stock in the Holy Book for it’s words, instead valuing it for how they can use it.

Whatever the case may be, it is interesting that both Tulliver men use the Bible in order to force their family to agree to do things that would harm others, specifically the Wakems. This shows that there is some breakdown in thinking or morality, but whatever the case is George Elliot makes this and interesting dynamic in her book The Mill on the Floss.