The Mill on the Floss

The Mill on the Floss Summary and Analysis of Book II - School-Time

Chapter I - Tom's "First Half"

Tom finds life at King’s Lorton, where he is now the sole student to Mr. Stelling, unpleasant. The material is harder than anything he has faced before, and he has Mr. Stelling’s undivided attention. Mr. and Mrs. Tulliver, though, are both quite pleased with what they see when they leave him there. Mr. Tulliver thinks Mr. Stelling seems quite shrewd, and Mrs. Tulliver is pleased with Mrs. Stelling’s housekeeping.

A little while later Mr. Tulliver brings Maggie to visit Tom for a fortnight. Maggie quite enjoys getting a chance to follow along with Tom’s lessons, and likes to show off her cleverness to Mr. Stelling, who enjoys her conversation. Mr. Stelling, though, says that girls are often quick and shallow, but aren’t able to get deeply into anything, devastating Maggie, who has always taken pride in being called quick.

Chapter II - The Christmas Holidays

Tom comes back to Dorlcote Mill for the Christmas holidays, and is very happy to be home. However, Mr. Tulliver's bad mood dims the festivities for Tom. Mr. Tulliver is upset because Mr. Pivart, a neighboring farmer, adversely affects the mill's water power with his irrigation plans. He becomes more and more bitter towards Mr. Pivart and the lawyer Mr. Wakem, who he believes is behind everything. Tom finds out Wakem’s son will be joining him at Mr. Stelling’s, but Mr. Tulliver doesn’t mind since he likes the idea of Tom having the same advantages as his foe's son.

Chapter III - The New Schoolfellow

Tom returns to Mr. Stelling’s after the holiday, where he meets Philip Wakem. Due to an accident in infancy, Philip's spine is deformed, resulting in his hunchback. Philip is sensitive and intelligent. Tom feels awkward around the boy at first because of his appearance and Mr. Tulliver's hatred of his father, but he warms to the boy upon hearing tales of mythical and historical war figures. Each wants to make it clear that he is superior to the other in some ways - Philip in intellect and Tom in physical prowess.

Chapter IV - "The Young Idea"

Tom doesn’t quite get over his negative feelings towards Philip, but he does enjoy his company when Philip’s in a good mood - which is fairly inconsistent because of his irritable personality stemming from his sensitivity about his deformity. Tom also enjoys that Philip’s presence leads to Mr. Stelling not focusing on him quite so intensely, so his schooling becomes less unpleasant.

This term also includes physical education for Tom taught by Mr. Poulter, a former soldier. Tom convinces Mr. Poulter to bring his sword to King's Lorton. Tom's excitement drives him to interrupt Phillip's intense piano-playing in order to ask the boy to join him. In a rage, Phillip calls Tom stupid and Tom retorts that Mr. Wakem is a scoundrel. Tom goes back to Mr. Poulter, and bribes him to lend him his sword for a week.

Chapter V - Maggie's Second Visit

The enmity caused by this fight between Philip and Tom continues, and they barely speak to one another. Maggie comes for another visit, and is quickly impressed with Philip’s cleverness. Tom brings Maggie up to his room where he surprises her with his loaned sword. In trying to show off his moves, he drops the point on his own foot and promptly faints.

Chapter VI - A Love-Scene

While the doctor is treating his injured foot, Tom is afraid to ask whether he will be permanently lame. As no one thinks to ask on his behalf and reassure him, Philip - knowing how difficult it would be for Tom to go through life deformed - brings him the news that he will soon be back to normal. This leads to reconciliation between the boys, and from then on Philip spends all his time outside of class with Maggie and Tom. As a result, Maggie and Philip become quite close and she promises to kiss him when she sees him again, though, he is disappointed that her affection stems from pity and not simply his intellect. Once Maggie leaves, Tom and Philip eventually cool to their original mixed feelings for one another.

Chapter VII - The Golden Gates Are Passed

Maggie and Lucy go to boarding school at Laceham on the Floss. Mr. Tulliver finally enters into the long-threatened lawsuit with Mr. Pivart, who is represented by Mr. Wakem, increasing Mr. Tulliver’s animosity towards him and his son. Maggie thus regrets that she’ll probably never be able to be close with Philip again.

Tom, now 16, enters his last quarter at Mr. Stelling’s believing his father’s lawsuit to be approaching its end - and assuming his father will win. Maggie, now 13, comes to King's Lorton unexpectedly to tell Tom that Mr. Tulliver has lost the lawsuit, and as a result will lose the mill and all his land. Even worse, it seems he has fallen off of his horse and been gravely injured, recognizing no one but Maggie since the accident.


In the first book, Maggie and Tom have plenty of small childhood traumas, and the narrator insists that though they may seem silly to an adult, to a child they are truly tragic as they occur before both experiencing and overcoming deeper adult trauma. A child's pain is constantly fresh and seemingly unending. However while these traumas predict later troubles, none is so grave as to force them out of childhood. In this second book we see the loss of innocence that creates the divide between child and adult - a father's ruin and illness. This is the moment that creates this nostalgic figure looking back in rending it from experiencing the child’s perspective firsthand.

Right before Maggie comes to tell Tom about their family’s misfortune, the narrator describes the promises of childhood as “void as promises made in Eden before the seasons were divided...impossible to be fulfilled when the golden gates had been passed” (155). This simile yokes childhood to Eden and adulthood to life after the fall; innocence is lost through knowledge and its punishment.

When we next see Maggie, a mere page later, “her young face had a strangely worn look” (156) as she has already been aged by the hardship that has befallen them; she is no longer in Eden. With Tom, we witness the actual moment of the fall, when he is “awakened” from his “boyish dreams” “with a violent shock” (158). The final paragraph of Book II explicitly states the Tulliver children have lost their innocence: ”the golden gates of their childhood had for ever closed behind them” (159), using the same language and thus reinforcing the connection as in the Edenic simile a few pages earlier. Though we know their childhood had its dark moments, here there is a vast divide between its “sunshine undimmed by remembered cares” and “their new life of sorrow” (159). Eliot makes clear that growing up, for the Tulliver children at least, is not a gradual process but a violent rending of childhood and adulthood.

This volume also emphasizes the positive side of calamity - the bringing together of people. The narrator calls this “the gift of sorrow - that susceptibility to the bare offices of humanity which raises them into a bond of loving fellowship”. (159) This occurs when the generally unpleasant Mrs. Stelling offers a sympathetic gesture to the children in the wake of their father's illness. Even Philip and Tom's relationship is briefly mended when Tom gets injured. We will soon see that this reaction is not universal - the Dodsons leave much to be desired in their support of the Tullivers after their calamities - but it is really the defining bond of Maggie and Tom’s relationship.

The two siblings are so different in temperament that they often have trouble understanding each other’s motivations and behaviors, and frequently have trouble getting along. In a smaller pattern in these first two books of their childhood, we see a cycle of fighting leading to mutual support in the face of the trouble that that fighting causes. When true tragedy strikes, they are immediately yoked together, going “forth together into their new life of sorrow” (159). Throughout the final paragraph, they are only referred to as “they,” reinforcing this union that makes them “indistinct” from each other.

This section also continues the disillusionment of Maggie in regards to her cleverness. Praised by her father for her wit and aptitude for learning, Maggie wholeheartedly believes that she is special and others will not fail to recognize her gifts. As in the episode in the gypsy camp, her excitement upon meeting Mr. Stelling falls short of expectations. Tom's barb that girls are unable to understand Latin and math is not refuted by his teacher; Mr. Stelling tells the Tulliver children that girls are capable of learning a little bit of every subject, but no more. Maggie is crushed that the same word her father used to praise her, quick, is used against her sex here. Maggie's opinion of herself butts up against society's perception.