Like most of George Eliot’s novels, Silas Marner is set in the rural England of the author’s childhood memories. Like her other novels, too, the work is meticulously realistic in many aspects of its dialogue, description, and characterization. Unlike most of her novels, however, Silas Marner is very short, with an almost geometrically formal structure, and its plot relies upon some rather improbable incidents. Such elements reflect the author’s intent to deal with profound themes in the form of a fable.
In Silas’ story, George Eliot obliquely approaches the realm of spiritual truth by depicting the restoration of faith in the heart of a very simple man. The old-fashioned rural setting is important as a frame; its cultural remoteness from the world of the reader gives it the archaic simplicity and uncontested credibility of a fable or fairy tale. Even so, George Eliot critics have never been comfortable with the implication that somehow Eppie has been given to Silas by a benevolent providence in return for his lost gold. The question of the author’s stance is especially problematic in view of her own agnosticism. Although George Eliot herself as a child was an ardent, evangelical Christian, in maturity (like many Victorian intellectuals) she rejected traditional beliefs for a humanist credo.
In Godfrey’s story, realism predominates, and thus the author’s control of theme is more secure. Godfrey’s marriage to Molly Farren is the fatal step that enmeshes him in lies and guile as he tries to evade its consequences. One must beware of condemning Godfrey, however, because the author herself does not. Rather, she sees him as a type of erring humanity—a good-hearted but weak-willed young man who desperately wants to rewrite his past and enjoy a happy future with Nancy Lammeter....
(The entire section is 748 words.)
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