Book review: ‘Silas Marner’ by George Eliot


Silas Marner was a weaver. He turned yarn into cloth, flax into linen. He lived in a small cottage outside the village of Raveloe and plied his trade, mostly unnoticed by all but the wives who relied on him.

We’ll discover more about Silas Marner, but first some information about George Eliot. Eliot published “Silas Marner” in 1861. George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. Women authors at the time wrote primarily “lightheaded romances,” according to Wikipedia. That was certainly one reason for the pen name for an author credited with novels “known for their realism and psychological insight.”

Marner was not a native of Raveloe. He simply found himself there, plying his trade, after being falsely accused of taking some money from his home church. That experience also changed him from a regular church supporter to a recluse. And to those who took the trouble to observe, that’s just what he appeared to be, a strange, nearsighted man who left his cottage as little as possible, and from the cottage, one usually could hear the sounds of the loom at work.

Since Marner infrequently left the cottage, had few needs or wants, and worked regularly, he built up substantial wealth. He kept his money in below-floor storage, taking it out regularly to count and enjoy it. In fact, it was the worship of that money that became the center of his life. It did not go without notice that he had to be building substantial wealth and that it must be hidden in his house.

A parallel story is being told. Also, in Raveloe is a society family, the Cass family. At the time we meet them, there is Godfrey and Dunston and their family, living in what is known as the Red House. Dunston seems to have a hold over his brother, Godfrey, as he extracts money from him so that he won’t tell their father something. As it turns out, Godfrey is married to a barmaid and has a child. Not only would this information upset the father, but it would be very inconvenient since Godfrey dreams of the “beautiful Nancy.”

Dunston’s plan to extract more money literally dies. Some thought, though, leads him to Marner’s money, which he finds and steals while Silas is gone. Upon choosing to count and admire it, Silas Marner discovers it missing. He is beside himself with grief and reports the loss at the local pub and to anyone who will listen. Marner is inconsolable.

As happens on occasion, there is a party at the Red House. Knowing that her husband is there celebrating, Molly Farren, a drug addict, makes her way there through the snow. She is carrying the baby. The whole effort proves too much, and she falls into the snow. The baby, Priscilla, who has had to become quite self-reliant crawls away, finds the door open to Marner’s cottage, seeks out the warm hearth and falls asleep only to be found there by Marner a short time later. Some investigation locates the dead mother, and the proper authorities become involved. Since no one knows who the father is, Marner claims the child as his own. It’s a changed Silas Marner we see now. His willingness to take the child changes not only him, but also the Raveloe opinion of him.

At this point, the reader doesn’t know what has become of Dunston, what about Godfrey and Nancy, has Silas Marner really changed, and what of the child? Keep reading. “Silas Marner” is regarded as a classic. It’s a small book with a lot to offer.

Also by George Eliot: “Middlemarch.”

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