The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss


George Eliot

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The Mill on the Floss: Book 6, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

After Maggie has been at Mrs. Moss’s for four days, Stephen arrives and asks to speak with her. They walk together in the woods near the house, although Maggie expresses concern about the propriety of her being alone with him. Stephen confesses that he is “mad with love” for her and asks whether she loves him too. He argues that if they love one another, they must break off their engagements with Philip and Lucy. It is “natural” for them to be together, he tells her, because they can’t help having fallen in love. Maggie, however, replies that she cannot pursue her own happiness at the expense of others.
Maggie and Stephen’s argument about what is “natural" reveals their differing views of their obligations towards others. Stephen thinks that love is natural, and thus that he has an obligation to ensure his own happiness. Maggie, by contrast, thinks that the bonds of family and duty—like her childhood bonds with Lucy and Philip—are also “natural.” She feels obligations primarily to others rather than towards herself, perhaps as a result of a deprived and lonely childhood.
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Stephen agrees to give her up, if that’s what she wants, but asks for one kiss first. Maggie returns to Mrs. Moss’s house in tears. She tells her aunt that she wishes she had died when she was fifteen, because it was much easier to give things up then.
Although Maggie had a relatively unhappy childhood and adolescence, she looks back on those times as a simpler period of her life, when she was ignorant of the temptations that now beset her.
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