In the early chapters of The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot describes Maggie, her young, feisty and vivacious heroine: “There were passions at war in Maggie at that moment to have made a tragedy, if tragedies were made by passions only; but the essential τι μέγεθος (some kind of magnitude) which was present in the passion was wanted to the action.”
τι μέγεθος is a phrase from Aristotle’s Poetics* which he uses to describe an action of “some kind of magnitude” that is an essential part of any tragedy. Maggie has a passion for life that makes her charge forward into deeds and actions that other “nice” little girls would never dare. The descriptions of her mop of wild, thick hair and her darker skin also make her stand out amongst other girls her age. One of my favorite scenes that demonstrates Maggie’s unbridled spirit and her refusal to conform to expectations is when she listens to the music from her Uncle Pullet’s snuff-box. She can’t sit quietly and listen like the other children, but immediately jumps up and expresses the emotions stirred up through the music by grasping her older brother, Tom: “But when the magic music ceased, she jumped up, and, running towards Tom, put her arm around his neck and said, ‘O, Tom, isn’t it pretty.'” Unfortunately for Maggie, Tom had a glass of cowslip wine in his hand which was spilled during Maggie’s enthusiastic embrace. As a result, Maggie is, once again, subject to a litany of scolding from the adults:
‘Why don’t you sit still, Maggie?’ her mother said, peevishly.
‘Little gells mustn’t come to see me if they behave in that way,’ said aunt Pullet.
‘Why, you’re too rough, little miss,’ said uncle Pullet.
But these numerous reprimands never deter Maggie or dampen her spirit and I find myself admiring the girl because of her bravery. Eliot is obviously foreshadowing an event that will be much more tragic, of some kind of greater magnitude for her heroine. I am glad to have this book to keep me company on what is supposed to be a lovely spring weekend here in New England. I would enjoy hearing about what others are reading this weekend. Let me know in the comments.
*Aristotle Poetics 1450b: κεῖται δὴ ἡμῖν τὴν τραγῳδίαν τελείας καὶ ὅλης πράξεως εἶναι μίμησιν ἐχούσης τι μέγεθος. (It occurs to us that tragedy is the mimesis (imitation) of a complete and whole action and some kind of magnitude.)