Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 22 (1991)
In the radio dramatization of a novel, it is left to the actors to persuade us that they are the individuals whose roles they undertake, but it remains the responsibility of the scriptwriter to select and organize those roles with respect for the overall vision of the originating artist. How well, then, did Radio Four's recent five-episode dramatization of The Mill on the Floss serve George Eliot?
It is axiomatic that, without Maggie Tulliver, there would be no Mill on the Floss; but, in this most autobiographical of George Eliot's novels, it is not Maggie who is omnipresent, but the narrator. Though Maggie is the protagonist, it is the narrator's spirit that pervades; the narrator's voice that compels - that guides us into the intimately known, sensuously remembered, and possessively loved locality of Dorlcote, and draws attention to the rapt little girl who is to be the story's heroine. Why, then, were the lachrymose introductory tones (perhaps intended to sound dreamy, merely) in this production those of a male? We had to wait until Episode Two for the answer. George Eliot's narrator had been eliminated, and Philip Wakem - Maggie' s sensitive, deformed, and highly partial friend, absent for long tracts of the novel - promoted to fulfil her office.
This depressing device automatically dispensed both with George Eliot's epic scope, and with the ironic perspective within which she holds Philip himself. From the outset, then, it was apparent that, in the case of this production, to dramatize meant to diminish. But we could still hope that some of the life in the novel would be transmitted.