Monday, July 23, 2007

June: The Mill on The Floss

It just occured to me that I never posted on my June reading. June was a busy month with moving and numerous birthdays, so sadly it took me quite awhile to get through George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. But it was nevertheless always obliging when I returned to it, thankfully.

Eliot has such a captivating style of writing. The way in which she brings a character's deepest emotions and nature to the surface is poetic. She beautifully and fluidly evokes compassion for the complexities of consequence and self. The narrative is beautiful and the story unwinds in a powerful way. I could not have forseen the conclusion at all. But it is is as it should be.

I was also particularly drawn to Eliot's ability to almost pull you aside as an intimate friend throughout the novel, forging a connection with a side narrative. This isn't merely a side note or clarification of what is taking place. Rather, it has a seemingly philosophical purpose in its own simple way, often drawing upon analogies. In this sense, there are these great, simple "moments" between the reader and Eliot. And they are not overdone in my opinion. They work very well with the narrative and purpose of the story.

One such moment arrives about midway through the book. I like this particular moment for obvious reasons. The first paragraph is part of the story narrative (illustrating Eliot's powerful ability) and then second paragraph is where Eliot goes into one of these moments with the reader:

"Maggie drew a long breath and pushed her heavy hair back, as if to see a sudden vision more clearly. Here, then, was a secret of life that would enable her to renounce all other secrets - here was a sublime height to be reached without the help of outward things - here was insight, and strength, and conquest, to be won by means entirely within her own soul, where a supreme teacher was waiting to be heard. It flashed through her like the suddenly apprehended solution of a problem, that all the miseries of her young life had come from fixing her heart on her own pleasure, as if that were the central necessity of the universe.... She read on and on in the old book, devouring eagerly the dialogues with the invisible Teacher, the pattern of sorrow, the source of all strength; returning to it after she had been called away, and reading till the sun went down behind the willows. With all the hurry of an imagination that could never rest in the present, she sat in the deepening twilight forming plans of self-humiliation and entire devotedness, and in the ardour of first discovery, renunciation seemed to her the entrance into that satisfaction which she had so long been craving in vain. She had not perceived - how could she until she had lived longer? - the inmost truth of the old monk's outpourings, that renunciation remains sorrow, through a sorrow borne willingly. Maggie was still panting for happiness, and was in ecstasy because she had found the key to it. She knew nothing of doctrines or systems - of mysticism or quietism: but this voice out of the far-off middle ages, was the direct communication of a human soul's belief and experience, and came to Maggie as an unquestioned message.

"I suppose that is the reason why the small old-fashioned book, for which you need only pay sixpence at a book-stall, works miracles to this day, turning bitter waters into sweetness; while expensive sermons and treatises newly issued leave all things as they were before. It was written down by a hand that waited for the heart's prompting, it is the chronicle of a solitary, hidden anguish, struggle, trust and triumph - not written on velvet cushions to teach endurance to those who are treading with bleeding feet on the stones. And so it remains to all time, a lasting record of human needs and human consolations, the voice of a brother who, ages ago, felt and suffered and renounced - in the cloister perhaps, with a serge gown and tonsured head, with much chanting and long fasts, and with a fashion of speech different from ours - but under the same silent far-off heavens, and with the same passionate desires, the same strivings, the same failures, the same weariness."


Richard said...

I remember this book being recommended when I took a voice course many years ago. It was claimed that the sounds flowed and helped to develop one's speech. One of our exercises was to simply read the vowels out of an extract.

For some reason, every time I hear the title The Mill on the Floss I see an image of a hill, on the side of which is a mill with its wheel in the water and some rabbits in the foreground (in the style of Beatrix Potter). Yeah, I always thought it was a children's book (along the lines of Jonathan Livingston Seagull).

Following your excerpt, I may now read it.

b said...

richard...that is interesting, that it was recommended to you in a voice course.

i can obviously appreciate the image of the hill and the mill with water very easily, but the beatrix potter rabbits had me laughing out loud.

Richard said...

Yep, Beatrix Potter rabbits are a definite element of my mental image.

b said...

richard...well, for the longest time (before i was aware that the floss is a river) i kept envisioning the title as the mill and the floss and it thus seemed so obscure. thoughts of dental floss occassionally came to mind!

Buffy said...

You really can't go wrong with Eliot.