The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 6: The Great Temptation: Chapter 1 - A Duet in Paradise

Summary

Lucy Deane is being courted by Stephen Guest, son of the principal partner of Guest and Company. He is a handsome, apparently flippant young man. Lucy is telling him that she has important news. He guesses that it is about her dog's diet or Dr. Kenn "preaching against buckram"; but she informs him that her cousin Maggie is coming to stay with her. At the same time she worries aloud that Maggie will object to seeing Philip Wakem, who often comes to sing glees with Stephen and Lucy. Stephen is annoyed that Lucy is to have company, but he inquires about the ground of Maggie's dislike for Philip. Lucy tells him what little she knows of the old quarrel between Tulliver and Wakem. She says that Maggie has been "in a dreary situation in a school" since Mr. Tulliver's death. This is to be her first holiday. It will allow Maggie to be near her mother, who has been housekeeper for Lucy and Mr. Deane since the death of Mrs. Deane. Stephen expects that Maggie will be like her mother — "a fat blonde girl, with round blue eyes, who will stare at us silently." Lucy says that that is Maggie exactly.

Stephen goes to the piano and asks Lucy to sing with him. After several songs Stephen departs, leaving Lucy with "an inclination to walk up and down the room." She sees to the preparation of Maggie's room, and half forgets "her own happy love-affairs."

Stephen Guest is of the opinion that this is the sort of woman to marry — a woman thoughtful of other women, pretty but "not to a maddening extent," gentle and "not stupid." He must overcome a slight unwillingness in his father and sisters, but he means to do so.

Analysis

Note how Stephen is immediately connected with music images. He is constantly singing, humming, standing at the piano. Philip has been Maggie's main connection with music in the past, but now his status is weakened as Stephen's strengthens. Philip becomes "our only apology for a tenor." Stephen, by contrast, sings "with admirable ease." Music is made a symbol for courtship: "Surely the only courtship unshaken by doubts and fears, must be that in which the lovers can sing together." Lovers "believed what they sang all the more because they sang it," and we are told of the "loving chase of a fugue."

Like Philip, Stephen is treated with a certain ambivalence. He never really recovers from the frivolous air he has when we first see him: "Mr. Stephen Guest, whose diamond ring, attar of roses, and air of nonchalant leisure, at twelve o'clock in the day, are the graceful and odoriferous results of the largest oil-mill and the most extensive wharf in St. Ogg's. There is an apparent triviality in the action with the scissors . . . ." This triviality is never entirely forgotten. It is picked up again in a contrast with Tom's businesslike manner when Stephen relates that Tom saved the company from a considerable loss but that he cannot recall the details because he "was rather drowsy at the time."

Lucy is a believable character in spite of being of a type we might expect to be dull — the good, innocent friend. Her innocence is emphasized: her affair with Stephen is "a duet in Paradise." She is tiny, loving, "fond of feeding dependent creatures." She is made believable partly through being seen at first through Stephen's eyes, who makes her acceptable as "a woman who was loving and thoughtful for other women, not giving them Judas-kisses with eyes askance on their welcome defects . . . ."

Note that the time is now two years after Mr. Tolliver's death. Maggie has been "in a situation" as governess.

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