Book 1, Chapter 3 Summary
Mr. Riley visits at the mill with Mr. Tulliver to discuss the height of the dam that Tulliver has recently raised to improve the workings of his mill. The mill is one reason why Mr. Riley is there, but Mr. Tulliver has something else on his mind—the education of his son Tom. After Riley points out that a miller does not require an education, Tulliver confesses that he has a special reason for wanting extra schooling for Tom. He does not want Tom to be a miller, or at least not to take over the mill until Tulliver is dead. Tulliver expresses some concern that if Tom is not educated, he might push his father out of the family business by wanting to make a living through the mill. If, on the other hand, Tom learns a different type of business, then the two of them can live from separate incomes.
Upon hearing this discussion, Maggie runs over to her father, upset at what she has just heard. She claims that her brother would never be so mean as to take the business away from her father. Rather than scolding his daughter for speaking so boldly, as Mrs. Tulliver might have criticized her, Maggie's father praises the young girl. He tells Riley how smart Maggie is and how she is always reading. Then he amends his statements, telling Riley that it is not good for a girl to be so clever; it will do nothing but bring her trouble. When Maggie leaves the room, though, Tulliver tells his friend that if Maggie had been born a boy, she would have been the perfect child to train as a lawyer. In comparison, Tulliver says, Tom has good common sense, but he has a lot of trouble with book learning. He is shy and does not do well with reading or writing.
When it is Mr. Riley's turn to talk about Tom's education, he suggests that Tulliver send the boy to Reverend Stelling, an Oxford-educated man who tutors one or two students a year. Stelling has a good reputation for being kind, as well as for providing a stimulating environment for the minds of young boys. Mrs. Tulliver and Maggie question the distance between Stelling's place and their home, not wanting for Tom to be so far away that they could not be with him in a day. Riley eases their minds by telling them that Stelling lives only fifteen or so miles away. Tom would not, however, have to come home each night, as Stelling would keep the boy as a guest in his house.