How does George Eliot set the novel Silas Marner in a background of Romanticism?  

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The influence of the great Romantic writers on George Eliot's Silas Marner is evident from the beginning, where she quotes from "Michael" by William Wordsworth, perhaps the archetypal Romanticist.

Silas Marner is concerned with a man misperceived by those around him: he is damned by one misunderstanding and redeemed only through his love for a child. This idea of the redemptive power of love, particularly in conjunction with childhood innocence, is key to the Romantic movement.

The other major element of Silas Marner that pays homage to Romanticism is its setting: pastoral, countryside settings are contrasted against darker cityscapes, with the weather and landscape playing almost their own characters within the story. Compare this to Wordsworth's preoccupation with the weather and his use of pathetic fallacy, and the influence of his writing upon Eliot can be clearly seen. These preoccupations can also be compared to the works of William Blake, particularly the focus upon religion and industrialization.

Wordsworth and the Romanticists, furthermore, had a belief in the power of ultimate truth, something that appears in Silas Marner in the form of subjectivism—an inward searching for truth and a garnering of support from that truth. Marner knows that he has been falsely accused, and he clings to this truth despite the fact that nobody else believes it.

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One element of Romanticism present throughout the novel Silas Marner concerns the idealization of children and the state of childhood in general. Romantics tended to believe that children embodied innocence and pure straightforward goodness, in contrast to Puritan beliefs around original sin and the need for children to experience thorough moral instruction. Eliot's emphasis on the positive impact of Eppie on Silas and her numerous positive qualities reflects this Romantic view of children.

Eliot's portrayal of Eppie as beautiful and lovable and just mischievous enough to be interesting is an idealized image of a child, one that does not necessarily reflect reality. As well, Eppie's charm as a baby does not appear to disappear as she grows up, and her devotion to Silas never wavers. Eppie's adoration of Silas is also idealized in a Romantic way, and though this characteristic has literary importance to the plot of the novel, it does not make Eppie a very complicated character. Within a Romantic backdrop, however, a simple rendition of a simple child who is good all the time makes perfect sense.