The Use of Setting in The Mill on The Floss

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      George Eliot actually journeyed with a notebook in hand to a distant town to find a setting for The Mill on The Floss. She had to find a tidal river for the tragedy with which the story ends and knowing that such a catastrophic flood was impossible in Warwickshire, she transferred the scene to the county of Lincolnshire. In Lincolnshire where the Idle joins the Trent River near the town of Gainsborough, she found the suitable locale for her flood. The site of the Dorlcote Mill and the surrounding picturesque scenery of wooded lanes and the Red Deeps are drawn from Warwickshire. Dorlcote Mill is based on her memories of Arbury Hill, close by George Eliot's birthplace in Warwickshire. The old mill, the attic, the little Round Pool in her home at Griff all have been transplanted to Lincolnshire. The book opens with the introduction of an expansive landscape. We get an impression of a harmonious setting: “A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace. On this mighty tide the black ships—laden with the fresh-scented fir planks, with rounded sacks of oil-bearing seed, or with the dark glitter of coal-are borne along to the town of St. Ogg’s, which, shows its aged, fluted red roofs and the broad gables of its wharves’ between the low wooded hill and the river bank, tinging the water with a soft purple hue under the transient glance of this February sun. Far away on each hand stretch the rich pastures and the patches of dark earth, made ready for the seed of broad-leaved green, crops, or touched already with the tint of the tender-bladed Autumn sown corn”.

      In the second paragraph, the author moves closer to the. Dorlcote Mill. The background recedes and the author focuses our attention on a little girl who is observing the mill with the same intensity as the author. “Now I can turn my eyes towards the mill again, and watch the unresting wheel sending out its jets of water, the little girl is watching it too; she has been standing on just the same spot at the edge of the water ever since I paused on the bridge.”

      The center of attention is Maggie, the mill and the water. It is significant that George Eliot called the novel The Mill on the Floss and not Maggie Tulliver. Maggie is no doubt the central human figure but the world she lives in is symbolized by the mill and the river. We are never far away from the river Floss for it controls to a large extent the lives and destinies of the characters. “Maggie’s destiny, then, is at present hidden, and we must wait for it to reveal itself 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.” The river is with us right from the very first sentence of the novel: “A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it checks its passage with an impetuous embrace.”

       It is on the river that Stephen teaches Maggie to row. It is on the river that Maggie commits the indiscreet act which alienates the brother and sister. It is the river which brings the estranged brother and sister together again in death.

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