Friday, June 26, 2009

We get a deal o' useless things about us, only because we've got the money to spend.

A couple of great chapters of The Mill and the Floss spend their time rummaging around inside a linen closet. A big one - the china and silver are kept there as well. One of them (III.I.) is titled "Mrs Tulliver's Teraphim, or Household Gods." I asked ma femme what she thought a teraphim might be. "An angelic turtle," she said. I guess that's a mix of the novel's water and religion themes.

Where was I? Right, the Tullivers have to auction off everything they own. Her sisters will buy some of her linens and service, especially anything monogrammed, to keep them in the family. But Mrs. Tulliver knows they won't save her china, "for they all found fault with 'em when I bought 'em, 'cause o' the small gold sprig all over 'em, between the flowers."

In the next chapter, "The Family Council," the sisters have gathered: Mrs. Deane, the richest, too dignified to say much; Mrs. Pullet, whose great subjects are the illnesses and funerals of her acquaintances, always with the warning that she'll likely be next, but she never is, no, she never will be; and the acerbic Mrs. Glegg, who "had on her fuzziest front, and garments which appeared to have had a recent resurrection from rather a creasy form of burial; a costume selected with the high moral purpose of instilling perfect humility into Bessy and her children." (III.III.)

Let's just continue this a bit:

"'Mrs. G., won't you come nearer the fire?' said her husband, unwilling to take the more comfortable seat without offering it to her.

'You see I've seated myself here, Mr. Glegg," returned this superior woman; 'you can roast yourself, if you like.'"

I think I might have met Mrs. Glegg, the living reproach to the crimes, misjudgments, and foolishness of everyone else. Maybe more than once.

The china returns, and the silver teapot, which Mrs. Pullet might buy, except for its unfortunate straight spout.

Mrs. Glegg is a marvel, with good scenes throughout the book. But look at what Eliot does with the wealthy, distant, Mrs. Deane. She has only three lines in the chapter:

"O sister, what a world this is! what trouble, O dear!"

"Well, I've no objection to buy some of the best things. We can do with extra things in our house."

"Yes to be sure. I've been thinking so. How is it Mr and Mrs Moss aren't here to meet us? It is but right they should do their share."

What a pill. Negative, cheap, shallow, someone who thinks suffering should be shared. The Mosses are, of course, miserably poor. What else does Eliot need to tell us about Mrs. Deane?

Her declaration that we (not necessarily her sisters) can do with extra things tempted me for a title to the post, but I'll give that to poor roasted Mr. Glegg, a useless fool, but a kind one, possessed of glimmers of wisdom: "We get a deal o' useless things about us, only because we've got the money to spend." Although the useless things, the sunny trifles of The Mill on the Floss, are there for the taking.


  1. Thank you for reminding me just how brilliant the Dodson sisters are. I think you'll really enjoy the face-off between Bob Jakins and Mrs Glegg as well as Mrs Glegg's eventual rising to the occasion...

    Though Mrs Tulliver is precisely the kind of woman I never want to be (and deliberately set up so by GE, I think), there's also a real brilliance in how well GE shows us that she has been raised to be ineffectual and even selected as a mate because she's not "too 'cute," unlike her unfortunate daughter, that "mistake of nature." So she becomes pitiable and not just pitiful when she tries to preserve the things in her life that have given it value to her--like her tea pot. (I have a cherished tea pot too, which I would hate to see auctioned off!).

    BTW, your remarks on the Bossuet chapter are very interesting. I think a lot of what is at stake there is establishing a thick enough context for Maggie's dilemmas that we will feel at once the impossibility of simply effecting change or transformation and the necessity of finding some other way forward--spiritually as well as morally. She does (GE, that is) make a few pointed comments, too, about religious convictions and practices arising out of social and economic circumstances, part of educating us to see them as social rituals and mores rather than acts or beliefs truly sanctioned by divine will.

    Thinking about this wonderful (if somewhat uneven) novel makes me sorry I didn't choose it for our summer reading at The Valve. All GE, all the time--you could do much worse! But Villette is good too, in its own very different, rather morbid way.

  2. Other projects have kept me from Eliot for the time being, but The Mill on the Floss is eyeing me reproachfully from the shelf. I look forward to meeting these women soon!

  3. So Eliot's really great touch with Mrs. Tulliver is the moment she returns with the teapot and castors and sugar-tongs. The family, and the reader, probably, is tired of her irrationality and is ready to move on with the story, the what-happens-next. But Mrs. Tulliver is not ready. That's the moment when, just as you say, the nature of my pity for her changed, deepened, really.

    One of many great, audacious touches. And now I want to write more about Mrs. Glegg and her broad selfishness (which treats at least her family's interests as her own) compared to Mrs. Pullet's concern for others, which is actually completely selfish.

    I had written a bit about Mrs. Glegg and Bob Jakin's thumb, but I thought I was going on too long, which I am probably doing now.

    Congratulations on the book, by the way!

    Verbivore, you'll find plenty to write about in The Mill on the Floss, if you want. But the Ramuz and Claudel posts were so interesting, and what about The Black Spider? So, no hurry, I guess.