Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Silas Marner, George Eliot

In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses- and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak- there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hill,s certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. 

I failed miserably at reading The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, but I loved Silas Marner. I think it was just that my edition of The Mill on the Floss has really off-putting font, and seems really long. At any rate, I sped through Silas Marner, which is a slim little volume, and is quite interesting. "Wrongly accused of theft and exiled from a religious community many years before, the embittered weaver Silas Marner lives alone in Raveloe, living only for work and his precious hoard of money. But when his money is stolen and an orphaned child finds her way into his house, Silas is given the chance to transform his life. His fate, and that of the little girl he adopts, is entwined with Godfrey Cass, son of the village Squire, who, like Silas, is trapped by his past. Silas Marner, George Eliot's favourite of her novels, combines humour, rich symbolism and pointed social criticism to create an unsentimental but affectionate portrait of rural life." (from the Penguin Classics edition). Yes, "her." George Eliot was a pen name. My question is, why do we still use the pen name in this case, but Charlotte Bronte's pen name (Currer Bell) isn't used anymore? I might research that...

The actual edition that I read called it a moral fairy tale, and I would agree with that term. The book is fairy-tale-like, and highly entertaining, but also thought-provoking, as moralities (and fairy tales for that matter) are supposed to be. The sentences can be very long, but somehow, unlike Charles Dickens, they don't seem overwritten; they seem to fit the tone of the story just right. 

I loved how the little golden-haired orphan Eppie made her appearance; she is the child of Godfrey Cass, and when her mother keels over, Eppie toddles into the cottage of none other than Silas Marner, who now has a chance for redemption. She is the reappearance of his precious gold that he lost.

A chance for redemption. I suppose that's not really the right phrase; Silas Marner isn't bad per se. He's complicated, and yes, he's miserly, but that's because he was wrongfully accused of a crime in his past life. He's just drawn into himself, and he no longer wishes to associate with the rest of the world or have anything to do with religion. But bright little Eppie gives him a chance to get past that and start again. Godfrey too isn't strictly good or evil. He's conflicted, and he's done some bad things which he wants to forget about, and he's done some good things. I won't tell how the book ends, but suffice to say that Silas Marner is an amazing classic novel, for its social commentary, and its humor, and its symbolism. I would highly recommend it, and am thinking of trying to tackle The Mill and the Floss once again. Or perhaps Middlemarch. I do think Silas Marner is a good book to start off with if you're going to read George Eliot; it's short and (it seems to me) less overwritten.

Read Silas Marner:
  • if you like George Eliot
  • if you like British fiction
244 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!


  1. Yeah! I didn't know George was actually a girl. Girl power! I like how complex the characters are. One is not evil or good. That's completely true of the average person. I'm not saying everyone is evil though. I'm saying people have two contrasting sides to them so it's nice to see that in the characters we read. Usually bad guys are just that. Bad. Let me know what you find out about the pen name. Maybe Charlotte Bronte just sounded better at least that's what I think.

    Off topic: Have you ever read Red Pony? I think it's by the same person who wrote Grapes of Wrath. If you have can you recommend any classics like it?

    1. Yes, I did read The Red Pony, though not in a long time. I know The Pearl (also by John Steinbeck) is often included in one volume with The Red Pony. I really love John Steinbeck's work in general.

      For horse stories, Black Beauty is really good. My Friend Flicka is okay. The Little White Horse. Misty of Chincoteague. None of these are that similar to The Red Pony, but they are horse stories.

      Hope this helped! :)

    2. It did! I hope to check out The Pearl and maybe Black Beauty since I know I've seen it somewhere in my house :P