George Eliot’s Silas Marner

Silas Marner

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 gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.

George Eliot’s short novel Silas Marner has always had the reputation (at least in my circles) as being the epitome of boring Victorian British novels.  It’s been a result of this reputation that has prolonged my reading of it; however, I finally did and I have to say that, in my humble opinion, the reputation it seemed to have earned is completely unwarranted.  In fact, I think it’s become one of my favorites.

With parts sad and parts heartwarming, it’s been a while since I’ve read a novel with such vivid scenery and characterizations.  Because of the time period in which it was written and is set, I couldn’t help but attempt to make comparisons to Charles Dickens – especially A Christmas Carol.  However, Eliot’s miserly Silas Marner is world’s apart from Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge.  As the result of a tragic betrayal, Marner is banished from his hometown and makes his home in a little cottage in Raveloe.  A weaver by trade, he makes a living selling his craft to the people of the village.  While he doesn’t become rich, he spends his lonely days counting his money.  He is not mean-spirited like Scrooge.  He simply is afraid of being hurt again by people.

The theft of his money inadvertently brings him into society in an attempt to find who stole it.  The people of Raveloe, who up to this point have considered him somewhat odd, find a little sympathy for him if not his money.  After he spends Christmas Day alone, a small girl wanders through the open door of his cottage to fall asleep by Marner’s fire place.  Eliot’s image of Marner’s gold money coming back in the form of a golden child is spot on – without being too sentimental or too much like a fairy-tale.

Another difference between Eliot’s story and Dickens’ story involves the portrayal of class differences.  The vast ocean between the rich and the poor in many of Dickens’ stories is only a small stream in Eliot’s Silas Marner.  Neither the rich nor the poor are set up to be hated by Eliot.

Anyone interested in a story with a happy ending, check out Silas Marner.  This is the first of Eliot’s novels I’ve read, but I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Has anyone else read Silas Marner?  How about George Eliot’s other works?  Has anyone else heard negative things about a book that ended up becoming a favorite?

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2 responses to “George Eliot’s Silas Marner

  1. Hi Dale,
    What a awesome quotation you chose! (You probably had a lot to choose from in this book, though) I love the image of a lonely Silas counting his weaving proceeds night after night and how, in the end, he learns that money isn’t the important thing.

    This book is memorable to me since it was only the second book club book I read. My first attempt at a BookClub started with East of Eden, but this one was second. I loved it. Strangely, though, I have never read anything else by Eliot. I will have to rectify that.
    -Jay

    • Jay,
      Middlemarch seems to be the other novel of hers that I hear a lot about – but in researching her work, I found some lesser known ones that could be very interesting. I had never heard of Daniel Deronda – a gentile man becomes part of a Jewish community in Victorian England.
      -Dale

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