Saturday, 23 July 2016

Silas Marner by George Eliot

I read Silas Marner by George Eliot with  my local book group recently – this book was written by Eliot, whose real name was Mary Anne Evans, in 1861.  This is quite a short book and an easy read.  The book tells the story of Silas Marner, a linen-weaver, who is uprooted from the town where he works because he is falsely accused of stealing money from the minister of the religious community where he worships.  Marner moves to the country settling in the small village of Raveloe.  He does not mix with the local folk here and is thought to be eccentric.  As Eliot explains at the beginning of the book, weavers were regarded with some suspicion by the country folk as they possessed skills which they regarded as almost magical. “In this way it came to pass that those scattered linen-weavers – emigrants from the town into the country – were to the last regarded as aliens by their rustic neighbours, and usually contracted the eccentric habits which belong to a state of loneliness.”

Silas Marner is obviously a very good weaver as he makes plenty of money – this he hoards, keeping the guineas in two leather bags which he counts every evening.  “He thought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned by the work in his loom, as if they had been unborn children – thought of the guineas that were coming slowly through the coming years, through all his life, which spread far away before him, the end quite hidden by countless days of weaving.”

The years pass by uneventfully, until one evening when Silas leaves his door unlocked to go out on an errand, a thief enters who steals his gold.  Silas is devastated by the loss of his gold but this event serves to make him more acceptable to his neighbours who now feel some pity for him. Shortly afterwards another event happens in Silas life which restores him to life – this is the appearance of a young girl in his cottage one snowy night.  Silas is so captivated by the child, whom he names Eppie, that he decides to adopt her and this action helps even further to integrate him into village society.  “That softening of feeling towards him which dated from his misfortune, that merging of suspicion and dislike in a rather contemptuous pity for him as lone and crazy, was now accompanied with a more active sympathy, especially amongst the women.”  One of his neighbours in particular, Dolly Winthrop, provides a great deal of help and advice in bringing up Eppie. 

At the end of the book, Eppie’s real father makes himself known to her and suggests that she come and live with him and his wife.  However I am not going to disclose the ending – if you want to find out you will need to read the book!

I really enjoyed Silas Marner which like all good novels can be read on many levels. In the book Eliot investigates the relations between the individual and the society in which they live.  The characters are all real and believable.  The story moves along at a good pace and all the various strands come together at the end in a satisfactory manner.  It touches on the effects of industrialisation.  It can be read as a moral tale – the good people are rewarded while the bad ones get their just deserts.

I will let R T Jones have the last word “but if, by the time we reach the end of the novel, we have a suspicion that George Eliot is not always as straightforward as she seems, we may be left with some doubts about the apparent conclusiveness of that fairy-tale ending.” (from the introduction to The Wordsworth Classic edition)


Portrait of the author aged 30 by the Swiss artist Alexandre Louis François d'Albert Durade (1804–86)



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