From The Mill on the Floss:

Day break came and the reddening eastern light, while her past life was grasping her in this way, with that tightening clutch which comes in the last moments of possible rescue. She could see Stephen now lying on the deck still fast asleep, and with the sight of him there came a wave of anguish that found its way in a long-suppressed sob. The worst bitterness of parting—the thought that urged the sharpest inward cry for help--was the pain it must give to him. But surmounting everything was the horror at her own possible failure, the dread lest her conscience should be benumbed again, and not rise to energy till it was too late. Too late! it was too late already not to have caused misery; too late for everything, perhaps, but to rush away from the last act of baseness,—the tasting of joys that were wrung from crushed hearts.

What does the part in bold mean? Is it some kind of sarcasm?

  • 2
    Please edit your question to provide surrounding context for the quote and a link, so that those who could answer don't have to do all that extra work. Here is an example of a question that provides helpful context and a link. Thanks!
    – verbose
    Mar 16 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


The context is that Stephen has asked Maggie to elope with him despite the fact that he is engaged to her cousin, Lucy. Maggie is also loved by Philip, and at one point she has told him that she returns his love. But carried away by her feelings for Stephen, Maggie agrees to his plan. They take an overnight boat intending to marry the next day. But in the morning, Maggie realizes that by eloping with him, she has already ... caused misery to Lucy and Philip, because they will have noticed that Maggie and Stephen have run away together. And if she does go through with marrying Stephen, any joys they have as a married couple will have been wrung from crushed hearts, those of Lucy and Philip. She thinks that it is too late to avoid giving Lucy and Philip some pain, but not too late ... to rush away from the last act of baseness of getting joy that entails their unhappiness. The passage is not sarcastic. It represents Maggie's thoughts and feelings as she reconsiders her rash decision to elope with Stephen.

  • Thanks for your long and patient answer. I got it know.
    – MT MTESK
    Mar 17 at 18:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.