Book 6: “The Great Temptation”

What are some implications of the title? Why are the events described interpreted as a “temptation,” rather than a romance?

Chapter 1: A Duet in Paradise

Who are the participants in the duet? What do we learn of the relationship between Lucy and Maggie? Of Lucy’s character?

How is Stephen first presented? In what ways do you think the author means to criticize him?

How is music made to carry some of the themes of the book?

To whom does Stephen compare himself and Lucy? Is this an ominous metaphor? Who/what then enters the garden?

How is the relationship between Stephen and Lucy described? Do you think the narrator feels it is lacking in any way?

What changes have occurred in Maggie’s situation in the intervening two years since her father’s death?

Chapter 2: First Impressions

Had Maggie enjoyed life as a schoolteacher?

What does Maggie think about the suitability of seeing Philip again?

How do Maggie and Stephen respond to one another on first meeting?

What do we learn of Dr. Kenn? What future ambitions does Stephen harbor?

What feature of Maggie’s appearance do her female relatives make much of?

Chapter 3: Confidential Moments

In what ways has Maggie’s outlook on life changed in the past two years?

Why won’t she see Philip without first obtaining Tom’s permission? What is Lucy’s response to this?

What details does Maggie omit from her account to Lucy of Philip and Tom’s clash, and are these omissions significant? Has she been, in the narrator’s words, “completely sincere”?

Does Lucy think the union of Philip and Maggie would be a happy outcome, and how are we to evaluate her opinion?

How are we to interpret Maggie’s feeling of chill at Lucy’s kind projections?

 In your view, how are the narrator's references to Philip's deformity intended to affect our judgment of Maggie's lack of romantic interest in him?

Chapter 4: Brother and Sister

With whom is Tom lodging? What does Bob suggest to Maggie may be Tom’s state of mind?

What themes are reiterated in the scene in which Maggie asks Tom’s permission to join a social group which includes Philip?

What does he threaten? Why doesn’t she simply ignore him?

What has Maggie done after their father’s death that annoys him? Is the reader expected to agree with him?

What prompts Maggie to agree that marriage to Philip would be wrong?

Does Maggie view her relationship to Philip as a romantic one?

Chapter 5: Showing that Tom had opened the Oyster

What offer does Mr. Deane make to Tom? What does Tom ask in return?

What remark does Tom make about his interests? What seems the narrator’s response?

Chapter 6: Illustrating the Laws of Attraction

What is the significance of the metaphor of a full and rapid river?

How is Stephen and Maggie’s attraction toward each other manifested?  

Do we know if they are compatible? What are some of the circumstances which draw them together?  

What private opinions does Stephen hold of Maggie? What contradictory emotions does he sense in her?

Chapter 7: Philip Re-Enters

What emotions do Maggie and Philip feel when together again? What future does Maggie anticipate for herself? Does she view her relationship with him as a romantic one?

What emotions does Philip convey through singing? What are some symbolic aspects of the songs sung by the group?

Is Stephen an intelligent and cultured man? What is his attitude toward Philip?

With what motives does Lucy speak to her father about Wakem’s mill? What does she report of the Tullivers’ desire to reclaim their former mill?

Is she quite accurate in describing the situation  to her father?

Whose support does she think will help this cause?

Chapter 8: Wakem in a New Light

What prompts Philip to encourage his father to sell the Tulliver’s former mill to Guest and Co.?

How does Mr. Wakem senior respond to the news that his son loves the daughter of his old enemy?

What arguments does Philip use to attempt to persuade his father to sanction his choice? Do you think these are good ones?

What do we learn about Philip’s economic prospects?

How is his relationship with his son contrasted with that of Mr. Tulliver with his own children?

Chapter 9: Charity in Full Dress

Who visits Maggie’s booth at the charity bazaar? How does each man respond? (Mr. Wakem, Stephen, Dr. Kenn) Who watches from afar, and with what anxiety?

What reason does Maggie give to Lucy for her intended departure from St. Ogg’s? How does she tell Lucy she views the prospect of a marriage with Philip? (states she cannot break with her brother)

What reasons does she give for her attachment to Philip? Do these seem adequate?

Has she set up a problem which, should she live, would follow her throughout life? (can’t marry anyone except Philip and can’t marry Philip because of her brother)

Do you believe she knows her own intentions? Is Lucy entirely convinced?

Chapter 10: The Spell Seems Broken

At what occasion does Maggie dance, and what kind of dances does she prefer? (country dances rather than waltzes) What meaning would this have had for a Victorian reader?

What emotions overtake Maggie and Stephen in the conservatory? What seems symbolic about the setting and her desire to pluck a rose?

What do you make of the paragraph in which the narrator describes the attractive qualities of a woman’s arm? From whose point of view are we expected to interpret it?

What causes Maggie to feel affront? How are readers expected to view Stephen’s kissing of her arm?
When Philip visits Maggie, of what does she assure him?

What do you make of the fact that she holds his hand, and proclaims her memory of past times? (avoids love in the present; leads him on through gestures which, if she does not intend to marry him, will be misleading)

Chapter 11: In the Lane

Under what circumstances does Stephen press his claims? (interview at her Aunt Moss’s) What is the general tone of their conversation? (both at first resentful, he pleads for respect, she firmly says no)

What are some features of Stephen’s courtship? Is it important that he desires marriage?

On what grounds does Maggie reject his pleas? How do you think the narrator believes she should respond?  (states that spiritual force of past helps her in this moment)

What do you think of her claim that they owe to Lucy and Philip a denial of their feelings for each other? Of his claim that she owes a duty to herself and to him? (Lucy and Philip would surely be distressed to marry someone who loved another)

Why don’t Stephen and Maggie consider the issue of whether they are personally compatible? Has he given reasons for his sudden love for her, and do you find it convincing?

Does her claim that she would rather die than marry Stephen seem ominous? Does her statement that she won’t marry anyone except Philip seem to cover all aspects of the situation? (fails to claim that she loves him)

How convincing is Maggie’s claim that morality consists of fulfilling “the expectations that we have raised in other minds”? (other-directed, begs issue of actions themselves)

Is it surprising that Maggie claims to “love” Stephen? What is meant by love in this context?

Would a Victorian audience have approved of their kiss? (reviewers were quite offended at her behavior)

How has her Aunt Moss viewed Maggie’s conversation with her visitor? (wishes her well)

To what emotions does Maggie give way after Stephen’s departure? What effect is the narrator’s description of her as “poor child”?

Chapter 12: A Family Party

What course of events makes it possible for Tom to take over the mill? (Jetsome, the current tenant, fell off his horse while in a drunken state) What will be the result? (Mrs. Tulliver and Tom will move to their former residence, and presumably could offer Maggie a home)

How do Maggie’s relatives view her continuing as a teacher? Why might she not want to live with her family?

Why isn’t Lucy able to persuade Tom to ignore his repugnance to Philip? What does the narrator present as Tom’s motives?

What unintended consequence results from this conversation? (Tom assumes Maggie may intend to marry Philip)

How is this incident important to the novel’s plot?

Chapter 13:Borne Along by the Tide

How does Philip react to his recognition that a repressed attraction exists between Maggie and Stephen? (too agitated to take boat ride)

What chain of circumstances causes Maggie and Stephen to be left alone? What mood are they in?

What might have prevented their problems? (could have refrained from boat ride—a bit suggestive in mind of Victorian reader?

What symbolism inheres in Stephen and Maggie’s riverboat journey? Are they both responsible for what happens? If so, why does Maggie blame Stephen?

Why do they both feel their absence will cause consternation at home? Was taking the boat to Mudport a good idea? Even if not, what explanations might they have offered?

Why does Stephen suggest that they marry in Scotland? (could have married in next county!)

What does the narrator seem to feel were Maggie’s options? Might there have been others? (their delay and sense of guilt would have made them seem guilty)

Chapter 14: The Waking

What dream does Maggie have while on the boat, and what does it seem to foreshadow? How do Lucy and Philip enter her thoughts? (could not give them pain) 

What does she do to separate from Stephen? (takes coach to York, delaying her return) Would she have been able to pay for this?   

What motives prompt Maggie to return home at the book’s end, and what emotions does she continue to feel toward Stephen?

Do you think Maggie’s actions/emotions are consistent? Repressive and self-destructive? Will anyone in fact benefit from her rejection of Stephen? (not her family, certainly; perhaps Lucy; perhaps slightly Philip)

The Final Rescue

To what “rescue” does the title refer? Might more than one form of “rescue” be meant?

Chapter 1: The Return to the Mill

What greeting does she receive from Tom on her return? What does he believe she has done, and with what consequences?

What decision does her mother make, and does this surprise you? Does his decision to evict both women seem surprising?  Where do they lodge?

What part is played in the narrative by Bob Jakin? What attitude does he hold towards her? (respect, has named his daughter after her)

What request does she make? (that he inquire of Dr. Kenn on her behalf) What has recently happened to Dr. Kenn? (his wife has died)

Chapter 2: St. Ogg’s Passes Judgment

How do the members of St. Ogg’s society view the conduct of Maggie and Stephen? (blame her)

What are Maggie’s plans of self-support? (to sew, to find work in St. Ogg’s)

What news has come of Lucy and Stephen? (Lucy has collapsed into sickness but is mending, Stephen has vindicated her and gone abroad)

How does Dr. Kenn respond to her confession? (thinks she has done right, but also counsels her to leave area) Do you think his advice is good?

What does he privately think? (feels a marriage with Stephen might make sense, but shares her view that conscience is operating on her and must be followed)

Why won’t she leave the area? (clings to past)

What are the narrator’s final comments on passion and duty? (can’t judge unless we have experienced)

Chapter 3: Showing that Old Acquaintances are Capable of Surprising Us

How do her aunts Glegg and Pullet respond to the news of Maggie’s defection? Her uncles? Do these reactions seem what one might have anticipated?

How does Philip react to the relationship between Maggie and Stephen? (his health suffers) What sentiments does he express in his farewell letter to her?

To what does he attribute her attraction to Stephen? (a lower part of her nature)

What does he believe has been the effect of his love for her on his life?

Does the tone suggest that he hopes they may marry? (no, he accepts loss of her love) What will be he effect of her rejection? (neurasthenic headaches)

Chapter 4: Maggie and Lucy

What offer of support does Maggie refuse? (her aunt Glegg had offered to take her in) Who gives her employment? (hired as governess by Dr. Kenn)

On what grounds do Maggie and Lucy make peace? For what does Lucy thank Maggie? (has “given up” Stephen) What does Maggie reassure her in return? (he will return and be happy with Lucy)

Does Maggie have evidence for this? Will her prediction prove correct?

Chapter 5: The Last Conflict

What options does Maggie seem to have, and which of these does she choose? (Dr. Kenn has advised her to leave, and stated that he will attempt to gain employment for her elsewhere)

What letter from Stephen increases her inner conflict? What does she do to the letter? (burns it!)

Is there symbolism inherent in the timing of the flood’s beginning? (has decided again to renounce him)

Does Maggie row in a direction which would have saved her? Is there symbolism to her return to her childhood home?

What has happened to the Jakins? (left without a boat!)

What is Tom’s response to Maggie’s attempt to save his life? How are brother and sister joined? (embraces her as wave overtakes them)

In your view, does this ending seem to resolve the tensions of the book? Or reenact them?

Granted the assumptions of the narrator about the inviolability of original ties, can you think of any way in which Maggie might have achieved a resolution of her many inner conflicts on the threshold of maturation?

Does the narrator/author wish the reader to believe that a great moral “rescue” has enabled Maggie to be reunited with her childhood companion? Or might other feelings prompt the book’s violent ending?


Has nature returned to its original state within a few years of the flood?

What events occur after the siblings’ deaths? Do these affect our views of any of the participants?

What is the relevance of the biblical quotation? In the original, to what had it referred?

Is the conclusion calming? Does it provide any closure?

Is this book a tragedy? What enduring themes does it seem to raise?

Which of these may have had special relevance for Victorian women?

On what grounds might some reviewers have found this an “immoral” book? On what grounds might a modern reader defend or criticize its intentions?