My daughter and I watched The Mill on the Floss early during Christmas vacation, so since I had the book on my shelves and some extra time on my hands I decided to go ahead and read it. The mini-series is fairly faithful to the book. Where there were differences, it was usually in conflict scenes. Movies seem to have trouble with nuances, so some scenes that were quite directly oppositional in the mini-series were considerably more subtle in the book.
Mill on the Floss was said to be the most autobiographical of George Eliot's books, and certainly the first half of the book, where Maggie and her brother Tom are growing up, is vividly drawn. In contrast, the second half seems comparatively sketchy and almost hurried. The psychological set-up of the first half -- where Maggie is portrayed convincingly as a girl who desperately craves being loved, yet is misunderstood and misjudged by her relatives -- isn't carried out fully in the second half, where the story becomes more of a standard society semi-tragedy and then converts in the end into what would almost be melodrama if it weren't so precipitously concluded.
I wonder if Eliot for whatever reason couldn't quite manage to write a sort of English Anna Karenina and instead went more with a country-society type Clarissa, though poor Stephen Guest doesn't make a very convincing Lovelace. Yet the book is very well worth reading, even if it didn't quite end up on the trajectory it started with. I felt like I knew Maggie, especially in her childhood years. The earlier part describing her adventure with the gypsies, her relationship with her brother Tom and her affection for young Philip Wakem reminded me of one of the better young adult novels of the present time.
These bitter sorrows of childhood! when sorrow is all new and strange, when hope has not yet got wings to fly beyond the days and weeks, and the space from summer to summer seems measureless.
"You talk o' 'cuteness, Mr. Tulliver," she observed as she sat down, "but I'm sure the child's half an idiot i' some things; for if I send her upstairs to fetch anything, she forgets what she's gone for, an' perhaps 'ull sit down on the floor i' the sunshine an' plait her hair an' sing to herself like a Bedlam creatur', all the while I'm waiting for her downstairs. That niver run i' my family, thank God! no more nor a brown skin as makes her look like a mulatter. I don't like to fly i' the face o' Providence, but it seems hard as I should have but one gell, an' her so comical."
"Go, go!" said Mr. Tulliver, peremptorily, beginning to feel rather uncomfortable at these free remarks on the personal appearance of a being powerful enough to create lawyers; "shut up the book, and let's hear no more o' such talk. It is as I thought–the child 'ull learn more mischief nor good wi' the books. Go, go and see after your mother."
Life did change for Tom and Maggie; and yet they were not wrong in believing that the thoughts and loves of these first years would always make part of their lives. We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it,–if it were not the earth where the same flowers come up again every spring that we used to gather with our tiny fingers as we sat lisping to ourselves on the grass; the same hips and haws on the autumn's hedgerows; the same redbreasts that we used to call "God's birds," because they did no harm to the precious crops. What novelty is worth that sweet monotony where everything is known, and loved because it is known?