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George Eliot's memorable flood at the end of The Mill on the Floss belongs to neither tradition.

It certainly provides the novel with a spectacular and tragic ending in which the heroine and her brother find their death while Dorlcote Mill is destroyed, but the catastrophe is never felt, or meant to be felt, as universal. The narrator even insists in the epilogue that 'Nature repairs her ravages', repairs them, it specifies, 'with her sunshine, and with human labour': The desolation wrought by that flood, had left little visible trace on the face of the earth, five years later. The fifth autumn was rich in golden corn-stacks, rising in thick clusters among the distant hedgerows; the wharves and warehouses on the Floss were busy again, with echoes of eager voices, with hopeful lading and unlading. The world described here is not a new world. The Mill itself has been rebuilt, we are told, and bears the same name as before. Everybody, except Maggie and Tom, has survived the catastrophe and St Oggs is as peaceful and prosperous as ever. The flood for George Eliot is no more than a flood: the Floss has overflown its banks. What else could be expected from the translator of Strauss and of Feuerbach, the disciple of Comte? Marian Evans is not the kind of person who would use the biblical Flood as a serious metaphor as Dickens does in Bleak House. Nor would she treat the myth jokingly as do both Dickens and Woolf. She is too respectful of other people's beliefs and has too long harboured religious feelings to ironize on a subject so central to her own preoccupations. Her heroine, besides, is herself a believer of the same type as young Mary Ann in her Evangelical days, with a strong sense of the sacred. The scene that takes place just before the waters begin to rise shows her almost in a mystic trance, remembering the 'old book', Thomas a Kempis's The Imitation of Christ, that so influenced her adolescence, and addressing God pathetically: 'I have received the Cross, I have received it from thy hand; I will bear it, and bear it till death, as thou hast laid it upon me' (p. 648). A few minutes later, when she feels 'a startling sensation of sudden cold about her knees', she knows at once what it means: 'She was not bewildered for an instant -- she knew it was the flood'; 'Bob, the Flood is come', she exclaims (p. 649). The Flood is for her 'that awful visitation of God which her father used to talk of' (p. 651), her punishment and her deliverance. Although it bears no authorial message of redemption or hope, this flood brings about reconciliation and relief. In fact, we could almost speak of a happy ending when brother and sister are shown going down 'in an embrace never to be parted' (p. 655). The word 'embrace', which reappears in the conclusion ('two bodies that were found in close embrace' (p. 656)), had already been used in the introduction to describe the love-making of the river and the sea: 'A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide, rushing to meet it, checks its passage with an impetuous embrace' (p. 53). This was 'many years ago' (p. 55), but we have now come full circle, as if time had been suppressed from the instant when brother and sister were given the chance of 'living through again in one supreme moment, the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together' (p. 655). Not being universal, this flood cannot deprive the world of its future. But it might well be a means for the novelist of preventing the future of the heroine from being too disastrous. In

the last chapter of the book, entitled 'The Last Conflict', we see Maggie confronted with what she thinks might be 'her real temptation' (p. 647). Stephen has written. His letter is an appeal, pathetic and reasonable, against her 'useless sacrifice of him [and] of herself' (p. 646). 'Come', he writes. But, 'close upon that decisive act', her mind suddenly 'recoil[s]'. She decides to resist temptation, burns the letter, too persuasive to be read once more: 'Tomorrow she would write to him the last word of parting' (pp. 648-49). Yes, of course, tomorrow she might, if it was fine. But would she? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. And we have had previous opportunities of verifying that, even when she was not under the compulsion of sexual tyranny, Maggie could be weak enough not to keep her word. Who could forget how, at the time of her involvement with Philip, she had been faced with a similar, though purely 'mental', conflict and had resolved to break the relationship and not to stray again towards the Red Deeps? 'Philip, I have made up my mind', she had said, 'it is right that we should give each other up, in everything but memory. I could not see you without concealment' (p. 425). But Philip, the 'tempter', had manoeuvred cleverly: 'If I meet you by chance', he had suggested, 'there is no concealment in that'. An interesting narratorial commentary had followed: It is the moment when our resolution seems about to become irrevocable -- when the fatal iron gates are about to close upon us --that tests our strength. Then, after hours of clear reasoning and firm conviction, we snatch at any sophistry that will nullify our long struggles and bring us the defeat that we love better than victory. (p. 429) Might she not now meet Stephen 'by chance'? Supposing George Eliot had chosen to let her live, who can tell whether she would not have lapsed? Fortunately, she is not allowed 'hours of clear reasoning', and death precludes at once defeat and victory. All the mights and woulds are exterminated by her creator's flood, a blessing in disguise. Each of the three novels chosen to illustrate the subject of this study bears a title that refers to a place: a house, a mill, a lighthouse, buildings erected by men to resist, curb, and even challenge the forces of nature. Each in its own way thus addresses from the outset the question of man's vulnerability and of his inventiveness in order to survive in a hostile universe. Each offers its own variations on the hackneyed themes of the market-place (the weather, the passing of time) which are also the themes of our greatest poets. But, whereas poets (as a rule) celebrate youth and beauty and grieve over the transience of life, novelists, aping the gods, create worlds in which they have the power to deal out life and death, invent heroes and heroines, and eventually 'kill them for their sport'. Short-lived gods indeed, they know only too well that in real life they will never be the masters of time or the elements. All they can do, before facing their own defeat, is word their fears into fiction and, through the use of metaphor, plot, grammar, rhetorical devices, assert themselves as the masters of language and narration. The Flood metaphor that runs through the three novels is the one trait they have in common. But it is striking how, in spite of the differences in style and purpose, nature and nurture combine in each case to give the narratives a cosmic dimension. In the middle section of To

the Lighthouse, the description of the havoc worked on the Ramsays' home by foul weather becomes an allegory of the human condition because of a reference, however slight, to the Flood of Genesis; so does Maggie's death in the last chapter of The Mill on the Floss. In Dickens's novel, the metaphorical Deluge does more than magnify the anger of the narrator, it proclaims from the very first the disastrous future of all the sinners tainted by this original evil. Such is the power of some words that tradition has rendered performative. 'The word dog does not bite', says William James.[6] But the word Flood drowns and exterminates, inexorably. [1] Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927), (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), p. 5. All references are to this edition. [2] Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853), (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 49. All references are to this edition. [3] Charles Landseer, 'The Return of the Dove to the Ark', 1844; John Everett Millais, same title, 1851; Daniel Maclise also painted 'Noah's Sacrifice --The Ark Resteth on Ararat' in 1847. [4] I think in particular of Byron's Cain and of his Heaven and Earth that inspired John Martin. For more details, see Anny Sadrin, 'John Martin's Deluge', Interfaces, 7 (1995), 11-26. [5] George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860), (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 656. All references are to this edition. [6] Quoted, in French and without any references, by Gerard Genette in 'Frontie`res du recit', Communications, 8 (Paris: Le Seuil, 1966), p. 154.