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The real places that inspired Eliot

Updated Tuesday, 20th October 2015
See George Eliot’s manuscript and the fictional names she gave to real places.

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George Eliot's manuscript for The Mill on the Floss.

In The Mill on the Floss, Mudport is a large city to which Maggie and Stephen Guest travel with the intention of marrying. Eliot experimented with different names for the city and it is thought to be based on the real city of Hull.

Most of The Mill on the Floss is set in and around the fictional town of St. Ogg’s. The name is made up, but in 1859 Eliot had visited Gainsborough in Lincolnshire with her partner George Lewes. The pair hired a boat and rowed several miles down the river Trent. Eliot was looking for somewhere with a river big enough to produce the sort of flood with which The Mill on the Floss ends. She had been disappointed by the river Frome at Dorchester but found what she wanted in the Trent at Gainsborough. However, the landscape of The Mill on the Floss is not identical with Gainsborough. Dorlcote Mill is based on Eliot’s memories of her childhood in Warwickshire and of a visit she paid to a mill near Weymouth after she had started writing the novel.

A realist novel like The Mill on the Floss has a complicated relationship with the real world. We know that the story and characters are made up, but they are designed to appear like a record of everyday life. George Eliot worked hard to set her novel in a place which might not have appeared on any map but which could have been real. Even the flood, which critics have sometimes argued is an implausibly neat way to resolve the story, was carefully researched to make sure that it was geographically possible. 

More about The Mill on the Floss

Titles that sell: See the changes George Eliot made as she wrote The Mill on the Floss.

Recycled stories: Compare stories that inspired Eliot and explore her birthplace and belongings.

The Secret Life of Books: Find out more about the other books in the series. 


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