Sunday, March 2, 2014

E is for Eliot

And I've finally read my first Eliot! Although I initially planned to read Middlemarch, I had to shift to Silas Marner while I was midway into the former. I wasn't getting the feels for Middlemarch. And besides, Silas Marner is reportedly the author's favorite among her novels. I still plan to go back to that doorstop that is Middlemarch but not until the latter part of the year though.

So the eponymous Silas Marner is probably the most sympathetic, the mostly easily likeable, character I've come across. The short novel (just a little over 200 pages) is really his story of redemption. It's a tale involving his fate because of the actions of the people who have wronged him and of how the presence of a child can force our humble character to make a 180-degree turn and look at life in a more positive light.

Because Silas Marner, a weaver, is really like Scrooge in the earlier parts of the novel. Having been falsely accused of stealing, he leaves the town of his birth and decides to live in the town of Raveloe. In that town, he amasses a somewhat substantial fortune from his daily toil of weaving. He spends every night holed up in his cottage and running his fingers through all that gold and money. (Well, honestly, I would do that too. Who wouldn't, yes?) Silas now chooses isolation, as he's been betrayed by people in his former hometown.

Enter a two-year-old girl, who finds her way to the cottage of Silas Marner after her mother dies from exposure. Silas decides to raise the girl as his own, thinking that the baby, who he named Eppie, is a blessing from above. At this point, Silas somehow has the idea that this baby rightfully belongs to him—that the baby is owed him, in fact. But there's more to Eppie though. It turns out that her dead mother was the wife of Godfrey Cass, the eldest of the two sons of a very wealthy person in Raveloe. At that time, Godfrey had his eyes on marrying Nancy Lammeter.

When Eppie was discovered by Silas who brings him to the village pub, Godfrey immediately knew that she was his daughter. Fearful that his marriage prospects to Nancy would be ruined, he decides to  keep his mouth shut. Godfrey's younger brother, Dunstan, has been missing as well. And we know early on that it was Dunstan who entered the house of Silas and took the money away.

The disappearance of the money and the arrival of Eppie have profound effects on the life of Silas. Before, it's as if the money served as all, screening off Silas from the happenings in the town. The townsfolk left him alone and considered him to be an eccentric. When they find out about the robbery, they reached out to Silas. They gave him food. They offered their advice. They acted neighborly and Christian. When Eppie came to his Silas's life, people were no longer afraid of him. With Eppie, Silas came into his own as a member of the community. No longer was Silas lonesome.
In old  days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth towards a calm and brighter land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's. [page 150]
Cut to 16 years later, and of course there must be a wedding. Our Eppie has blossomed into a fine young woman, and she has received a proposal from Aaron, her childhood friend and the son of Mrs Dolly Winthrop. Aside from Silas, it is Mrs Winthrop whom I particularly like. Early on, she was always there to lend comfort to Silas, and it was she who was instrumental in bringing Silas to the Christian fold.

Towards the end of the novel, it is revealed to Eppie that her real father is Godfrey. This revelation serves its purpose of easing the guilty conscience of Godfrey, who have hidden this secret from his estranged daughter and his goodly wife. But Eppie will have none of it. She loves Silas, her working-class father. She loves living among the working class. She will not be made into a lady. And at this point in the novel, I admire Eppie for her chutzpah.

I really enjoyed Silas Marner. Eliot shows us a forgotten time in provincial England, where people take no hesitation in helping people in need. It's a time when you know all the people in the pub at the end of the work day. It's a time when it was relatively easy to start with a clean slate. Silas Marner is that kind of novel that you close with a feeling of hope. And these days, we all could be a little more hopeful.

Read this book if:
  1. You like novels set in provincial England.
  2. You know that people inherently are good.
  3. You believe in angels.


Stepford Mum said...

I've never read Silas Marner! Will add it to my to-read list this year. I did love Middlemarch.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! I hope to finish Middlemarch this year!