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Was I surprised. Not only was the book a quick-read, it was fun, exciting and thoroughly different from many other Victorian love stories I have read. Maggie, our heroine, was as plucky, smart and beautiful as one would expect. However, be that as it may, Elliot surrounds her with multi-leveled characters. Even those who are merely extras meant to move the plot or explain society's attitudes have depth. While they are meant as background, still they think and act surprisingly. One could describe them as 3D wallpaper.
I was unable to predict the paths the plot would take. While I love Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, in their books a reader knows who will come to a bad end, who will take the high road, and which characters will end up as a couple at the end of the book. Not so in this novel. Moreover, Elliot's ideas are shockingly modern. Perhaps I should not have used that adjective because not only were the author's books considered shocking in her day, Elliot, herself, shocked the society in which she lived. In addition to the fact that she took a man's name so that her books would sell, she lived for years with a married man. Her life "in sin" lead to an estrangement with her brother. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that her thoughts on relationships would fit in with the morality of today. I was lucky enough to have an introduction which informed me that "The Mill on the Floss" was more than a little autobiographical. Hence, the intensity of love Maggie feels for a variety of people rings very true.
Other reviewers have talked about the plot so there is no need for me to venture in that direction. This book contains sadness and happiness, desperation and triumph, cruelty and kindness. Of course, there is love of all kinds, romantic, parental and filial. Even love between friends is explored. The books ends with action. I held my breath while reading this section, felt sad when things went badly for Maggie and was overjoyed when something good happened to her.
Quite simply, it is a very good read. I found one problem: I rarely reread a book. However, I enjoyed this book so much that I am hungry for not only those books of Elliot's I have never opened but also "Middlemarch", which I read years ago. This time my hungry eyes lead me to a feast. I'm glad I took the time to consume it.
This book, although written so long ago has the ability to keep us 'on our toes' and, at times, reflects prejudices that still hold true today. The sadness,tragedy and humour all combine to make a great read and I would highly recommend this book.
The way to get through this book, for me, was with the Audible edition, which is admirably produced. Hearing the words and lingering over the sentences rather than skimming the seemingly-dull passages gives you a feel for Eliot's writing and makes you slow down and take time to feel the humor, the sadness, the frustration and the love she puts into this novel. It's still not my favorite, but I have come to admire it.
So I shouldn't have been surprised to find that Mill on the Floss differed greatly from either of the other two I'd read, but I was. Instead of an embittered old man or middle and upper class women struggling in their marriages, I found a bright and mischievous young girl being raised in an uneducated and financially struggling family, surrounded by aunts and uncles who seemed straight out of a Jane Austen novel in all their annoying glory. I related so much with Maggie in her joys and her struggles, and I continued to fall more in love with George Eliot's lovely prose sprinkled with moments of dexterous wit.
* Spoiler Alert *
But the fact that this novel ends in tragedy hit me from left field. After my previous encounters with George Eliot, I thought I could rely on a happy ending -- or at least a bittersweet ending with hope of some sort of redemption. So after spending the last 50 pages or so biting my nails in anticipation of how everything could manage to pull together by the end, I felt somewhat betrayed at the end. Looking back, I can somewhat see the logic of it. But I also feel like I should read it again, knowing the ending in advance. In some ways I think I would find it to be a very different novel.
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