Silas Marner Essay Introduction

Like most of George Eliot’s novels, Silas Marner is set in the rural England of the author’s childhood memories. Like her other novels, too, the work is meticulously realistic in many aspects of its dialogue, description, and characterization. Unlike most of her novels, however, Silas Marner is very short, with an almost geometrically formal structure, and its plot relies upon some rather improbable incidents. Such elements reflect the author’s intent to deal with profound themes in the form of a fable.

In Silas’ story, George Eliot obliquely approaches the realm of spiritual truth by depicting the restoration of faith in the heart of a very simple man. The old-fashioned rural setting is important as a frame; its cultural remoteness from the world of the reader gives it the archaic simplicity and uncontested credibility of a fable or fairy tale. Even so, George Eliot critics have never been comfortable with the implication that somehow Eppie has been given to Silas by a benevolent providence in return for his lost gold. The question of the author’s stance is especially problematic in view of her own agnosticism. Although George Eliot herself as a child was an ardent, evangelical Christian, in maturity (like many Victorian intellectuals) she rejected traditional beliefs for a humanist credo.

In Godfrey’s story, realism predominates, and thus the author’s control of theme is more secure. Godfrey’s marriage to Molly Farren is the fatal step that enmeshes him in lies and guile as he tries to evade its consequences. One must beware of condemning Godfrey, however, because the author herself does not. Rather, she sees him as a type of erring humanity—a good-hearted but weak-willed young man who desperately wants to rewrite his past and enjoy a happy future with Nancy Lammeter. The role of Dunstan as a foil to Godfrey is important: Together, they represent a classic Cain-and-Abel, bad brother-good brother contrast. This structural polarity helps to create a context of judgment in which Dunstan’s viciousness makes Godfrey’s wrongdoing seem less damning.

Structural patterns of this kind are in fact a key to the novel’s meaning. The various parallels and contrasts between the Silas and Godfrey stories show these respective halves of the novel to be formally related, like the panels of a diptych. Both Godfrey and Silas are living out the consequences of a past wrong, in which the one was the secret wrongdoer, the other the falsely accused victim. In both stories theft is a pivotal event: Dunstan’s stealing of Silas’ gold complements William Dane’s taking of the church money. Silas suffers unjustly but magnifies his misery by becoming a virtual hermit. Godfrey suffers the pangs of conscience while maintaining an outwardly cheerful, gregarious disposition. As the ironic consequence of denying his wife and child, Godfrey remains childless, since he and Nancy apparently cannot have children, whereas Silas, the lonely bachelor, receives Eppie into his life as a daughter. In general, the unfolding of each story suggests the influence of a power or force of destiny beyond human understanding—something rather like Nemesis in Godfrey’s case, and something rather like Providence in Silas’.

If the metaphysical implications of Silas Marner go beyond the realm of earthly reality, the primary moral intent of the author is firmly grounded in human relationships. As is the case in her other novels, the bonds of love, sympathy, and fellow feeling are the highest good that one can truly know. As such, they are redemptive in themselves and are the basis of George Eliot’s “religion of humanity.” Although she doubts the existence of God, she is assured of the existence of a sublime, collective goodness. Thus, in both stories, the power of human affection, especially as shown by the women of the novel, heals psychic wounds, restores humanity, and, insofar as it can, atones for wrongdoing. In Godfrey’s story, it is Nancy who serves in this role. She is a “centered” personality who counterbalances Godfrey’s lack of inner strength; her love for him unites her sensitive, affectionate nature with her deep moral principles. In Silas’ story, Dolly Winthrop and, later, Eppie, perform comparable functions. Dolly’s good sense and warm sympathy provide Silas with a lifeline to a restored faith in humanity and God. Eppie’s decision at the end to remain with Silas reflects the strength of their shared affection and affirms the bonds of feeling as the surest basis of right choice.

Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is the third novel by George Eliot, published in 1861. An outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialisation to community.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation's funds while watching over the very ill deacon. Two clues are given against Silas: a pocket knife, and the discovery in his own house of the bag formerly containing the money. There is the strong suggestion that Silas' best friend, William Dane, has framed him, since Silas had lent his pocket knife to William shortly before the crime was committed. Silas is proclaimed guilty, however, after a drawing of lots. The woman Silas was to marry breaks their engagement and instead marries William. With his life shattered and his heart broken, Silas leaves Lantern Yard and the city for a rural area where he is unknown.

Marner travels south to the Midlands and settles near the rural village of Raveloe in Warwickshire, where he lives isolated and alone, choosing to have only minimal contact with the residents. He throws himself into his craft and comes to adore the gold coins he earns and hoards from his weaving.

One foggy night, the two bags of gold are stolen by Dunstan ("Dunsey") Cass, a dissolute younger son of Squire Cass, the town's leading landowner. Silas then sinks into a deep gloom, despite the villagers' attempts to aid him. Dunsey immediately disappears, but little is made of this by the community because it coincides with the death of the horse he was meant to be selling for his brother.

Godfrey Cass, Dunsey's elder brother, also harbours a secret past. He is married to, but estranged from, Molly Farren, an opium-addicted woman of low birth living in another town. This secret prevents Godfrey from marrying Nancy Lammeter, a young woman of high social and moral standing. On a winter's night, Molly tries to make her way to Squire Cass's New Year's Eve party with her two-year-old girl to announce that she is Godfrey's wife. On the way, she lies down in the snow and passes out. The child wanders away and into Silas' house. Silas follows her tracks in the snow and discovers the woman dead. When he goes to the party for help, Godfrey heads outdoors to the scene of the accident, but resolves to tell no one that Molly was his wife. Molly's death, conveniently for Godfrey and Nancy, puts an end to the marriage.

Silas keeps the child and names her Eppie, after his deceased mother and sister, both named Hephzibah. Eppie changes Silas' life completely. Silas has been robbed of his material gold, but thinks that he has it returned to him symbolically in the form of the golden-haired child. Godfrey Cass is now free to marry Nancy, but continues to conceal the fact of his previous marriage—and child—from her. However, he aids Marner in caring for Eppie with occasional financial gifts. More practical help and support in bringing up the child is provided by Dolly Winthrop, a kindly neighbour of Marner's. Dolly's help and advice assist Marner not only in bringing up Eppie, but also in integrating them into village society.

Sixteen years pass, and Eppie grows up to be the pride of the village. She has a strong bond with Silas, who through her has found a place in the rural society and a purpose in life. Meanwhile, Godfrey and Nancy mourn their own childless state, after the death of their baby. Eventually, the skeleton of Dunstan Cass—still clutching Silas' gold—is found at the bottom of the stone quarry near Silas' home, and the money is duly returned to Silas. Shocked by this revelation, and coming to the realisation of his own conscience, Godfrey confesses to Nancy that Molly was his first wife and that Eppie is his child. They offer to raise her as a gentleman's daughter, but this would mean Eppie would have to forsake living with Silas. Eppie politely but firmly refuses, saying, "I can't think o' no happiness without him."

Silas revisits Lantern Yard, but his old neighbourhood has been "swept away" in the intervening years and replaced by a large factory. No one seems to know what happened to Lantern Yard's inhabitants. However, Silas contentedly resigns himself to the fact that he will never know and now leads a happy existence among his self-made family and friends. In the end, Eppie marries a local boy she has grown up with, Dolly's son Aaron. Aaron and Eppie marry and move into Silas' house, which has been newly improved courtesy of Godfrey. Silas' actions through the years in caring for Eppie have apparently provided joy for everyone, and the extended family celebrates its happiness.

Characters[edit]

  • Silas Marner: lower class by birth, a weaver who is betrayed at Lantern Yard (site of a dissenting sect) by his treacherous friend William Dane, moves away to Raveloe (where the community is Church of England), becomes taken for a miser, as he accumulates a small fortune, only to have it stolen by Dunstan Cass. After these misfortunes, he gradually finds his happiness and virtue by the arrival of young Eppie (biological daughter of Godfrey Cass) who he raises as his adopted child.
  • Squire Cass, Lord of the Manor of Raveloe and host of the party on the night when Eppie comes into Silas's life so unexpectedly.
  • Godfrey Cass: upper class by birth but troubled by money, eldest son of the local squire, who is blackmailed by his dissolute brother Dunstan over his secret first marriage to Molly. When Molly dies, he feels relief, and escapes punishment for his betrayal and deceit, instead marrying Nancy.
  • Dunstan Cass: second son of the local squire. He blackmails his older brother, until he disappears. He steals Silas' gold after accidentally killing his older brother's horse Wildfire. Many years pass before his corpse is found in a newly drained pit.
  • Molly Farren: Godfrey's first (and secret) wife, who has a child by him; an opium addict; lower class, impoverished. She dies in the attempt to reveal to the community her relationship with Godfrey, leaving the child, Eppie, to wander into Silas' life.
  • Eppie (Hephizibah): daughter of Molly and Godfrey, who is named by and cared for by Silas after the death of her mother. Mischievous in her early years, she grows into a radiant and beautiful young girl, devoted to her adoptive father.
  • Nancy Cass (née Lammeter): Godfrey Cass' second wife, a morally and socially respectable young woman, admired by her husband but deceived by him as regards his past.
  • Priscilla Lammeter, Nancy's plain, unwed sister, who supports Nancy and their father.
  • Aaron Winthrop: son of Dolly, who marries Eppie at the end of the novel and is considered a happy match for her.
  • Dolly Winthrop: mother to Aaron, wife of Ben; godmother to Eppie. Sympathetic to Silas and offers him practical support in raising the child.
  • Ben Winthrop, wheelwright, largely invisible in the novel.
  • Mr Snell, landlord of the Rainbow Inn, Raveloe.
  • William Dane: William Dane is Silas' former best friend at Lantern Yard. At the start of the novel, William betrays Silas by framing him for theft and marrying Silas' fiancée Sarah.
  • Sarah: Silas' fiancée in Lantern Yard, who subsequently marries his treacherous friend William Dane.
  • Mr. Macey: the clerk at the local church, a tailor, very elderly by the end of the novel.
  • Solomon Macey, Mr Macey's brother, a talented violinist.
  • Mr Crackenthorpe, rector of Raveloe and a Justice of the Peace.
  • Bob Lundy, the butcher of Raveloe.
  • John Dowlas, the farrier of Raveloe.
  • Jem Rodney, a local poacher, initially suspected by Silas of stealing his money.
  • Mrs. Kimble, the sister of Squire Cass, and the doctor's wife, thus considered a double dignitary.
  • Dr. Kimble, the doctor of Raveloe, who attends when Molly is found dead.

Analysis[edit]

Lawrence Jay Dessner has drawn connections between the biographical circumstances of Eliot's life in relation to events in the novel.[1] Bruce K Martin has discussed Eliot's use of Godfrey Cass as "both parallel and foil" to Silas Marner in the structure of the novel.[2] Fred C Thomson has examined the multiple levels of the idea of alienation in the novel.[3] Joseph Wiesenfarth has noted undercurrents of myth and legend, incorporated into a 'realistic' context, along with contrasts of responsible and irresponsible behaviour in the contrasting fates of Silas Marner and the Cass brothers.[4] David Sonstroem has studied ideas of chance and Darwinian thinking in the context of the plot and character fates in the novel.[5] Susan Stewart has looked at the influence of folktales and ideology related to 'work' vs 'labour' in the novel.[6] Ian Milner has examined two overarching themes of Silas Marner's 'loss and recovery of his humanity', and of a conflict between stated moral values and the social realities juxataposed with them.[7] Robert H Dunham has analysed the influence of the ideas and philosophy of William Wordsworth on the novel.[8] Brian Swann has examined mythic and religious undertones in the novel.[9] Jeff Nunokawa analyses ideas about physical touch, with respect to Silas Marner's handling of his gold compared to his raising of Eppie, and connects them to sexual and sensual themes.[10] Kate E Brown has discussed overarching themes of time and temporality, with respect to the interlocked stories of Godfrey Cass and Silas Marner.[11]

Adaptations[edit]

  • At least five film adaptations of Silas Marner were released during the silent film era, including the following:
  • The actor Michael Williams played Marner in a Focus on the Family two-part adaptation for radio; this was to be the last acting role before his death.[citation needed] The production also featured Edward Woodward, Jenny Agutter, Alex Jennings and Timothy Bateson and has subsequently been re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7.
  • W. S. Gilbert's play Dan'l Druce, Blacksmith (1876) takes its initial situation–the arrival of a child in a miser's life–from Silas Marner (as noted in the libretto), and has a somewhat similar ending, although the middle section is entirely new.[18][19]
  • The critically acclaimed 1954 Indian film Bangaru Papa, in Telugu, starring S. V. Ranga Rao and Krishna Kumari, is also based on award-winning short story writer Palagummi Padmaraju's loose adaptation of Silas Marner.[20]
  • The British composer John Joubert wrote an opera Silas Marner based on the novel in 1961.[21][22]
  • The novel was adapted as Sukhdas in Hindi by the Indian writer Premchand.[23]
  • Ben Kingsley played Silas Marner in a 1985 BBC adaptation (rebroadcast in the US in 1987 by Masterpiece Theatre), with Patsy Kensit as the grown-up Eppie.[24][25][26]
  • The children's TV series Wishbone has an episode with an abridged adaptation.
  • Steve Martin wrote, produced, and starred in a 1994 movie adaptation of the novel, titled A Simple Twist of Fate.[27]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^Dessner, Lawrence Jay (Fall 1979). "The Autobiographical Matrix of Silas Marner". Studies in the Novel. 11 (3): 251–282. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  2. ^Martin, Bruce K (Fall 1972). "Similarity Within Dissimilarity: The Dual Structure of Silas Marner". Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 14 (3): 479–489. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  3. ^Thomson, Fred C (June 1965). "The Theme of Alienation in Silas Marner". Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 20 (1): 69–84. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  4. ^Wiesenfarth, Joseph (June 1970). "Demythologizing Silas Marner". ELH. 37 (2): 226–244. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  5. ^Sonstroem, David (October 1998). "The Breaks in Silas Marner". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 97 (4): 545–567. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  6. ^Stewart, Susan (Summer 2003). "Genres of Work: The Folktale and Silas Marner". New Literary History. 34 (3): 513–533. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  7. ^Milner, Ian (Autumn 1966). "Structure and Quality in Silas Marner". Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 6 (4): 717–729. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  8. ^Dunham, Robert H (Autumn 1976). "Silas Marner and the Wordsworthian Child". Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. 16 (4): 645–659. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  9. ^Swann, Brian (Spring 1976). "Silas Marner and the New Mythus". Criticism. 18 (2): 101–121. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  10. ^Nunokawa, Jeff (Spring 1993). "The Miser's Two Bodies: Silas Marner and the Sexual Possibilities of the Commodity". Victorian Studies. 36 (3): 273–292. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  11. ^Brown, Kate E (Spring 1999). "Loss, Revelry, and the Temporal Measures of Silas Marner: Performance, Regret, Recollection". NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction. 32 (2): 222–249. Retrieved 2017-08-21. 
  12. ^"Silas Marner (1911)". IMDb.com. (Amazon). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  13. ^"SIlas Marner's Christmas (1912)". IMDb.com. (Amazon). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  14. ^"Silas Marner (1913)". IMDb.com. (Amazon). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  15. ^"Silas Marner (1916)". IMDb.com. (Amazon). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  16. ^Silas Marner (1916) remaining reels, Ned Thanhouser of the Thanhouser Film Corporation and Vimeo, retrieved June 26, 2014 
  17. ^"Silas Marner (1922)". IMDb.com. (Amazon). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  18. ^Illustrated London News. 18 November 1876, page 476
  19. ^Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.  p. 141
  20. ^Bangaru Papa in Naati 101 Chitralu, S. V. Rama Rao, Kinnera Publications, Hyderabad, 2006, pp. 109–110
  21. ^Silas Marner, John Joubert
  22. ^John Joubert: composer
  23. ^Nagendra (1981). Premchand: an anthology. Bansal. p. 70. OCLC 8668427. 
  24. ^IMDB listing Retrieved 2015-10-17
  25. ^Masterpiece Theater database Retrieved 2015-10-17
  26. ^Youtube link Retrieved 2015-10-17
  27. ^IMDB listing Retrieved 2015-10-17

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