Well, just as I feared, Maggie screwed herself up bigtime. She totally falls for her cousin Lucy's suitor, Stephan. She tries to hide it, but then he falls for her as well, so you know it's gonna be trouble. And it was. Stephan seems to decide "What the heck, I'm going for this" but Maggie pushes him aside, although she is barely able to do this. Stephen agrees, and tries to resist Maggie, but he just can't. Then, one day, a boating outing is planned, one in which Lucy hopes to put Maggie and Philip Wakem in a rowboat so that they can have some alone time and romance one another, while Lucy will row with Stephen. Alas, Philip suspects something is going on between Maggie and Stephen, so he doesn't come that day. And Lucy gets called away for some reason or another. So boom, suddenly Maggie and Stephen are in a rowboat together, enjoying a beautiful afternoon. Uh oh. They row down the river, and Stephen suggests to Maggie that they just keep on rowing down the river, Huck Finn style, and elope and get married. Maggie says no, because she loves Lucy and Philip and doesn't want to hurt them, even though she totally is into Stephen (for reasons unclear to me, because he seems like a bit of a douche). But Stephen presses the issue, and then Maggie gets rash, gives in and says yes, and the next thing you know they're catching a ride on a bigger ship, and the next day they're in another town way down the river. Then Maggie freaks out, says it was all a mistake, and after arguing with Stephen, she gets in a coach to take her back to her hometown. Of course, she gets in the wrong coach and goes even farther away from home, so that by the time she really does get home, several days have past, which means the scandal in town is totally HUGE!! Oops.
I have to stop here and comment about what I said in my very first post on this novel...as a kid, Maggie would get these crazy impulsive ideas in her head, immediately act on them, and then just as quickly she'd regret what she'd done. Well, she's done exactly the same thing here as an adult. And this is one reason why Eliot is so awesome...Maggie was such a convincing character as a child, and as an adult she acts just like the character we'd thought she'd grow up to be. This is not easy writing to pull off, but Eliot does it with ease.
Anyway, back to the book. So Maggie is back in town, and is ostracized by almost everyone. Most hurtful is her beloved brother, who spurns her. The guy loves her, and has done well for his family, but he's totally self-righteous and rather pitiless. But a childhood friend of the brother takes Maggie in and lets her stay in his house with his family. And Philip writes Maggie and says all is forgiven. And finally Lucy comes to see Maggie and they cry and all is forgiven. But does it all end happily? Of course not! First, Stephen writes Maggie and asks her to reconsider, that they can still run off and marry. Maggie burns the letter...her mind is made up. But still, this causes her to suffer all over again. Then, one night as she's alone in her room after many rainy days, wondering how much longer her pitiful life will last, she notices there's water everywhere! A flood!! She bravely wakes up the house, and saves everyone, and then takes off in a rowboat for the Mill, where her brother is now living again. After great effort, she rows up to the flooded mill house and saves her brother, who, realizing the tremendous effort it took her, and realizing how she loves him, forgives and embraces her. Then the boat gets rammed by floating debris and they drown in each other's embrace. The End.
If it seems to you that my description of the ending happens abruptly, well, it does! The ending is weird that way. It almost seems contrived. But I'll forgive Eliot this, since the rest of the book is so wonderful. It's not a quick read, and not full of action and adventure, but a great book nonetheless.
I'd leave it at that, but I have one final thought...what's with all the water? First of all, the mill is on the river Floss. Then, in a critical early scene, Maggie pushes her cousin Lucy into the mud when they're down by the pond. The critical scene where Maggie impulsively gives in to Stephen's wooing happens while they're rowing on the river (and she returns home afterwards not by river, but by land). And at the end, of course, Maggie and Tom drown in the flood. What does all this water symbolize? What does it all mean? If you have any ideas, let me know. Meanwhile, this talk of water is making me thirsty, so I'll go have some...mixed with a bit of bourbon. Thanks, George Eliot!
Up next: Bleak House!