Finished reading Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861).
Silas Marner is the story of a high born family and a reclusive weaver, and the colorful overlap of their lives in the old English town of Raveloe.
As a young man in a religious order, Silas Marner is framed for a crime his best friend committed - and he runs away to live in seclusion as a weaver on the outskirts of a rustic, insular village. The community there views him with trepidation as a miserly outsider, since he largely keeps to himself and finds joy only in his hoard of gold. It is his only consolation after the betrayal robbed him of his brotherhood, his fiancee, and his faith.That is, until his money is stolen and he becomes the foster father of Eppie, an orphan who seeks refuge from a snowstorm in his home at the stone pits (where her mother died of an opium overdose). In his new function as a caretaker, Silas turns to the Raveloe townspeople in an effort to raise Eppie well, subsequently indoctrinating himself into the community, their faith, and a new lease on life. Fifteen years later, Silas is approached by Godfrey Cass, a Raveloe nobleman who seeks to bring Eppie into his family so she may live in gentility. Cass reveals himself as her biological father, who kept this tie a secret for 18 years that he might hide the shame of his ill-fated first marriage and maintain his reputation. Now as circumstances have brought his past to light, he desires to do right by his daughter and provide for her. However, Eppie refuses to part with her beloved foster father, and they continue to live by their meager means as happy Raveloe townspeople, while Cass contents himself by becoming landlord and benefactor to Silas, Eppie, and her new husband.
Silas Marner is cited for its fairytale parallels, which hold true in the setting and happenstance nature of the plot. Even the homespun dialect of the Raveloe villagers gives a folk charm to the work. However, George Eliot’s broadly omniscient narration illuminates all the character’s thoughts and internal motivations in a way that brings depth to the story beyond the scope of a mere fairytale. The dimensionality of Godfrey Cass in particular would be lost without a glimpse into his inner struggle between deceit and duty with regard to Eppie’s upbringing.
The novel is also much like a parable, which concerns losing what you want to find what you need. Marner embraces his new fortune in spite of being wronged, and he lets go of the grudges and frustrations of his betrayal and robbery even without closure. He is content to know that he can’t change the past, and he wouldn’t know the joys he has now if not for the ill circumstances that shaped his life. This sentiment is voiced in the story by Eppie’s godmother Dolly Winthrop, who maintains that God’s plan for us is in our best interest - even if it may seem like we’ve been abandoned or mistreated, it’s all a means to finding our way in the end.
And likewise, Godfrey Cass learns to accept the grief of his abandoned responsibility and take this pain as a type of penance. In this way, he embraces lost opportunity as a means to grow, and as a lesson against running from what’s right until it’s too late to make amends. And he, too, sees that he may not have one of the greatest joys of his life, Nancy, without having walked the road that became his greatest source of grief and regret. Acceptance is his solace, even without the easing influence of restitution.
Silas Marner was a great read. I’m slightly bitter for having most of the plot details spoiled in the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition, but that didn’t detract from the story’s charm and I’m glad I finished it out anyway.