Ordinary People's Lives
At the time of its publication, The Mill on the Floss received critical attention, both good and bad, because it was one of the first novels to consider the lives and problems of middle-class English country people and to present their lives in great detail. Some readers of the time found this fascinating; others were repelled by the amount of time Eliot spent exploring the lives of "common" people. For example, Leslie Stephen, writing in Cornhill Magazine in 1881, wrote that no other writer had so clearly presented "the essential characteristics [of quiet English country life]" and that she "has shown certain aspects of a vanishing social phase with a power and delicacy unsurpassed." On the other hand, W. L. Collins, writing in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in 1860, wrote that the novel was drawn "from the worst aspect of the money-making middle class—their narrow-minded complacent selfishness, their money-worship, their petty schemes and jealousies."
What all critics agreed on, however, was that Eliot drew a very accurate portrait of middle-class country people. No one in the book is wealthy, with the exception of Lawyer Wakem and Mr. Guest, and the characters' money is derived from their own work, not passed down from upper-class parents. Bob Jakin, the lower-class packman, is vividly portrayed, largely through his entertaining dialogue, but also through his generosity. When Eliot describes...
(The entire section is 983 words.)
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