As George Eliot was preparing to write the historical epic, Romola, she wrote to her publisher,
I am writing a story which came across my other plans by a sudden inspiration.
That story was Silas Marner, one of the early works of George Eliot.
Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is the third novel by George Eliot. It was first published in 1861.
The story of Silas Marner is a simple one on the surface. A lonesome, virtually non-human entity comes across a foundling and with its touch becomes a human being. It reads almost like a fairytale.
I have rather ambiguous feelings about this book. On one hand, I do love a happy ending and everyone getting what they deserve, be it justice, love or rejection. And Eliot’s writing is good. But on the other hand, the moralizing tone of the book kind of puts me off.
The first few chapters felt very rushed. There is virtually no dialogue between any of the characters. Silas’s life at the Lantern Yard, the false accusation, his new life at Raveloe, Godfrey’s secret, Dunsey’s misdeeds, it all happens so quickly. The characters do not develop properly. Understanding everyone’s motivations isn’t easy under these circumstances.
Silas’s background isn’t properly established. The reader is supposed to feel Silas’s pain (which, I think, is absolutely essential for the plot) and feel sorry for him. But that doesn’t quite happen due to the hasty beginning.
Too much time is spent on the spineless and flaky character of Godfrey Cass. His inner turmoil and his courtship of Nancy Lammeter are given a lot of space. I felt he was given more importance than even the protagonist Silas. Dunstan Cass with his penchant for manipulation could have been an interesting character. But he disappears too quickly.
Silas’s first transformation at Raveloe when he keeps weaving clothes day and night was interesting. Losing his faith in humanity, Silas becomes less than human, more of a machine than a man. But again it felt kind of rushed.
George Eliot’s writing (in this book at least) is very easy to read. It is easier than I had anticipated.
Eliot’s insights into the human psyche are spot on. I found the following lines to be startlingly true,
Instead of trying to still his fears, he encouraged them, with that superstitious impression which clings to us all, that if we expect evil very strongly it is the less likely to come;…
As well as also the following observations about the character of Squire Cass,
The old Squire was an implacable man: he made resolutions in violent anger, and he was not to be moved from them after his anger had subsided – as fiery volcanic matters cool and harden into rock. Like many violent and implacable men, he allowed evils to grow under favour of his own heedlessness, till they pressed upon him with exasperating force, and then he turned round with fierce severity and became unrelentingly hard…Godfrey knew all this, and felt it with the greater force because he had constantly suffered annoyance from witnessing his father’s sudden fits of unrelentingness, for which his own habitual irresolution deprived him of all sympathy. (He was not critical on the faulty indulgence which preceded these fits; that seemed to him natural enough.)
It seems as though one has actually met people like that in real life.
The second part was much better fleshed out. I enjoyed this part much more than the first one.
Eliot’s observations about children (for example, Eppie’s mischief with a pair of scissors and the subsequent events) and about animals (observations on the dog, the cat and the donkey in the second part) are very entertaining.
Overall, Silas Marner is a good read. But parts of it felt under developed. I only wish the first part of the book and Silas’s background were a little better depicted. It surely would have helped me to understand and enjoy the book better.
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