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Reversal of fortune, recovery of faith,
This review is from: Silas Marner (Collector's Library) (Hardcover)George Eliot, born Marian Evans in 1819, spent most of her early life in rural Warwickshire. This early upbringing is apparent from her easy comfort in writing about country settings, with attention to detail and niceties that a born-Londoner would generally not be able to provide. Eliot's life was not that of the typical Victorian lady; she worked in publishing, including periodicals, translations, and writing her own fiction. Eliot led a 'colourful' life; living in a common-law marriage with Lewes, a man who left his wife and children for her, she then married after his death a man twenty years her junior, only to die eight months later.
Silas is a weaver, a rather grumpy and sour man, whose primary occupation and avocation is the making of money. He is an outsider in Raveloe, having been driven from his earlier community under the false accusation of theft, an accusation that also cost him his engagement to his beloved, and left him with little faith in human nature, particularly that of the church-ly humans.
The high society in Raveloe reached the pinnacle in the Cass family. Squire Cass had two sons, Godfrey and Dunstan, each his own unique form of scoundrel. Godfrey, who had an illicit marriage to a local barmaid Molly, is being blackmailed by his spendthrift brother Dunstan. Alas, Godfrey is expected to marry another, Nancy Lammeter, daughter of another society family. Godfrey attempts to buy off Dunstan with his horse, Wildfire, and during a journey to sell the horse Dunstan accidentally injures and kills Wildfire.
Dunstan is stranded in the countryside, but sees light from a cottage -- the home of Silas Marner, reputed after fifteen years of weaving and miserly activity of having accumulated a large stash. He steals the bags of money he finds in the deserted cottage, and disappears into the night.
Silas reports the theft, but is unaided. He is heartbroken, for his life's purpose has been the accumulation of this wealth. No one seems to make the connexion between the lost money and the disappearance of Dunstan (one flaw in the novel, in my opinion). Silas gradually recovers from this blow, and the people of Raveloe begin for the first time to see him in terms of friendship.
At a Christmas party, the Cass family is in full celebration, for the upcoming marriage of Godfrey and Nancy. However, Nancy is not pleased, given Godfrey's reputation. Later in the holiday season, Molly makes her way to the Cass estate and confronts Godfrey with a two-year-old daughter in tow. Upon her return from the estate, she falls and dies in a drunken, drug-induced stupor, and the child wanders through the snow to the cottage of Silas. Silas lays claim to the golden-haired child, and Godfrey is relieved to be free from Molly and paternity.
Sixteen years pass, and we come to meet a very different Silas, one who is now a truly human being, who is loved, and has an object of love in his daughter Eppie. Eppie is in fact about to be wed to the nice Aaron Winthrop. Godfrey and Nancy, however, have had a loveless and childless marriage.
Things develop rapidly near the end of the novel. A pond near Silas' cottage is drained, and the remains of Dunstand with two bags of gold coins is found. Godfrey feels compelled to tell his wife now everything, how Dunstan dishonoured the family, how he (Godfrey) was being blackmailed, and admits his paternity of Eppie. Nancy is strangely tolerant -- she only complains of not having been told sooner. They decide to demand that Eppie be returned to them.
In a beautiful scene of compassion and love, Eppie, given the free choice of deciding between Silas and connexion with the noble Cass family, opts for the man who was her true father, and chooses to remain with Silas.
Later, Silas and Eppie revisit Lantern Yard, from which Silas was expelled so many years before. Here in no longer the old church, his old home, or his old friends -- all has changed; life has gone on. The old place is dirty and noisy by comparison to the serene Raveloe. The question of Silas' guilt or innocence cannot be resolved, but then, is no longer a question of concern for anyone in either place. Eppie then marries Aaron, in a wedding paid for by Godfrey, who cannot attend due to business, and Eppie declares in the end that 'nobody could be happier than we are.'
Elliot intended to show that misfortune can lead to greater things, and provided a typical Victorian happy ending.
This novel has been a traditional one assigned to students of secondary school age for decades now; it is a classic, fairly simple in construction and vocabulary, and brings up the timeless themes of good, evil, fate, and has a wide range of characters who change over time. Alas, many school-age readers come away cold, often determined never to read another novel again, as it is presented poorly and not put in a more modern context which students will more readily understand. But, it remains a good story, and a fine representative of the Victorian novel.