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Sodré, I. (1999). Maggie and Dorothea: Reparation and Working through in George Eliot's Novels. Am. J. Psychoanal., 59(3):195-208.

(1999). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 59(3):195-208

Maggie and Dorothea: Reparation and Working through in George Eliot's Novels

IgnêS Sodré

An artistic flaw in a novel by a great writer may remain in the author's mind as a problem to be resolved in a later work. I believe that this is what happens with the ending of The Mill on the Floss, which has been much criticized because it does follow from the psychological development of the main character, Maggie Tulliver, but provides a contrived solution that gratifies Maggie's needs on an infantile level—and, through identification, George Eliot's needs as well. The issues that are not resolved in The Mill on the Floss are worked through more successfully 11 years later in Dorothea's story in Middlemarch. Whereas George Eliot failed to portray the realistic consequences of Maggie's personality and behavior, her portrayal of Dorothea's more mature solution fulfilled a reparative task and resulted in a more satisfying work of art.

The Ending of the Mill on the Floss: Maggie's Death

The Mill on the Floss is George Eliot's most autobiographical novel. It is well known that Maggie's childhood and her relationship with Tom are closely based on the author's relationship with her own brother Isaac. At the time she wrote the novel, Eliot had no contact with Isaac, who had stopped communicating with her when she started living with the already married George Henry Lewes. Isaac did not resume contact with his sister until she became “respectable” by marrying John Walter Cross after Lewes's death. George Eliot seems to have felt deeply grateful for her brother's forgiveness, just as she had imagined Maggie feeling many years before when she is reconciled with Tom. The relationship with this profoundly loved older brother seems to have remained in George Eliot's mind as an ideal image of closeness and happiness, and I believe that this influenced the melodramatic conclusion of Maggie's story.

We meet Maggie when she is still a small child, living with her parents and her brother Tom, to whom she is deeply attached. She is rebellious but very tender-hearted and prone to excessive feelings of guilt. She is her father's favorite child, while Tom is the favorite of the mother.

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