English, Department of


Date of this Version


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The George Eliot Review 42 (2011)


Published by The George Eliot Review Online https://GeorgeEliotReview.org


'The Mill on the Floss is everyone's favourite novel' was the provocative declaration that launched the conference, devoted to Eliot's second novel, held at the Institute of English Studies on 6 November 2010. Barbara Hardy's opening statement was given some weight by the day's papers which, in tackling subjects as diverse as translation, inheritance, idleness, and adaptation, repeatedly expressed the speakers' highly personal relationship with the novel.

In the first of two hour-long papers, entitled 'Inheritance and parental investment in The Mill on the Floss' , David Amigoni (Exeter) offered fresh insights into the intersection of aesthetic and scientific concerns in Eliot's work by demonstrating how Eliot found science of assistance in exploring the range of narratives on parental investment circulating in the 1860s. Amigoni considered how Mr. Tulliver seeks to determine the intellectual capital of his children and ensure its transmission, and in doing so drew on David C. Geary's essay 'Evolution of Paternal Investment' , which explores how the parental investor weighs the value of educational and reproductive successes. When Mr. Tulliver ponders that 'it seems a bit of a pity ... as the lad should take after the mother's side instead of the little wench', Eliot presents demotic speech meeting cutting-edge Victorian science.

Inheritance was also a theme of Kathryn Hughes's (UEA) 'Who were the Dodsons? Uncovering Traces of Family History in The Mill on the Floss', which demonstrated how our understanding of Eliot's writing process can be enriched by mining her childhood environment. Hughes vividly and humorously evoked the close-knit community of the Pearson sisters, who, unlike the Dodsons' response to Maggie, appear to have appreciated Mary Ann's talents. Their shared concern with appropriate family conduct is illustrated by the will made by Eliot's aunt Mary, which left Eliot her initialled cutlery, a gesture evoked in Mrs. Tulliver's fear of her marked belongings being sold to strangers. Another bequest was considered in the form of a dress donated to the GEF by a descendant of Mrs. Johnson (an inspiration for Mrs. Pullet). The dress had been worn in a Nuneaton performance of Adam Bede in 1890 by 'Mrs. Poyser', who left intriguing recollections of how Eliot's childhood community tried to map itself onto the novels.