The Mill on the Floss By George Eliot Summary and Analysis Book 6: The Great Temptation: Chapter 8 - Wakem in a New Light

Summary

Lucy speaks privately with Philip, who lays a plan to remove his father as an obstacle between himself and Maggie. He asks his father to come up to his studio to see some new sketches. Among them are several studies of Maggie. When Mr. Wakem discovers who they are, he questions Philip about his relationship with Maggie. Philip tells him their past history, and says that he would marry her if she would have him. Mr. Wakem is enraged at this return for his "indulgences"; but Philip says he did not think a return was required. Mr. Wakem says Philip can marry her if he pleases and go his way. But he waits for a reply, which is that Philip is unable to support himself and will not offer her poverty. He says his father has the power to deprive him of his one chance of happiness, if he wishes. However, Maggie has never entered her family's quarrels, and resentment is ridiculous. Wakem says that what women do is of less concern than whom they belong to. At this Philip becomes angry for the first time. He defends Maggie as being more than his equal and says she might not have him anyway. Wakem storms out, and Philip goes out to avoid meeting him again at once. He returns in the evening. He is dozing in his studio when his father enters. Mr. Wakem asks Philip if Maggie loves him. Philip replies that she once said so but that she was very young, and he does not wish to force her. Mr. Wakem has seen Maggie and thinks her handsome. He reminisces about his own wife, whom he apparently loved very much.

With that barrier down, Philip is able to get his father's agreement to sell the mill. When Lucy reports this to her father, Mr. Deane is puzzled, but he does not care to pry too closely into the matter.

Analysis

Here, as later, Philip provides the means to understand the author's meaning. A comment of his may be used as a measure of all the human relationships in the book. He tells his father he does not regard his own life as a return for his father's care. "You have been an indulgent father to me; but I have always felt that it was because you had an affectionate wish to give me as much happiness as my unfortunate lot would admit of — not that it was a debt you expected me to pay by sacrificing all my chance of happiness to satisfy feelings of yours, which I can never share." This is especially pertinent to the relationship of Tom and Maggie in comparison to that between Maggie and her father.

Mr. Wakem states one of the axioms of his society, one which is most applicable to Maggie's case: "We don't ask what a woman does — we ask whom she belongs to." Maggie's cleverness has always been a handicap to her. Later, "what she does" in another sense is made less important to the world than whom she belongs to: running away with Stephen would have been acceptable if she had married him; because she does not, she is made an outcast.

Mr. Wakem takes on new stature through his love for his dead wife. He has previously been a character of interest but of little depth. Here he becomes a human being.

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