Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Set in rural England in the early nineteenth century, Silas Marner covers a time span of some thirty years during which Silas undergoes a process of spiritual-emotional death and rebirth. The secondary plot revolving around Godfrey Cass is of nearly equal importance, and the intersections of the two plots create the primary energies of the novel. In both stories, moreover, suffering is created by men but redeemed by women.
Silas has grown up within the fundamentalist religious community of Lantern Yard—an ironic name, because there is more spiritual darkness than illumination there. Falsely accused by his best friend William Dane of stealing the church’s meager funds, and with his guilt “proven” by the drawing of lots, Silas abandons his trust in God and humankind. He takes up residence far to the south in the village of Raveloe, where he makes an adequate living by his weaving. Silas is shunned by the villagers, however, partly because of his reclusive habits and partly because Raveloe is a closed, insular community. With no sense of purpose or human connectedness, Silas becomes a solitary miser whose accumulating hoard of gold coins is his sole comfort.
In contrast, Godfrey Cass, the eldest son of the principal landowner of Raveloe, would seem to be favored by fortune. In fact, however, he lives in dread that his secret and sordid marriage to a woman in a neighboring town will be revealed by his brother Dunstan and that his hopes of marrying Nancy Lammeter thus will be...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Raveloe. Village in central England to which Marner moves after his best friend’s false accusations of dishonesty force him to leave an unnamed industrial city in northern England. During his first fifteen years in Raveloe, he lives an almost wholly solitary life; his work is all that he has; he virtually lives within his loom, reduced to the stooped and malformed life of a spinning insect. After he takes a foster child into his home, he finally begins to connect with the community.
Marner’s cottage. Former home of a stone cutter in which Silas Marner lives in Raveloe. The cottage is located at the edge of an abandoned quarry. Within his cottage, Marner quietly amasses a hoard of gold coins, which he earns through years of painstaking weaving work. After his gold is stolen, his literal and figurative myopia—accentuated by his cataleptic trances—causes him to mistake for his returned coins the golden hair of an orphaned infant girl, Eppie, who wanders into his cottage on a dark, cold night, seeking light and warmth. Marner’s loving care of Eppie for sixteen years, shored up by the kindness of the villagers, awakens in him an imaginative sympathy that renews and expands his formerly dead sensibilities. Through the influence of the child, Eppie, the bare, stone cottage and its surroundings are transformed into a place of a growing garden that promises to keep flowering at the end of the story, with the help of the young man whom...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Although she was the most influential woman writing in English until the twentieth century, George Eliot has not been thought of as a women’s writer. Drawn by temperament and talent to the central issues of her times, whether political, religious, social, or artistic, she made a commanding place for herself (under her real name of Mary Ann or Marian Evans) as a writer in a male-dominated intellectual world long before she wrote her first novel. Her novels were published under the masculine pseudonym in order to avoid being thought of as “feminine,” and indeed for a time they were thought to be the work of a retired clergyman.
Nevertheless, in both her life and the novels on which her reputation rests, there are women’s issues of significance. Her unconventional union with fellow intellectual George Henry Lewes, prevented from being a marriage because of Lewes’ inability to obtain a divorce under archaic Victorian divorce laws, scandalized her contemporaries. In her own mind, however, she was right, and eventually society came to accept them as a legitimate couple. Her novels, moreover, are generally centered on problems of choice and vocation for heroines not unlike George Eliot herself. Typically, she focuses on the tension between a woman’s personhhood, with its unexpressed depth of talent or feeling, and the limited social role that is available to her.
Silas Marner has no central heroine and consequently does not deal...
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Beer, Gillian. George Eliot. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. A feminist approach to the novels of George Eliot that acknowledges Eliot’s power to redefine issues relating to gender while remaining within the traditional canon of English literature. The chapter on Silas Marner focuses on Silas’ weaving as a metaphor, with feminine associations, for the interconnections of circumstance that form Silas’ destiny.
Draper, R. P., ed. George Eliot: “The Mill on the Floss” and “Silas Marner.” London: Macmillan, 1977. Useful casebook anthology, containing early reviews and nineteenth century criticism in...
(The entire section is 402 words.)