So, an interesting start.
First we get this framing of the setting – the narrator remembering this fictional place, seeing a little girl by a mill, then waking up.
Then we get Mr and Mrs Tulliver, the parents of the boy and girl Book 1 seems to be named after, debating education for their son. Both parents are pretty vapid and shallow and (of course) deeply sexist. They’re only debating their son’s schooling, because he’s sort of slow and they want him to be a good business man when he grows up. They’re actually pretty sad that their daughter is so smart and always reading.
Already this feels like Eliot and we are totally on Maggie Tulliver’s side.
One thing I remember loving in Middlemarch was how Eliot would have these wonderful asides talking about humanity and/or morality — basically pointing out the foibles of a character in a scene we just saw, and showing that we all have them, or that we’re all failures in some small way that we are (as readers) currently judging a character for.
Sometimes it seems like she’s joking — like yes this person is corrupt but aren’t we all? But then other times it seems a little like she means it. Either way it’s mind-stretching in some small important way even 157 years later and I appreciate it.
Mr. Tulliver has his friend Riley over and Riley recommends that they send Tom to study with a pastor named Rev. Walter Stelling for his tutor. He recommends him with much more detail and certitude than he should, and convinces himself as he embroiders his story. Eliot has a great aside about how we all do this.
Just prior to that there’s a wonderful aside about how most bad behavior is more negligence and/or laziness than actual well-planned strategy:
For there is nothing more widely misleading than sagacity if it happens to get on a wrong scent, and sagacity persuaded that men usually act and speak from distinct motives, with a consciously proposed end in view, is certain to waste its energies on imaginary game. Plotting covetousness and deliberate contrivance in order to compass a selfish end, are nowhere abundant but in the world of the dramatist: they demand too intense a mental action for many of our fellow — parishioners to be guilty of them. It is easy enough to spoil the lives of our neighbours without taking so much trouble: we can do it by lazy acquiescence and lazy omission, by trivial falsities for which we hardly know a reason, by small frauds neutralised by small extravagances, by maladroit flatteries and clumsily improvised insinuations. We live from hand to mouth, most of us, with a small family of immediate desires — we do little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed-corn or the next year’s crop.
Basically – ignorance and smallness are far more likely culprits than a grand well-schemed enemy. But no less dangerous. (Ouch, 2017.)