Book 1, Chapter 1 Summary

George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (1860) focuses most significantly on the maturing of a young girl who is too strong willed for her times. The novel's protagonist, Maggie Tulliver, is described by the London Guardian's critic Kathryn Hughes as a combination of Anne of Anne of Green Gables and Jane of Jane Eyre. The third published work of the author, the novel has been identified as a semi-autobiographical story, one that reflects Maggie's often strained relationship with her brother, Tom. Though it has been documented that Eliot cried as she wrote the last chapters of this story, Hughes also finds many comical moments in the novel, which together make The Mill on the Floss "as good as anything Dickens ever did."  

The first chapter of Book One sets the scene of the central landscape of the story. Though readers are not told who the narrator is, they are informed that the narrative is a reminiscence of a childhood memory. The mill, called Doricote Mill, is set by the fictional Floss River. Along the river pass large boats on their way to the (also fictional) town of St. Ogg's. The setting is assumed to be somewhere in England. It is February, and the narrator comments not only on the details of nature but also on some anonymous people she sees. One such person is a man passing by in a horse-drawn wagon. It is late in the afternoon, and the man is not yet home. The narrator suggests that the man imagines his dinner waiting for him. The food is getting cold and dry, but before he can eat, he will have to first unharness his horses and bed them down for the night.

Standing on a bridge near the mill, the narrator is most transfixed by the river. There is a storm threatening in the distance with heavy clouds and the sound of thunder. Next to the mill is a small house, which the narrator remembers as being often cold and damp. However, it is the dampness that makes the narrator love the surroundings. The ducks in the river are lucky, the narrator believes, because they live upon the water. The rush of the water softens the sounds around the narrator, providing an essence of peace.

Then the sounds of the mill catch the narrator's ear; the mill wheel is turned constantly by the flow of the river. "Diamond jets of water" spurt out from between the paddles of the wooden wheel. The narrator spots a young girl, who is also watching the mill wheel. She is standing at the edge of the river. A small white dog is with the child, barking at her, wanting her to play. The narrator notices the light of a fire coming from the hearth inside the home and suggests that it must be time for the young girl to go home.