The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 6: The Great Temptation: Chapter 11 - In the Lane

Summary

Maggie has spent four days with her aunt before Stephen comes to see her. She is walking with Mrs. Moss when Stephen rides up. He asks to speak to Maggie privately. They walk together into the lane, where Maggie says his coming is not gentlemanly and she will go no farther. Stephen says it's not right that she should treat one who is mad with love for her as if he were "a coarse brute, who would willingly offend" her. Maggie asks him not to say those things. Stephen asks her forgiveness for the other evening. She grants it and asks him again to leave. He says he cannot, unless she will go a little way with him. She walks on with him, trying to tell him that this is wicked because of Lucy and Philip. Stephen says if Maggie loves him, they should be married. Maggie would "rather die than fall into that temptation," but she cannot deny that she loves Stephen. He asks her again to marry him. He says they are breaking no "positive engagement." When Maggie says that in that case "there would be no such thing as faithfulness," he argues that to pretend to care for Philip and Lucy is wrong to them as well. Maggie says that some duties come before love. She convinces Stephen that they must part, and they exchange one kiss.

Analysis

Stephen is pictured as a dapper young man, strong, handsome and clever, but with little self-knowledge. In humbling himself, Stephen is meant to achieve a new depth of character — but this is not entirely successful. The centering of interest on Maggie allows too little time and concentration on Stephen for him to bear the burden placed on him. He fails to measure up as Maggie's lover, and most readers will not share Maggie's infatuation with him.

Maggie sees the central problem of her own position, and the question with which the book is now concerned is the truth of that position — "that I must not, cannot seek my own happiness by sacrificing others." Maggie will go to great extremes to avoid injuring others. She seems trapped within a code as strict as that of the Dodsons, although it's of her own making and based on personal relationships, not on tradition.

Note the image of this love against which Maggie struggles — a "current, soft and yet strong as the summer stream." This comes to fulfillment in the real current which carries her away with Stephen.

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