The narrator stands on a bridge and looks at Dorlcote Mill, which is situated on the River Floss and the smaller River Ripple, near the village of St. Ogg’s. The scene is peaceful, beautiful, and pastoral. Even the sound of the mill churning the water is described as a “dreamy deafness.” From this vantage point on the bridge, the narrator sees a man with a wagon returning home with sacks of grain. The narrator imagines that the man is thinking of his dinner, which he will not be able to eat until he has fed his horses.
The Mill on the Floss begins in a tone of nostalgia, introducing a preoccupation with memory that will become a major theme of the novel. The narrator—whose name and gender are never revealed—appears to be someone with an intimate knowledge of Dorlcote Mill and St. Ogg’s. He or she depicts a peaceful scene of slow rural village life, as exemplified in the image of a wagon returning home after a day of work.
The narrator sees a little girl also looking at the mill and thinks that she should go inside the mill to warm herself at the parlor fire. Thinking that his or her arms are feeling cold from resting on the bridge, the narrator wakes up, realizing that in fact he or she had fallen asleep in an armchair and had been dreaming of Dorlcote Mill as it looked on a February day many years ago. The narrator promises to recount what Mr. Tulliver and Mrs. Tulliver had been talking about inside the parlor on that day.
The narrator is nostalgic because he or she is seemingly familiar with Dorlcote Mill—for example, the narrator knows that the house contains a warm parlor fire. This place evidently contains powerful memories for the narrator, so much so that he or she dreams of Dorlcote Mill. The narrator’s nostalgic dream then facilitates an introduction to the inhabitants of Dorlcote Mill, the Tullivers.