In Chapter 3 of Silas Marner, what has happened to the family of Squire Cass?"For the Squire's wife had died long ago and the Red House was without that presence of the wife and mother..."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his Victorian Studies, Jeff Nunokawa writes that in Silas Marner Eliot supports family values not in her usual subtle manner, but in "conspicuous doctrine" as she instructs,

...the Squire's wife had died long ago, and the Red House was without that presence of the wife and mother which is the fountain of wholesome love and fear in parlor and kitchen; and this helped to account not only for there being more profusion than finished excellence in the holiday provisions, but also for the frequency with which the proud Squire condescended to preside in the parlor of the Rainbow rather than under the shadow of his own dark wainscot; perhaps, also, for the fact that his sons had turned out rather ill.

Without the balancing presence of wife and mother, the Squire is absent from the home as he imbibes too much, and his sons have been left to drift along whichever path takes them.  The younger son, Dunstan Cass, for instance, has become a ne'er do well who gambles with his father's money and often becomes intoxicated in his idleness.  His older brother, Godfrey, whom the villagers observe has the opportunity to marry well with the frugal Miss Nancy Lammeter and bring into the home the much-needed female presence that could establish control of domestic activities, is also apparently a participant in a dissipated life.

Much like a contemporary of hers, Charles Dickens, George Eliot perceived the frivolousness of an effete aristocracy along with the widening gap between rich and poor as the Industrial Age took many independent weavers and farmers from their agrarian life into the cities with mills. The family of Squire Cass represents such a decadent upper-class, and is one that descends to the level of drunkards and shiftless idlers without the presence of a stabilizing woman.

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