from The Mill on the FlossGeorge Eliot[Maggie] turned away and hurried home, feeling that in the hour since she had trodden this road before, a new era had begun for her. The tissue of vague dreams must now get narrower and narrower, and all the threads of thought and emotion be gradually absorbed in the woof of her daily life.
The Mill on the Floss is, in a few ways, an earlier version of Middlemarch, especially, I think, in the depiction of heroines. Both Mill's Maggie Tulliver and Middlemarch's Dorothea Brooke wrestle with the conundrum of passion versus duty, but Maggie has far less self-control, far more innocence, than Dorothea does. She is in no way a prig, whereas Dorothea has always struck me as irritatingly prissy.
This theme of self-abnegation and repression is a common one in Victorian literature; and oddly, one of the best writers on the matter was a man: Anthony Trollope. But I find Eliot's delineation of Maggie particularly touching because she is not afraid to deal open-heartedly with the delicacies of vanity. Maggie longs to be admired as clever and charming--not in a Madame Bovary way but because she sees admiration as a response to her own full-hearted love and admiration for the people--especially the men--around her. It's a quintessentially teenage desire, and I'm not sure that some of us ever quite get over it.