In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses – and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread lace, had their toy spinning wheels of polished oak – there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain palid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk, looked like remnants of a disinherited race.
I started this year with two unread George Eliot books on my TBR – now I have none! Adam Bede was a fascinating read although not completely satisfying – Adam was too good to be true – the moral lessons rather heavy-handed. Whereas Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is a story that I read as fable, with the moral lessons neatly wrapped up in mystery and lore.
One of the aspects I enjoyed researching for Adam Bede was the real village that Eliot’s fictional one was based on. I began Silas Marner the same way.
I quickly discovered that both towns mentioned in the book (Raveloe and Lantern Yard) are fictional, with no one village being the basis for Eliot’s imagination (instead the story is said to have emerged from an early recollection of a linen-weaver with a bag on his back that led her to think he was an isolated outsider). Lantern Yard is a Calvinist town based in Northern England, while Raveloe is situated in Warwickshire. The story is set in the early 19th century with brief mentions of the war against Napoleon.
One of the main elements woven throughout the story (yes I will pun the title whenever I can!) is the contrast between these two towns.
Calvinism as a branch or sect of Protestantism based on the work of John Calvin was not unknown to me, but that’s where my knowledge stopped. I learnt (via wikipedia) that it is a puritan religion sometimes also known as Reformed Protestantism. They believe in the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Bible, meaning that their God has the right to exercise his powers over creation, while humanity can exercise free will in so far as the limits set by God’s sovereignty. One of these limits is the predetermination of who will be given eternal salvation or eternal damnation. Prayer has no effect on this predetermined event. The only way to know God is through self-revelation via Jesus and human writers of the bible who God spoke through. The Pilgrims who travelled to America on the Mayflower were Calvinists who also believed that they should separate from the Church of England. For this they were known as Separatists, moving first to Holland before deciding to settle in the New World.
Eliot shows Lantern Yard as being a tight-knit, devout community. They trust in God to keep them safe. When Silas Marner was wronged by this community in the name of God, he lost faith in his God’s ability to keep him safe.
there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent.
By contrast, Eliot describes Raveloe as a village whose faith is in humanity, love and practical good deeds. Raveloe is “aloof from the currents of industrial energy and Puritan earnestness.” The social hub is the Rainbow for the working class folk, while the landed gentry gathered in the drawing room of the Osgood family. This was an insular community ruled by custom and tradition. Superstition and fear dominated the simple stories retold by the local people. It was a town of very little religious thought; attendance at Church was only thought necessary on a very occasional basis, anything more was seen as unseemly and unneighbourly, showing a “greedy desire to stand well in Heaven and get an undue advantage“. The purpose of religion was to provide a general sense of well-being with a touch of theatre, magic and some singing to lift the spirits.
In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing that was at all unwonted, or even intermittent and occasional merely, like the visits of the peddler or the knife-grinder. No one knew where wandering men had their homes or their origin; and how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father and mother?
Class difference is accepted as the natural order of things, although the two gatherings that Eliot meticulously describes, first in the Rainbow and later in the Red House (the home of Squire Cass), show the reader that the differences between class are not always so obvious. Eliot preferred to contrast the differences between families. Squire Cass’ family of boys were weak and irresponsible, living their lives by the whim of chance. Their home was untidy and lax. While the Lammeter’s have a home based on “neatness, purity, and liberal orderliness“. The Cass family live a life of indulgence, while the other families (high and low born) are seen to be examples of discipline and routines.
…the rich ate and drank freely, accepting gout and apoplexy as things that ran mysteriously in respectable families, and the poor thought that the rich were entirely in the right of it to lead a jolly life; besides, their feasting caused a multiplication of orts (leftovers), which were the heirlooms of the poor.
Marner’s one flaw was his gold.
While he hoarded the gold coins, he was kept apart from his fellow man. The loss of his hoarded treasure opened the way for his acceptance into the community, as well as his willingness to be accepted. The advent of Eppie into his life is seen as a better, more honest and pure form of gold; the treasure of human relationships and love.
…he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold – that the gold had turned into the child.
I suspect the central theme to Eliot’s story though is the idea that you reap what you sow. Certainly Duncan Cass got his just deserts while Godfrey Cass’ childless marriage is another example. However it is Marner’s & Eppie’s story that carries this message from beginning to end – his instantaneous and ongoing devotion to Eppie is seen as a positive sign worthy of higher reward, or as Mr Macey said, “that when a man had done what Silas had done by an orphan child, it was a sign that his money would come to light again, or leastwise that the robber would be made to answer for it“. He was right on both accounts.
Like the stories told and retold at the Rainbow, Silas Marner’s story is a simple one, honestly wrought. With fairy tale elements such as the drawing of lots, a treasure won and lost and won again, and an orphaned child, Eliot entwines fable with realism to create an enchanting tale of love and compassion.
Epigraph: William Wordworth | Michael: A Pastoral Poem – the full poem can be found here.
A child, more than all other gifts That earth can offer to declining man, Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts,
- Read for Nick @OneCatholicLife’s Eliot-chapter-a-day-readalong 2023
Eppie – how can you not love a character that is described as “warming him into joy because she was joy“.
Favourite or Forget:
I enjoyed Silas Marner more than Adam Bede. Both preach being responsible and accountable for your own actions, although Silas provides a more satisfactory outcome with the bad endings mostly happening to the bad people.
Title: Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe Author: George Eliot ISBN: 9780099519058 Imprint: Vintage Classics Published: 1 April 2010 (originally published 1861) Format: Paperback Pages: 224 Dates Read: 24 April 2023 - 3 May 2023 Origin: TBR
|This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.|
11 thoughts on “Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe | George Eliot”
I love Silas Marner. It’s one of the few books I will happily read again and again.
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Yes, I wish I had discovered this one earlier.
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I really enjoyed this one. I had a phase where I’d only read Middlemarch but I branched out when a friend bought me Daniel Deronda and have enjoyed all of them apart from that Veil one. I love Adam Bede but then again I love Gabriel Oak and the Reddle Man in Hardy.
I sometimes wish I had read more of these classics when I was younger. Coming to them as on older reader I often find them a tad predictable and moralistic, so while I enjoy them and appreciate them, I don;t feel the need to revisit them. Whereas my Jane Austen’s and Jane Eyre will be books I reread until I no longer can!
I can see what you mean, although I have come to GE in the last decade, apart from Middlemarch! My husband laughed when I was reading JE and gasped at one point: “Surely you know what happens?” Well, yes, but …
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I enjoyed your comparisons and will put Adam Bede on my next classics list as I haven’t read it yet, Silas Marner is a joy
Sometimes a happy ending is exactly waht we need 🙂
I think you will enjoy Adam Bede too.
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Wonderful review. I really liked the info on the two towns and how their character helps to tell the story. I agree that this is best read as a fable. I reread it a few years ago after decades since I first read it in school and found it absolutely wonderful. I think I liked Adam Bede more than you did, but there is no question (in my mind anyway) that Middlemarch is Eliot’s masterpiece.
I enjoyed reading Middlemarch in my late twenties, but it didn’t impact on me the way the Jane Austen did or Jane Eyre. I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing about joining in the readalong for Middlemarch when the group gets to it one because of it’s length, but two because I’m worried that a favourite classic of so many bloggers I respect, may underwhelm me a second time around.
It’s one of my favourites too.
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