Chapter I - A Duet in Paradise
Two years later, Mrs. Deane has died and Mrs. Tulliver - who had come to take care of her sister in her illness - is now living at the Deanes’. Lucy tells Stephen Guest that her cousin Maggie is leaving the school where she has been teaching since Mr. Tulliver’s death and coming to stay at Lucy’s. Stephen isn’t pleased, thinking this means he won’t get any time alone with Lucy any more. They are in the stage of courtship where each is certain of the other’s regard, although no declarations have yet been made.
Chapter II - First Impressions
Lucy tells Maggie about her feelings for Stephen. She asks if Maggie feels as negatively toward Philip as Tom does because he is Stephen’s good friend and Lucy wants to invite him to sing with them. Maggie tells her that she always liked Philip, but before she has a chance to explain that even so, she can’t see him, Stephen arrives, interrupting them.
Stephen and Maggie are immediately struck by each other. Lucy, worried only that they wouldn’t get along and relieved to see that they do, doesn’t suspect anything. After talking for a while, Stephen takes the cousins on a boat ride. He reflects that he finds Maggie’s character quirks quite interesting even though he usually doesn’t like anything eccentric in a woman.
The Pullets visit the Deane house and lament Maggie's lack of proper evening wear. Mrs. Pullet promises to give the girl some of her old dresses.
Chapter III - Confidential Moments
Lucy comes to Maggie’s bedroom as she gets ready for bed and asks her what she thought of Stephen. The subject of Philip comes up and Maggie, swearing Lucy to secrecy, tells her what had happened between them - and that Tom will still forbid any contact. Lucy determines that she will find a way for Maggie and Philip to marry.
Chapter IV - Brother and Sister
Maggie goes to see Tom, who is lodging at Bob Jakin’s house. While waiting for Tom to arrive home, Bob tells Maggie that he’s worried about Tom, who seems always melancholy and hardly ever socializes. He mentions a puppy that Tom made a lot of fuss to get, and Maggie knows he means Lucy’s puppy, and so realizes Tom may be in love with Lucy.
Tom arrives, and Maggie tells him that she wants his permission to see Philip, as Lucy wishes. Tom tells her that if she decides to marry Philip, she’ll have to give Tom up forever, but that he will allow her to see Philip in company at Lucy’s, even though he doesn’t have any faith in her.
Chapter V - Showing that Tom Had Opened the Oyster
Mr. Deane tells Tom that he has done a very good job, and, as the world moves faster now than when he was coming up in it, he and Mr. Guest want to offer Tom a share in the business. Tom is grateful, but he has his heart on returning to Dorlcote Mill. He brings up the idea that the firm might again consider buying his father’s mill; since the new caretaker is currently mismanaging the mill, Tom figures Mr. Wakem might be willing to part with it. Mr. Deane says he’ll bring it up with Mr. Guest, the head of the business, and they’ll look into it.
Chapter VI - Illustrating the Laws of Attraction
Maggie is incorporated into Lucy’s social life, and so for the first time experiences a young lady’s life. Her beauty is very much admired by the people of St. Ogg’s, and her deficiencies in social customs and lack of coquetry mean that the other young women aren’t threatened by her, so she is welcomed.
Stephen comes to see Lucy more and more, and although his attentiveness towards her seems to be growing, he and Maggie are more and more entranced by each other, although they hide it well. One evening, when Stephen knows Lucy to have a dinner engagement, he comes by under the guise of leaving music for his sweetheart. But he and Maggie are both overcome by being alone together, and after he leaves Stephen tells himself he must not trust himself to be alone with her again.
Chapter VII - Philip Re-enters
Philip, having returned from a trip, comes to see Lucy and Maggie for the first time. Maggie tells him that she has spoken to Tom, and he has released her from her vow to relinquish contact with Philip. They speak for a little in private before Stephen arrives and Lucy rejoins them.
Maggie and Stephen are at first stiff with each other, and then very kind, and though Lucy thinks nothing of it, Philip quickly grows suspicious.
Before dinner, Mr. Deane asks Philip a few questions about how his father is enjoying running his farms. Lucy finds this odd, so questions her father about it when they are alone. He explains that they want to try to get the mill back from Wakem and to restore Tom in his father's place. Lucy convinces her father to let her tell Philip, because she thinks he will help them make it happen.
Chapter VIII - Wakem in a New Light
Lucy quickly finds a time to tell Philip, and he develops a plan. He admits to his father that he has always loved Maggie, who tells him he can marry her if he likes, but it will be the end of their relationship. Philip says this is impossible since he has been raised to no profession would be thrust into poverty. Mr. Wakem storms out in anger, but returns later in the evening and agrees to give them his blessing. Philip brings up the question of the mill, and Mr. Wakem agrees to that as well, so long as he doesn’t have to have any direct dealings with Tom.
Chapter IX - Charity in Full-Dress
At the church bazaar, Mr. Wakem approaches Maggie’s stand and is quite pleasant to her. Stephen witnesses this, and soon after notices that Philip has perched himself across the room where he has a clear view of Maggie, leading him to believe that there is some sort of history between Maggie and Philip. From his seat, Philip has also seen the exchange between Stephen and Maggie, and is quite convinces that there is something between them.
Though Lucy told Maggie that Mr. Wakem would support her marrying Philip and would sell the mill to Guest & Co., Maggie announces that she has accepted a new governess position which begins soon. She explains that she can’t give up Tom to marry Philip, and she fears Tom won’t change his mind about that for a very long time - if ever.
Chapter X - The Spell Seems Broken
Maggie and Lucy go to a dance at the Guests’ home, Park House. Stephen is proud of himself for paying no attention to Maggie, until she starts dancing, and then he cannot stop himself from approaching her and asking her to walk with him in the conservatory. They share a look in which both reveal their feelings, but when Stephen can’t stop himself from kissing her arm, Maggie runs off, furious.
The next morning, while Maggie is waiting for her mother so they can go to visit Mrs. Moss, Philip visits. He asks her if there is a chance they will ever be like they were in the past, and she says that she cannot break her ties to Tom, but that is the only thing holding her back. Philip is largely relieved, although he still has some suspicions.
Chapter XI - In the Lane
Maggie has been at her aunt Moss’s four days when Stephen suddenly shows up, saying he has a private message for her. When they are alone, he declares his love for her and apologizes for his conduct, but tells her he is being tortured enough by his own feelings and she has to forgive him. She does, and he says that they should marry, that that is the only way either of them will ever be happy, and that it would be cruel for them to marry Lucy and Philip, feeling the way they do.
She tells him that she loves him, too, but that if she married him, she would forever by haunted by the suffering they had caused, and so because they love each other, he must help her to resist him. He acquiesces, but asks for one kiss before they part, which she gives him.
Chapter XII - A Family Party
After her visit with Mrs. Moss, Maggie goes next to stay with Mrs. Pullet. In the brief interlude preceding this, Mr. Wakem’s manager of Dorlcote Mill had been drunkenly thrown from his horse and was gravely injured, such that Mr. Wakem turned the property over to Guest & Co. even sooner than expected, and Tom becomes the manager.
Everyone gathers at the Pullets’ farm to celebrate the news, and Lucy encourages Mrs. Pullet to donate some linens to Tom’s new home at the mill. When it’s time to leave, she insists on sitting with Tom so she can talk to him about Maggie and Philip. She explains how Philip convinced his father to sell the mill, expecting that to convince him to forgive Philip, but instead he is resolute, insisting that Maggie can do as she pleases but he will never have any relationship with the Wakems.
Chapter XIII - Borne Along by the Tide
Maggie returns to Lucy’s less than a week later. Maggie manages to avoid Lucy in the mornings by going on promised visits to Aunt Glegg and helping Mrs. Tulliver prepare to move to the mill, but in the evenings Lucy insists she spend time with her. Stephen resolves to go on a trip until Maggie leaves, but he can’t hold himself to it, instead going to Lucy’s as often as possible to see Maggie as much as he can in what little time they have left.
Lucy notices that Maggie is particularly melancholy, but she assumes it is because Tom won’t let her marry Philip, and so still suspects nothing. In reality, Maggie is much quieter than usual because she is fighting an inner battle between her desire to marry Stephen - whom she loves - and live in happiness and comfort, and her desire to do the right thing and not hurt Lucy and Philip, who are both very important to her.
Philip pays a visit, and Lucy entreats him to come the next morning to row her and Maggie on the river. Philip is not completely satisfied by Maggie’s word that she would marry him if not for her brother, watches Stephen and Maggie closely, and becomes almost convinced that there is some kind of mutual regard and understanding between the two of them.
He is so upset by this belief that the next morning he sends Stephen a note saying he is too ill to row the ladies, so asks Stephen to go in his stead. Lucy had contrived to get herself and the rest of the household out of the way so that Maggie and Philip could be alone in the boat, so when Stephen arrives, Maggie is the only one home.
They go out in the boat, each in a daze, until Stephen stops rowing and Maggie realizes they have passed their expected stopping place. Stephen proposes that they elope. Maggie at first is furious, but seeing how hurt Stephen is by her refusal, she yields. They ask to be taken aboard a larger vessel heading to Mudport, pretending to be a married couple. Maggie goes into a trance-like state of acquiescence, enjoying Stephen’s nearness and care for her, and not struggling with her conflicting desires for happiness and to do what’s right.
Chapter XIV - Waking
Maggie wakes on the boat from intense dreaming, and realizes she has done an irrevocable wrong to those dearest to her. Though she despairs to cause Stephen pain, she realizes she must leave him, because though she has already caused pain to those she loves, she doesn’t feel she deserves to get the joy out of that pain that marrying him would give her.
Stephen wakes, and though she doesn’t say anything about it, he worries from the look in her eyes that she has changed her mind. When they finally near Mudport, she tells him that this is indeed the case - they must part. Stephen tries and tries to convince her, but she is resolved that she would be unable to marry him and live with herself. She must choose unhappiness rather than continue to hurt those to whom she is bound. She leaves.
In the sixth book, Maggie’s inner struggle between doing what’s right for the community and satisfying her own desires comes to a head. Though she had earlier chosen to see Philip against her family’s wishes, she believed that those wishes were based on a hatred that was wrong and unfair, and she believed that no one would ever find out, and so would not be hurt by her choices. Plus, Maggie believed, because of his urging, that Philip's happiness depended on their meeting. In this book, however, her (short-lived) decision to elope with Stephen clearly lacks justification - she knows Lucy and Philip will be deeply hurt, and she knows that neither Philip’s expectations of her nor Lucy’s of Stephen are predicated upon nothing wrong or unfair. Thus here she truly, if only very briefly, chooses her own desires over the community’s.
Even before she meets Stephen, Maggie has started to find self-renunciation deeply trying - ”she had slipped back into desire and longing: she found joyless days of distasteful occupation harder and harder” (302-3). And as Philip had predicted in their earlier meetings, the unnaturalness of renunciation for her character only makes her desires stronger once she allows them to blossom.
Eliot sets up the relationship between Stephen and Maggie such that she really does have two viable options, and she is forced to make a choice based on her competing desires to remain deeply connected to her past and tradition, and to follow her desire forward. Stephen is not officially engaged to Lucy, nor is Maggie to Philip, though both have made certain implicit and explicit promises. This means that, though both characters would be deeply hurt if Stephen and Maggie chose to marry, their relationship would be in violation only of personal feelings; ultimately, societal distaste would not be devastating and would ebb in time, and there is no legal barrier. Thus, Maggie has a choice to make.
Choices, in The Mill on the Floss, aren’t easy. They are an important part of the world the new generation is growing into, and they will lead to progress and the rise of the importance of the individual, but they come with heavy responsibility. Tom is always decisive, making choices quickly according to his narrow set of principals, and never looking back. This is clearly effective for him, as he fulfills all of his father’s dreams for him, and manages to get back to their home, even if at the cost of his personal happiness.
Maggie, on the other hand, is chronically indecisive. She often makes her decisions in moments of high passion - as when she cuts her own hair, for example - and then almost immediately after regrets the choice that she made. The biggest choice of her life - deciding to stay in the boat with Stephen - she seems to make in a trance, and again, is met with immediate regret. Once again, though, the damage has already been done. She does not want to elope because of the hurt it will cause Philip and Lucy, but that hurt has already happened by her not reappearing with Stephen when she should have. In choosing to go back to St Ogg's, in spite of the ruin it will cause her and the happiness she is giving up for it, she shows that she finds the burden of decision-making to be too great. High-spirited and intelligent though she is, she would rather go back and disappear into the communal and traditional, rather than remain an individual.