With its soiled pages and notes in the margins from past Tullivers, the family Bible symbolizes family history, continuity, and loyalty. In many nineteenth-century British homes, the Bible was at the center of the household. In The Mill on the Floss, the Tulliver family Bible is no exception. Maggie describes the book as being heavily annotated by several generations of Tullivers, linking the physical object of the book to the family’s long tenure at Dorlcote Mill. Maggie and her family are attached to the book precisely because it has been heavily used. It is no accident, then, that when Mr. Tulliver wants Tom to swear to take revenge against Mr. Wakem (the lawyer who financially ruined the family), he asks Tom to write his promise in the family Bible. For Christians, the Bible is a sacred text, so Tom is making a serious, faith-based commitment when he promises to take revenge on the Wakems by writing it in it. However, the family Bible does not only symbolize the power of religion and tradition in the lives of people like the Tullivers—by writing in this book, a prized family possession, Tom is symbolically expressing his loyalty to the five generations of Tullivers who have lived at Dorlcote Mill. Mr. Wakem has threatened this legacy, so it is fitting that Tom makes this promise by writing in a book that symbolizes the Tullivers’ strength and continuity.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Tulliver Family Bible appears in The Mill on the Floss. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 3, Chapter 9
Book 5, Chapter 5
...Philip have been meeting secretly. Tom is furious, and demands that she swear on the family Bible never to see Philip again—or he will tell Mr. Tulliver everything. Maggie agrees to swear... (full context)