The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 5: Wheat and Tares: Chapter 1 - In the Red Deeps

Summary

One day Philip comes to the mill with his father. Maggie hurries upstairs, for she does not want to meet Philip in the presence of their fathers, where it would be impossible for them to be friendly. Maggie would like to "say a few kind words to him," for she feels that he would appreciate her kindness.

Maggie is seventeen now and darkly beautiful. She has stood well the "involuntary and voluntary hardships of her lot." The one pleasure she allows herself is a daily walk. It is on such a walk to the Red Deeps, a wooded rise near her home, that she meets Philip. Philip admits that he has waited there on the chance of seeing her. When Maggie says she is glad he came, Philip shows her a picture of her which he has painted, a sketch "of real merit as a portrait." Maggie is pleased, but remarks that she "really was like a gypsy." When she asks if she is now like what Philip expected, he replies that she is much more beautiful.

Maggie tells Philip that she wishes they could be friends, but that everything is too changed. Philip sees her point, but says that while he would give up a great deal for his father, he would not give up a friendship in obedience to a wish that was not right. Maggie says she would give up anything rather than make her father's life harder, for he is "not at all happy." Philip replies that he is not happy either. When Maggie says she is happier since she gave up wishing, Philip answers that there are things "we must hunger after . . . ." He says he could be content if he could see her sometimes. Maggie is inclined to think that such meetings might "help him to find contentment, as she had found it," and that this new interest would help "to vary the days." But along with the "sweet music" of the voice that says this comes another voice warning her that secrecy would be necessary, and that would make it wrong. At last she declines to say yes or no, but agrees to allow him to meet her there to receive her answer. She then lets herself linger awhile, and they talk of books and music. She refuses his offer of a book, and he tells her it is wrong to "starve your mind."

After Maggie leaves, Philip goes home feeling that if she could never love him, he will endure that for "the happiness of seeing her." It is obvious to him that Maggie does not think of him as someone to love, but she might someday, and if not, he still might help her by "persuading her out of her system of privation."

Analysis

From the first, Maggie's feeling toward Philip has been primarily pity. She thinks he might still "like her to look at him kindly." Later this becomes the key to the guilty feelings she has about him when she is attracted to Stephen. It is also the key to Philip's jealousy, for "there was bitterness to him in the perception that Maggie was almost as frank and unconstrained towards him as when she was a child."

Philip produces a mixed reaction in the reader. He is never made clearly pitiable. He displays a keen self-concern which is at times irritating. When Maggie says her father is not happy, he answers: "No more am I . . . I am not happy." And he begs her to "have some feeling for me as well as for others." Moreover, his proposal to meet Maggie in secret makes him appear untrustworthy. But there is reassurance in the passages given from his own point of view. He certainly intends to act for Maggie's benefit. There is also some uncertainty about the extent of Philip's abilities. We are told that his picture of Maggie was "of real merit," but his philosophizing about "the strongest effects of our natures" is not very convincing.

Maggie's character contains a good deal of adolescent sentimentality, including her "ardours of renunciation." She rejects Philip's friendship because "it would make me long to see and know many things — it would make me long for a full life." She is still the martyr to herself. But there are hints of sterner things in her, and of ideas which are developed later in the novel. One of these is self-sacrifice for others. Note how this is connected with music: "Yet the music would swell out again . . . persuading her . . . that there was such a thing as futile sacrifice for one to the injury of another."

Note too that music as a symbol for feeling and imagination is closely connected with both Maggie and Philip: it is a ground on which they meet.

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