The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 2, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

At King’s Lorton, the house of Mr. Stelling, Tom is miserable. He had enjoyed playing with the other boys at his old school, but under the care of Mr. Stelling, he has no other schoolmates. His schooling is also now much more difficult, as it requires the study of Latin, when Tom really preferred working at Dorlcote Mill. Rev. Stelling is an ambitious man who hopes to rise in the ranks of the church. He spends much more than he earns in order to maintain himself and Mrs. Stelling in great style. He hopes to find more pupils to increase his income, so he wants Tom to progress quickly in his studies to attract other students.
Mr. Tulliver has sent Tom to Mr. Stelling so he can get a good education, but Tom finds that knowledge is not much valued at King’s Lorton. Mr. Stelling is focused on his career and has lavish tastes, so he takes in pupils for financial benefit rather than because he is passionate about teaching. He also sees Tom as a walking advertisement for his school—he wants Tom to progress in his studies so that Mr. Stelling can attract more students, not because he cares a great deal about Tom’s education.
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Tom does not understand Mr. Stelling’s jokes—like a pun on the Latin word for “roast beef”—which make him feel “silly.” Mr. Tulliver and Mrs. Tulliver were pleased with the Stellings when they brought Tom to King’s Lorton, but it soon becomes apparent that Tom is entirely unsuited for Mr. Stelling’s brand of education. Tom has no talent for Latin and little understanding of who the Romans were, and Mr. Stelling considers Tom “very dull” for his failure to remember his conjugations. Tom wishes he could please his tutor, and prays at night “to remember my Latin.”
Mr. Stelling thinks Tom is ignorant and “very dull,” and it is indeed true that Tom is far from an exemplary student. But Mr. Stelling, too, is ignorant of the needs of his pupil and of the duties of an educator more broadly. He lacks the imagination to engage Tom in his schooling. Furthermore, because he has a narrow understanding of knowledge, he fails to see that Tom might have other skills (in, say, practical education) that might be worth cultivating as well.
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Because the Stellings don’t want to pay for a second nurse, they use Tom to watch their oldest child, Laura. Tom plays with the little girl but longs for a friend closer to his own age. He is pleased when Maggie arrives for a two-week visit, promising to help him learn his geometry and Latin. Maggie and Tom visit Mr. Stelling’s study, where he shows her his textbooks. The unfamiliar words fascinate Maggie, and she asks Mr. Stelling if she can learn Euclid as well, although Tom protests that girls can’t learn geometry. Mr. Stelling responds that he thinks girls are “quick but shallow.”
Although Tom has been far from successful in school, he is still eager to show that he can do something that his sister can't. Although Maggie clearly has more natural aptitude for reading and learning, both Tom and Mr. Stelling are dismissive of women's intellectual abilities. Mr. Stelling’s counterintuitive claim that women's “quickness” is actually a mark against them—because it makes them “shallow—demonstrates that nineteenth-century British society was invested in restricting women's access to education.
Knowledge and Ignorance Theme Icon
Women’s Roles and Social Pressures Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Tom admits that Maggie’s visit really did help him improve at his lessons. He counts the days eagerly until Christmas vacation, when he can go home. The narrator points out that the places where a person grows up have a powerful emotional appeal simply because they are familiar, not necessarily because they are “superior.”
The narrator has previously admitted that Tom and Maggie’s community is far from ideal in many ways, with its stifling provincial ignorance. However, the narrator also points out that the idea of home, however flawed, has a powerful emotional appeal simply because of all the memories that have been made there.
Memory and Childhood Theme Icon
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