Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Silas Marner (Novel). George Eliot.

New York: Washington Square Press. 1861/ 1960.

Why read it? The following quotes set the scene of a rural people who were locked into an area beyond which they never traveled. The people consist of ordinary citizens and the wealthy farmers who ruled the town of Raveloe. Then one day, a stranger, a weaver, comes along. He is viewed with suspicion. He spends every day weaving “like a spider” and hoarding his gold coins. When he is robbed, he is crushed, but a young girl comes into his life and he once again has something beyond money to live for.

It’s hard for us in the modern world of automobiles and air liners to imagine a world that was as enclosed as the world of Silas Marner. But that is the world that George Eliot portrays vividly. It’s just a fairy tale with a realistic setting.

Sample quotes:

“”No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother?” p. 1. ……….”To the peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery….” p. 1. ………. “All cleverness, whether in the rapid use of that difficult instrument the tongue, or in some other art unfamiliar to the villagers, was in itself suspicious: honest folk, born and bred in a visible manner, were mostly not over-wise or clever—at least, not beyond such a matter as knowing the signs of the weather….” p. 2. ………. "…and that was how folks got over-wise, for they went to school…to those who could teach them more than their neighbors could learn with their five senses and the parson.” p. 6.

“He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection.” p. 17. ………. “…to reduce his life to the unquestioning activity of a spinning insect.” p. 18. ………. “His life had reduced itself to the functions of weaving and hoarding, without any contemplation of an end toward which the functions tended.” p. 22.

The wealthy farmer: “The lives of those rural forefathers, whom we are apt to think very prosaic figures—men whose only work was to ride round their land, getting heavier and heavier in their saddles, and who passed the rest of their days in the half-listless gratification of senses dulled by monotony…and then what was left to them, especially when they had become too heavy for the hunt, or for carrying a gun over the furrows, but to drink and get merry, or to drink and get angry, so that they might be independent of variety, and say over again with eager emphasis the things they had said already any time that twelvemonth.” p. 35.

“…that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of his gold—that the gold had turned into the child.” p. 158. ………. “No child was afraid of approaching Silas when Eppie was near him: there was no repulsion around him now, either for young or old; for the little child had come to link him once more with the whole world.” p. 169. ………. Silas: “But there’s this to be thought on, Eppie: things will change, whether we like it or no; things won’t go on for a long while just as they are and no difference.” p. 189.

Godfrey: “Nancy…when I married you, I hid something from you—something I ought to have told you…. The woman Marner found dead in the snow—Eppie’s mother—that wretched woman—was my wife. Eppie is my child.” p. 206. ………. Silas to Godfrey: “Then, Sir, why didn’t you say so sixteen years ago, and claim her before I’d come to love her i’stead o’ coming to take her from me now, when you might as well take the heart out i’ my body?” p. 214. ………. “…it is too late to mend some things….” p. 222.

Comment: For some reason I never read Silas Marner in junior or senior high school, even though it was standard 10th-year literature. I became an English teacher at a time when “relevance” in literature was important, the late 60’s and middle 70’s. I remember a reference to Silas Marner in one of my professional journals in which the writer referred to Silas Marner as “that Silas Marner crap.” So I never assigned it either.

When I finally did read it, I was amazed at how entertaining it was. Eliot’s comments about life in general and rural society in particular, are delightful and thought-provoking. The scenes at the pub are hilarious. Her rendering of the language of the people is accurate. If you have not read it, I think you will enjoy it as I did. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) never wrote “crap.” RayS.

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