Well, I'll tell you this: George Eliot (AKA Mary Ann Evans) wrote novels in the 1800s. And whatya know, so did Jane Austen. And also, remarkably enough, there are some incredible similarities between the two novels mentioned in the title. Since I had to read both novels for my English class this past semester, and since I wrote a compare and contrast essay on them for part of my final exam, I feel like I should write my reviews in a similar way.
So, without further adieu, please let me introduce:
It's only fair that I start with the similarities between the two novels. Both feature strong female leads living in 19th century England, and both females come from prominent families. Both characters are stuck living a life that does not suit them. Emma tries to overcome this by playing with her friends and making matches to add a little entertainment to her life. Maggie Tulliver (the protagonist in The Mill on the Floss) wants desperately to be loved by her brother, but at the same time she wants to be something more than the obedient and, well, boring woman that she is expected by her family to be.
The two novels are also remarkably similar in writing style. The narrator in both novels is constantly critiquing the events of the novel. In Emma, the situations are always laughable, and the narrator makes sure that the reader sees the humor clearly. In The Mill on the Floss, the narrator is a bit more scolding, almost like it wants to make sure the reader doesn't jump to silly conclusions. The narrator's commentary really makes both of the books memorable.
However, there are a number of differences between the two novels that are important to keep in mind. First: Emma is a comedy. You are meant to laugh at the events, and you are meant to read the book knowing that it will end happily, with a marriage of some sort where two happy people ride off into the sunset, or whatever it is that newlyweds did back in the 19th century.
The Mill on the Floss is not a comedy, or at least not predominantly. It is a tragedy, from beginning to end. You see Maggie's impossible situation from the first page, where you learn what is expected from the spirited little girl. You know the only possible outcomes would be for her to either succumb to societies expectations of her, which will crush her spirits and leave her unhappy, or to live her life as an outcast from her own family, which would make her unhappy because of her extreme desire to please her brother Tom. You know that there is no fairytale ending.
Okay, so that's the end of my analysis. Even though there are similarities and differences between the two novels, they are both really good in their own ways. Emma is hilarious if you let yourself get lost in the ridiculousness of the characters, and it's really just a fun novel that you can't help but love in the end. The Mill on the Floss is also amazing. There is a bit of humor, but it's mostly heart-wrenching and tear-jerking and you find yourself rooting for Maggie the whole way. It's a long book, I'll give it that, and at times it can be difficult to read it, but once you get through it you can't help but feel a sense of accomplishment.
I would recommend BOTH of these novels to anyone looking to expand their literary pursuits. I loved them both, although I have to say The Mill on the Floss has a truly special place in my heart. You should definitely give it a try.