English, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



The George Eliot Review 26 (1995) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (26)


It is not surprising that George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, set in rural Warwickshire in the early 1800s, should contain references to domestic animals and livestock. What is remarkable is the variety, including dogs, kittens, sheep, cattle, horses, rabbits, ferrets, rats, snakes, toads, spiders, wasps, snails, bears, wolves, boars, a beaver, a chimpanzee, a lion, and an assortment of fish and fowl. From the barking cur in the opening chapter to Bob Jakin's dog Mumps, who comforts Maggie Tulliver after her disastrous trip down the river with Stephen Guest, Eliot uses animals to develop the setting and to help the reader understand individual characters and their relationship to society. Because most of the creatures are associated with both outdoor experience and male characters, their inclusion also underlines the differences between the lives of men and those of women.

As a young man, Mr. Tulliver rode a 'capital black mare' and seemed to be following in the tradition of his ancestor Ralph Tulliver, noted for riding 'spirited horses', being 'very decidedly of his own opinion', and ruining himself through imprudence (274). After reading the news that Wakem owns the mortgage on the mill, Tulliver suffers a stroke and falls from his horse.

Considering the amount of riding in the novel, it is not unusual that some characters come off their mounts unexpectedly. However, three specific cases form important turning points. Mr. Tulliver falls from his horse as he has fallen from his economic and social position. For the first hour after his stroke, he is attended only by his grey horse who sniffs about nervously with a horsy awareness that something is very strange. After his recovery, Tulliver rides a 'low horse' (356) in striking contrast to Wakem's 'fine black horse' and Philip Wakem's 'handsome pony' (297). The second unseating comes when Tulliver attacks Wakem and Wakem's horse throws him. Following his beating, the bruised and shaken Wakem is forced to ride the 'low horse' home. The third case of abrupt separation of horse and rider works in favour of the Tullivers. Jetsome, hired to run the mill, is thrown from his horse and severely injured (451), so Wakem is eager for the new purchasers to take possession of the property. This makes it possible for Guest and Company to place Tom at the mill as manager.