July 16, 2010
Review: "Silas Marner" By George Eliot
Eliot finished the novel in about six months and it was first published in April 1861. She wrote the novel during the time period that she was researching and writing her much larger work Romola. Interestingly, I would wager that over the years that more people have read and enjoyed Silas Marner than have read Romola, a much more complex and complicated novel that demands so much of the reader.
This little novel reads a lot like a fairy tale, or folk tale, where the eponymous linen weaver Silas Marner is falsely accused of a crime, and has to leave his home, his betrothed, Sarah, and all of his friends. Silas leaves Lantern Yard and moves far away to the village of Raveloe and lives quietly by himself in a small house in the forest weaving fine linen cloths for sale. He becomes well known for the quality of his weaves, and somewhat for his homeopathic abilities as a healer. Rather than becoming a member of the community, Silas becomes reclusive and is largely shunned by his neighbors. He lives frugally and hoards the money he earns through the sale of woven linens. Eventually he has a literal 'pot-of-gold' that he counts and fondles, and then returns his treasure to its hiding place beneath the bricks of his floor beneath his loom.
Something happens though, and without giving away any plot details, Silas essentially 'trades' his 'pot-of-gold' for a small golden-haired young girl. From this point on, the novel is the story of Silas and his beautiful little 'daughter,' that he names, Hephzibah, or 'Eppie.' It is a story of genuine and gloriously happy love between the little girl and her 'Dad-dad.' It is his love for, and his bond with, Eppie that begins Silas's redemption and reintegration with the folks of Raveloe. Because of Silas's obvious love and devotion to little Eppie as she grows up, Silas eventually comes to be admired and even respected by the villagers.
Sixteen years later, and Eppie is now a young woman and feeling the first stirrings of romantic love and womanhood. Also, lurking in the background is the full story about the disappearance of Silas's bag of gold coins, and the parentage of Eppie herself. All is made clear in the end, and happily so, I might add. I have to confess that this novel, at times, brought tears to my eyes; mostly tears of happiness though. It really is a very lovely and heart-felt story. It may start out as being a little rough on poor Silas, but it really does show that if a person can faithfully hew to their principles and maintain a sound moral character that good things will happen in the long run.
This novel reminded me, in some respects, to one of Thomas Hardy's earlier novels, Under the Greenwood Tree, another refreshingly honest and forthright look at life in the English countryside in the mid-19th century. I believe that I have made this observation before, but I have to think that Hardy read Eliot's works, and that the Realism of her fiction had to have influenced the later Naturalism of his. I have very much enjoyed reading the great works of these two authors this summer.