The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 6: The Great Temptation: Chapter 6 - Illustrating the Laws of Attraction

Summary

When Maggie is launched by Lucy into St. Ogg's society, she becomes the subject of much interest from the men and from the women who comment on her unpretentiousness (but without the vulgarity of the rest of "poor Lucy's relations"). Maggie is enchanted by "this new sense of leisure" and the feeling that she is "one of the beautiful things of this spring-time." She begins to study at the piano again and ceases to think of the future.

Philip had not come when expected. He was gone from home and returns only after twelve days. In the meantime Maggie has become "oppressively conscious" of Stephen's presence, and he of hers. On the day of Philip's return, Lucy promises to spend the evening with Mrs. Kenn, who is in ill health and needs help with the bazaar which is to take place shortly. It is understood that Stephen will not come that evening, but as Maggie is sitting in the drawing room after dinner, Stephen comes in from the garden. He tells her he has brought some music for Lucy. He sits by Maggie. Neither one is able to speak. At last he mentions that Philip is due back. The name disperses the spell Maggie feels under, and she takes up some sewing. She drops some yarn, and when Stephen retrieves it the glance they exchange unsettles him. He starts to go, then asks her to walk a little way in the garden. He offers his arm, and the firm support is "strangely winning" to Maggie. A word from Stephen rouses her, and she retreats to the house, wishing she and Philip were together again in the Red Deeps.

Stephen spends the evening in a billiards room thinking of Maggie and reminding himself that this is madness.

Analysis

The Gleggs and Pullets have heretofore been seen only through Dodson eyes. They are now seen through the eyes of higher society, and they appear considerably smaller. To the Miss Guests, "it was not agreeable to think of any connection by marriage with such peoples as the Gleggs and the Pullets."

There is a central statement of the meaning of the music images which have been used in connection with Maggie: "her sensibility to the supreme excitement of music was only one form of that passionate sensibility which belonged to her whole nature, and made her faults and virtues all merge in each other . . . ." Note too the specific use of the river image here: "Maggie's destiny . . . like the course of an unmapped river: we only know that the river is full and rapid, and that for all rivers there is the same final home."

Stephen and Maggie are still unaware of the true nature of their attraction for one another. Their love, like the music which expresses it, is a spontaneous thing which goes against the wishes of both.

Once again Stephen is contrasted to Philip by "that offer of the firm arm: the help is not wanted physically at that moment, but the sense of help — the presence of strength that is outside them and yet theirs, meets a continual want of the imagination."

Lucy is drawn in two dimensions in order that she will not occupy the reader's awareness at Maggie's expense. The difference between the reader's awareness and Lucy's is made a source of irony: "Lucy was very happy: all the happier because Stephen's society seemed to have become much more interesting and amusing since Maggie had been there." The author uses this to reflect on Lucy's "tranquil-hearted" nature. This is important because in the end Lucy's innocence is the one thing which makes Maggie's renunciation of Stephen seem right. Her treatment of Philip is hardly a betrayal, even in his own eyes, but Lucy is so pure and harmless that she requires special consideration.

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