The Mill on the Floss was George Eliot’s third book, after Scenes of Clerical Life (1858) and Adam Bede (1859). She began writing the novel in 1859 and it was first published in 1860, with a few subsequent revised editions. The novel was eagerly anticipated, as Adam Bede had been very successful, and it ended up being well-received for the most part. It was not as uniformly praised as Adam Bede had been upon publication, but it was also a more ambitious work. Many critics vastly preferred the first half of The Mill on the Floss, which focuses on Maggie and Tom Tulliver’s childhoods, to the second half - and especially the ending.
The Mill on the Floss is Eliot’s most autobiographical novel. Although the plot points do not explicitly mirror events from Eliot’s life, the character of Maggie Tulliver is the closest approximation of Eliot to appear in her fiction, and she faces many of the same struggles that Eliot did. The Tullivers are not meant to represent Eliot’s parents, but Tom Tulliver is very reminiscent of Eliot’s brother Isaac Evans, and the Dodson aunts are reminiscent of Eliot’s aunts, the Pearsons.