Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Mill on the Floss narrates the struggles of a girl and her family in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign over England. At that time, women’s roles were strictly limited to housework and child rearing, and so girls—especially girls of Maggie’s social class—were given only rudimentary educations. Maggie’s story constitutes a protest against this kind of restriction; the reader is shown from the start that Maggie possesses a rich imagination and a keen mind but is supplied with no challenges or outlets for them. As a girl, she chafes constantly against the restrictions that are imposed upon her, preferring to read any books she can get her hands on to sewing her sampler, and always dirtying her clothes and disarranging her hair in her efforts to keep up with Tom. Worse, her sensitive and affectionate nature makes extremely painful to her the disapproval her extravagant flights of imagination, impatient desires, and “wild” behavior draw upon her from her mother, and especially from Tom, whom she adores. As a young woman, she achieves a certain serenity, despite her limiting occupation as a sewing teacher in a girls’ school, but her desire for a wider life erupts into love for Stephen Guest, and the old conflict between passion and duty becomes very serious.

The novel presents Maggie’s life in three periods: as a child of nine, as a girl of fourteen, and finally as a young woman of nineteen. In each period, the conflicts...

(The entire section is 552 words.)