What is the setting of Silas Marner?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Having moved from the lovely countryside of England to London, where she encountered rejection by Victorian society because of her living openly with a married man, George Eliot, née Mary Anne Evans, may have written Silas Marner with the ink of nostalgia in her pen in the pastoral setting of Raveloe, yet some of her resentment comes through with the first setting of Lantern Yard "nestled in a snug well-wooded hollow" with a "fine old church ...and two or three large brick-and-stone homesteads, with well-walled orchards and ornamental weathercocks" whose citizens prove themselves false to the atmosphere of stability and contentment in their sudden condemnation of Marner by members of a community purportedly his friends.

The second setting of Eliot's novel is the village of Raveloe to which Marner flees his former life.  He resides on the fringes of this village and isolates himself in his cottage where he weaves on a loom all day "like a spinning insect." Interestingly, this village of Raveloe resembles the village of Bulkington, England, where Eliot herself grew up; there, too, farming was the predominant way of life. However, with the Industrial Revolution and its changes to society in the nineteenth century, Bulkington found much of its open ranges closed and became private property that farmers had to rent for their animals to graze upon it. Thus, a traditional way of life was unraveled, just as Marner's life has been unraveled in Lantern Yard.  Thus, with the single mindedness of the "spinning insect," Silas Marner seeks to weave a simple life without emotion in his lonely cottage, where his only joy is to count his gold.  For a time, however, it seems that Marner may assimilate well in the community when he gives Sally Oates foxglove for her heart disease and dropsy:

In this office of charity, Silas felt, for the first time since he had come to Raveloe, a sense of unity between his past and present life...which might have been the beginning of his rescue from the insect-like existence into which his nature had shrunk....

But, Marner is labeled a "charmer" and unnatural qualities attached to him. Fortunately, however, for Marner, the sense of community has not completely died in Raveloe as later, after his tragic loss of his only valued possession, Dolly Winthrop's Christian heart cannot bear for the lonely man to be so devastated. In her patience, she leads Silas back to the God he has abandoned and assists him with the care of little Eppie, whose entry into his life saves the bereft miser, especially when she refuses to live with her natural father Godfrey Cass as she insists, "I can't feel as I've got any father but one." It is, then, Eppie who reweaves Marner's life.

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