Water rights and the "crossing o' breeds": Chiastic exchange in The Mill on the Floss

Jules Law*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


With his study of the river in George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Jules Law elaborates a theory of the text as a formal expression of social tensions which are, though material, themselves mediated and symptoms of deep-rooted historical contradictions. In following the lead of Fredric Jameson and other Marxist and post-Marxist theorists of culture, Law offers a genuinely fresh interpretation of George Eliot's novel by calling into question those readings which thematize the river without also taking account of historical and material references related to it, such as steam power, agricultural technology, and water rights. Law makes sense of the role played by the river - translating the river's material influence into its social and symbolic significance - by drawing on both rhetorical and materialist criticism. In offering the syntactic figure of chiasmus (symmetrical crossing) as the figurative clue informing the representation of the river and of the social logic of the text, Law relates exchange explicitly to gender and power. He argues that the river must be grasped as a symbolic form in the widest sense possible: that which has its own material significance in the text, that which recapitulates the novel's philosophical themes, and that which reproduces gender-specific structures of social action and interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRewriting the Victorians
Subtitle of host publicationTheory, History, and the Politics of Gender
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9780203120446
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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