My aim is to compare and contrast different kinds of love in the novels The Tenant of Wildfell Hall written by Anne Brontë and The Mill on the Floss written by George Elliot. I am going to examine and determine a love of parents for their children, a love between siblings, a love between man and woman, and a love of literature and art in these novels. In the novel The Mill on the Floss the heroine Helen has a little son – Arthur and she loves him very much. She takes a good care of him, she is aware where he is and what he is doing, and if she is not around her, she asks about him: “What was Arthur doing when you came away?” (Brontë, 55). She tries to provide him a good education and she wants him to become a good man one day. And when he is around his father who has a really bad influence on him, she does everything possible to protect him from the behaviour of his father.
Even though his father is a bad person, she does not want her son to hate his father, she only wants him to see that his father is not a good person and that little Arthur does not have to be the same: “And when you hear such words spoken, Arthur, remember never to repeat them: it is wicked to say such things of others, not to have them said against you” (299). Even though it seems to be impossible to manage it, one day little Arthur sees it: “ ‘I’m sorry papa’s wicked,’ said he mournfully, at length, ‘for I don’t want him to go to hell.’ And so saying he burst into tears” (300). Helen’s love for her son is selfless, patient, and never-stopping – just the way the love of a parent for her or his child is supposed to be. Maggie and Tom, siblings in the novel The Mill on the Floss, have parents who care for them as well. Their father Mr Tulliver wants to provide them with good education: “what I want is to give Tom a good eddication” (Elliot, 14). He knows that he is a bit illiterate so he wants his son to be better, educated, and independent as he has never been.
His wife agrees with him: “Well, Mr. Tulliver, you know best: I’ve no objections” (14). When Tom is sent away from home to get his education, his father visits him when he has a chance: “It was Mr. Tulliver’s first visit to see Tom” (99). They have good parents-children relationship which is obvious from the actions of Tom and Maggie. After their education they help their father, protect him from bad news when he is deadly ill or when he hurts himself, or when he lost everything they obey him and help him: “When Maggie reached home that evening, in obedience to her father’s call, he was no longer insensible” (132). The love of Maggie’s parents is not acquisitive and selfless because they do for their children what they need to have better life and they are asking only for obedience.
Helen has one brother who is called Frederic, but they are not really close as children, because she lives with her aunt and not with him. But when the trouble with Helen’s husband comes and she needs to run, he helps her without hesitation because blood is thicker than water. And thanks to their distant relationship her husband will never ask him about her: “Mr. Huntingdon would be the last person to whom he should communicate the intelligence; and that he need not trouble himself to bargain for the child, for he (Frederick) fancied he knew enough of his sister to enable him to declare, that wherever she might be, or however situated, no consideration would induce her to deliver him up” (326). But when she leaves her husband and starts living in Wildfell Hall, they grow closer and he is her regular visitor. And since no one knows who he is to her, everyone including Gilbert, the man who loves her, thinks that they are lovers.
Gilbert overhears one of their conversations of loving each other and he misinterprets it: “I heard quite enough, Helen. And it was well for me that I did hear it; for nothing less could have cured my infatuation” (107). The love of Helen and Frederick for each other is selfless and caring. On the contrary, Maggie and Tom grow up together, they do everything together. Maggie follows Tom everywhere and he is an example for her. Her love for him during childhood is very sincere: “IT was a heavy disappointment to Maggie that she was not allowed to go with her father in the gig hen he went to fetch Tom home from the academy” (26). But their relationship is as most of the relationships of siblings are – they sometimes argue or tease each other, and sometimes they are impatient with each other, but they are glad to see each other: “Tom, in the gladness of his heart at having dear old Maggie to dispute with and crow over again, seized her round the waist” (100). Later, when Tom does not agree with the choice of her lover, they argue and he stops speaking to her.
But she loves him unconditionally and wants to have a good relationship with him. In the end the stop their disputes and they come to terms with each other: “The boat reappeared, but brother and sister had gone down in an embrace never to be parted; living through again in one supreme moment the days when they had clasped their little hands in love, and roamed the daisied fields together” (333). The first love of the heroine of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was foolish, reckless, and it almost destroyed her. She chose a man with good looks, who made her laugh, but he was irresponsible and wild and she thought he would change. At the beginning their love was passionate, but soon she realized that he flirts with other women even though he was married and that he thinks of her as an object of his pleasure and does not treat her as an equal partner. His love for her is selfish.
On the other hand, her second love, Mr Gilbert Markham, is more matured, but still very passionate and romantic: “just when I love you more than ever” (331). Their love began as friends: “Mrs. Graham and I were now established friends” (78). And while being friends, she realised that he is an opposite of her husband and that he treats her as an equal partner and is a good example for her little son. She knows that she cannot marry him so she tries to protect him from being hurt of unfulfilled love: “‘Now, Gilbert, you must leave me—not this moment, but soon—and you must never come again.’” (331). Their love for each other is selfless and self-sacrificing. Maggie Tulliver has two men in her life that she loves as well. Her first love is Phillip, Tom’s classmate. But at the beginning she pities him more than she loves him because of his deformity. But later they become friends, they talk about the books they read a lot and their love for each other grows.
She thinks of him as a brother, not a lover: “As if I were not grateful for any love. But—but I had never thought of your being my lover. It seemed so far off—like a dream—only like one of the stories one imagines—that I should ever have a lover” (214). But she soon realises that she can love him more than just as a brother: “but I don’t think I could love any one better than I love you” (215). On the contrary, her love for Stephen is based on the mutual attraction. Their love is passionate and everything that Phillip cannot give her. The first time she and Stephen are alone there is strong attraction towards each other they cannot explain: “Did she feel as he did? He hoped she did—not. He ought not to have gone. He would master himself in future. He would make himself disagreeable to her, quarrel with her perhaps. Quarrel with her? Was it possible to quarrel with a creature who had such eyes,—defying and deprecating, contradicting and clinging, imperious and beseeching,—full of delicious opposites? To see such a creature subdued by love for one would be a lot worth having—to another man” (262).
One moment they run away together and want to get married, but Maggie comes to her senses, because their love is forbidden by society since Stephen is her cousin’s fiancé. Helen Graham is a woman who can play the piano, sing a little, she can dance and she really loves literature. But most of all she loves drawing. Sometimes drawing is the only activity she likes doing: “My drawing suits me best, for I can draw and think at the same time; and if my productions cannot now be seen by any one but myself, and those who do not care about them, they, possibly, may be, hereafter” (109). Her drawing is so good that she earns some money with her paintings, which she saves for the escape from her husband. When she comes to Wildfell Hall, she still continues drawing.
It is one of her favourite past times and she draws the things she likes: “she left us and proceeded along the steep, stony hill, to a loftier, more precipitous eminence at some distance, whence a still finer prospect was to be had, where she preferred taking her sketch, though some of the ladies told her it was a frightful place, and advised her not to attempt it” (54). Helen also likes reading a lot, she and Mr Markham often lend each other some books and then discuss it. The love of art is fulfilling for her, it is calming her and helping her overcome bad moments of her life. It is Maggie’s love of literature that is fascinating. Her desire for knowledge and to know everything is never-ending. As a little child she reads a lot, she has read the books that other children have not and the books she should not have read at her age: “The ’History of the Devil,’ by Daniel Defoe,—not quite the right book for a little girl,” said Mr. Riley” (20).
This desire for knowledge does not go weaker when she is older. Every time she visits Tom at his teacher she is fascinated by everything he is being taught. And it is books she and Phillip talk about every time they meet. They discuss if the books are good or if they would like to be like the main characters: “Take back your Corinne,” said Maggie, drawing a book from under her shawl. “You were right in telling me she would do me no good; but you were wrong in thinking I should wish to be like her” (213). When she spends time with her cousin Lucy she starts to like music, but it is books and literature she loves the most: “The mere concord of octaves was a delight to Maggie, and she would often take up a book of studies rather than any melody, that she might taste more keenly by abstraction the more primitive sensation of intervals.
Not that her enjoyment of music was of the kind that indicates a great specific talent; it was rather that her sensibility to the supreme excitement of music was only one form of that passionate sensibility which belonged to her whole nature” (257). Her love of books and literature and all art is really passionate and never ending. To sum up, the theme of love is present greatly in both novels – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Mill on the Floss. Parental love in both these novels is selfless and caring, while the love of siblings differs. Helen is distant with her brother at the beginning, but then they become close. Their love is the kind of love which does not want anything in return.
The love between Maggie and Tom goes through several stages. While Maggie’s love is sincere and stable, Tom’s love goes through the stage of coldness. But in the end he still loves his sister. Both heroines have two men they fall in love with in their lives, and even though they are totally different they both know what it means to love passionately. Also the love of art and literature differs. While Maggie’s love of art and literature is passionate as she is passionate about everything in her life, the love of literature and art is calmer for Helen. The theme of love is depicted a bit differently in these two novels but it is portrayed in a big aspect.
Brontë, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. N.p.: Pennsylvania State University, 2003.
Elliot, George. The Mill on the Floss. Vol. IX. N.p.: Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, 2000. Print.