Okay, so I finished The Mill on the Floss with extremely mixed feelings. The first third was brilliant, the second third was also brilliant but frustrating -- Maggie's indecision and fallibility was, on the one hand, sort of compellingly real, and on the other hand really irritating -- at times she makes you long for even Emma Woodhouse's or Marianne Dashwood's self-respect and internal honesty. And the last third was... missing, because the story ends abruptly and totally out of the blue. Um. Which sort of worked, actually. It left me moved and shell-shocked on one level, if extremely annoyed on another.
But, well... by the end I wasn't wondering any more why Janeites aren't all hailing Eliot as the Second Coming. Austen's books are satisfying on a stylistic level -- they are elegantly concluded, they fit in a certain conventional frame (the Happily Ever After that romance authors acronymize to HEA, for one thing) -- their content may sometimes be radical, but in form they are restrained as sonnets.
Eliot seems to me much more interested in the real, in jarring us out of convention. But then, maybe I'm totally misreading her because I'm not familiar with the conventions of her contemporaries. (In her interest in the rough edges of emotion and her sympathy for vulnerability to the passions, she recalls the Brontes...)
The end result, though, is that I found the book very frustrating... but I am grateful for having gotten to know Maggie Tulliver, for a little while, and I miss her. She leaves an ache. Austen's heroines are all a bit too well squared away at the end, to leave an ache.