The Narrator of 'The Mill on the Floss'

Margaret Harris

Abstract


While some of the contemporary reviewers of The Mill on the Floss praised the skill and vigour of the manner in which the tale was told, there were objections:

Her clear, racy, nervous English, heightened by gleams of quiet humour and thrills of calm pathos, lends rather a perilous charm to passages teeming with the worst luxuriance of that petty realism which passes with careless critics for art of the first order. Even these are less intolerable than those other passages of laboured irony and didactic commonplace, which read like bits of private notebooks foisted into their present places... Her interjectional remarks are seldom very wise or very pertinent. In nine cases out of ten they only interrupt the story, without offering a fair sop to the reader's impatience.... With the peevish fretfulness of a camel in the act of loading, our authoress keeps groaning out her tiresome tirades against evils for the most part of her own imagining.

Less cruelly put, the same kind of complaint about the obtrusiveness of the narrator in much nineteenth-century fiction continued for a century until the critical rehabilitation of the onmiscient author convention began with such studies as Kathleen Tillotson's The Tale and the Teller (1959), W. J. Harvey's The Art of George Eliot (1961), and Wayne C. Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961).

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