Wednesday, April 4, 2018

George Eliot's Silas Marner

"Nay, nay," said Silas, "you're i' the right, Mrs. Winthrop--you're i' the right. There's good i' this world--I've a feeling o' that now; and it makes a man feel as there's a good more nor he can see, i' spite o' the trouble and the wickedness."
--from Chapter XVI

George Eliot's Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe (1861) is the story of Silas Marner, who comes from a Dissenter community in an industrial city in the north of England. Falsely accused of theft, with evidence planted by the man he thought his best friend, he leaves his home and his church to become a recluse and a non-believer and eventually a miser in a town where nobody knows him. He's set to let this real injustice ruin his entire life. Then two events come one upon the other and change that life for him. The gold he'd piled up as a miser is stolen, and a dissolute woman dies on a cold night and her infant daughter crawls to Marner's hearth to keep warm. It's a classic.

You probably don't need me to tell you that. (But if you do, let me say it again: it's a classic! It deserves it!) Though I didn't, you may very well have read it in high school: it's George Eliot and it's short. The fact that people first read it in high school, when the language still seemed antique-y and the dialect difficult, poisoned it for some; but if not, then it's just a delightful story, with a few well-thought out twists. A crime story and love story both.

And it is such a classic that I don't know that I have much to say, or that I dare say much. I reread Middlemarch not too long ago, and I thought to myself, why haven't I read all of George Eliot? After all there is this bunch of green books on my shelves, bought back when I was youthful and had more ambition toward diligence: I bought complete editions when I could find them. (Though Felix Holt somehow went missing from mine.) I still have Romola and Adam Bede and a couple of the minor works to go from this one. (More unread George Eliot. Lucky me!)

Otherwise I have just two things to note: 1.) Silas Marner is in some ways a dry run for Middlemarch. Simpler, yes, and perhaps more sentimental. But it also makes an attempt to present a cross section of a small society, the local gentry, the bourgeois middle class, and the poor. That's like Middlemarch and different from The Mill On The Floss. The nature of a proper marriage is a question in this, and in Middlemarch, and the plot is also driven by a crime in the past that has ramifications in the present. (Bulstrode in Middlemarch, that of Dunstan Cass here.)

And 2.) It made me cry. It's not every book that does that.


  1. I love this little book--I read it first in high school and have reread it a couple of times since. It surprised and touched me very much. I'm a big Eliot fan, with Middlemarch being one of my all-time favorites. I still haven't read Felix Holt or Daniel Deronda, but plan to sometime in the not to distant future.

    I liked your point about SM being a dry run for Middlemarch. I hadn't thought of it like that, but it does make sense. I think Eliot was very systematic in her development as an author, and I can see how she tried out ideas and methods in various ways.

    1. I liked both Felix Holt & Daniel Deronda, though the best thing about Deronda is the character Gwendolyn Harleth. One of Eliot's best characters, I think. I've still got Adam Bede & Romola to go & I'm looking forward to them.