George Eliot, the nom de plume of Mary Ann Evans, has, indeed, created an interesting novel in Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe. For it touches the hearts of her readers and piques their interest with elements of betrayal, mystery, villainy, solitude and eccentricity, dark secrets, love triangles, drug addiction and destitution, innocence, and redemption. It is also notable for its social realism in its treatment of religion, human relations, and industrialization.
In the beginning of the novel, the main character named Silas Marner has friends and a woman he loves. However, he becomes a victim of a mysterious plot in which he is accused of stealing the church funds while watching over a very ill deacon. Silas is devastated by his misfortune because there is strong evidence that his friend, William Dane, has implicated him by denying that he borrowed Silas's pocket knife, which was found in the drawer where the money bag was and the empty bag is found in Marner's home. To add to his miseries, the woman to whom Silas is engaged breaks with him and later marries Dane.
Devastated by the betrayals, Silas leaves Lantern Yard and the city. He moves to the Midlands and settles in Raveloe where he becomes a reclusive weaver. Rarely does he associate with any one except to deliver his linen. He becomes obsessed with saving gold, and he keeps it buried in his cottage. Superstitious beliefs abound about Marner because he once treated an ailing woman who came to him but refused others, so the townspeople believe he consorts with the devil. After this superstition develops about Marner, he is completely alienated.
As a subplot, Eliot develops a narrative about the Cass family. The Squire is the most important and wealthiest man in the area. But, his wife has died and his two sons are irresponsible and reckless. Godfrey, the older brother, has hastily and secretly married a girl from a lower class who has become an opium addict; she also has given birth to a girl. Aware of this secret marriage, Godfrey's shiftless brother Dunstan continually blackmails Godfrey. Having already given Dunstan rent money he has collected for his father's property, Godfrey must sell his horse to cover his debt and repay his father. However, the irresponsible Dunstan rides this horse in a chase and fatally injures it. As he walks home, Dunstan considers asking Silas Marner if he can borrow some money, but when he finds the cottage unlocked and empty, he searches the cottage and discovers Silas's gold, which he then steals. After the poor-sighted Silas later discovers his gold is gone, he rushes to town in the hope that the thief can be caught.
Seeing the devastated Silas and hearing his pitiful account, the villagers at the inn become sympathetic to Silas and discard their belief that he consorts with the devil. Silas's misery has made him human and a neighbor; so, Dolly Winthrop and others try to help him. But, Silas sinks into a black gloom. On New Year's Eve, however, Godfrey's hidden wife named Molly tries to reach the squire's house with her two-year-old girl to seek revenge against Godfrey. However, she passes out from having taken opium and dies in the snow. Her baby wanders into the cottage of Silas Marner.
This golden-haired angel of a child changes Silas Marner's life from one of loneliness to one of love. Silas and the little girl, whom he names Eppie (Hepzibah) develop a deep, loving relationship. Years later, Godfrey wants to reclaim his daughter, but Eppie refuses to leave Silas.
After Dunstan's body and Silas's gold are found at the bottom of a dried well, Silas and Eppie travel to Lantern Yard where Silas hopes to be vindicated of the theft of which he was accused so long ago. But the village is not as it was; the chapel has been replaced by a factory. Disappointed, Silas and Eppie return home. Nevertheless, Silas agrees with Dolly Winthrop that there is still reason to have faith.
In the end there is a touching resolution to the novel: Eppie marries Dolly's son Aaron, and her hair looked like "a dash of gold on a lily." The cottage has been expanded and there is a lovely garden. Eppie tells her father, "...what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are."
This encouraging ending in a pastoral setting points to the grimness of Lantern Yard, where now a factory and all its smoke and lifelessness stand in stark contrast to Raveloe with its fresh air and friendly inhabitants. This scene underscores the deprivation and unwholesomeness of industrialization, one of Eliot's motifs.