Bintry Watermill, which depicted Dorlcote Mill in the 1997 TV series. Wikimedia Commons

Quarantine and self-isolation around the world mean that people have time to do a lot more reading over the coming months. To give our readers some ideas MercatorNet is featuring short book reviews from contributors and readers.

You might also be interested in two great reading lists from MercatorNet:

101 books Gen Ys must read before they die

101 books Millennials must read before they die

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If by this stage in your coronavirus confinement there is still time to read, may I recommend The Mill on the Floss. If you can look past a few passages of flowery dialogue, this novel by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) has at least three great treasures to bestow on the modern reader.

Firstly, it is a tale brilliantly told by a writer with great wit, compassion, keen observation, psychological insight and vast vocabulary. In this, it is both entertaining and enlightening, a joy to read and offering the gratification of knowing you are one book more literate in the classics. “Happy thoughts indeed,” while pursuing your career in reading English classics.

Secondly, the spiritual struggles and moral heroism of its protagonist, Maggie Tulliver, from girlhood to young womanhood, represent the very best in female strength and valour. Yet Eliot treats Maggie’s bravery in a way foreign to modern portrayals of heroines, by contrasting it not only against the follies and evils of men, but against those of women also, and even predominantly.

And then it is a powerful antidote to the popular sentiment that romantic love is the highest good to which all other goods may be subjected. This message is driven home in part by brilliant writing, but even more by Eliot’s deep understanding of, and compassion for the strength of human passion.

The crowning passage in the story may very well be this:

“If life did not make duties for us before love comes– love would be a sign that two people ought to belong to each other. But I see–I feel it is not so now: there are things we must renounce in life: some of us must resign love. Many things are difficult and dark to me; but I see one thing quite clearly– that I must not, cannot seek my own happiness by sacrificing others. Love is natural; but surely pity and faithfulness and memory are natural too. And they would live in me still, and punish me if I did not obey them, I would be haunted by the suffering I had caused. Our love would be poisoned.”

Compare this to the modern mantra that “love is love”. Eliot’s exploration of the relational complexities this sentiment ignores – like filial bonds, duty and faithfulness – is an inspiring reminder of what true heroism involves, and what it usually looks like: ordinary, unassuming, resolute, and sometimes too – as in the case of Maggie Tulliver – offensive to “society”.

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Veronika Winkels

Veronika Winkels writes from Melbourne. She is the mother of three young children.