Silas Marner Questions and Answers
by George Eliot

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Why did George Eliot write "Silas Marner"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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You might want to approach this question by thinking about what themes the novel tries to communicate. Certainly this story operates as a kind of fable about the redemptive power of love as we see one man who appears to have given up on life so long ago re-enter it with great joy and gusto.

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George Eliot wrote Silas Marner, a story about old-fashioned village life to examine the complexities of human relationships. It chronicles the hardships and successes of the title character as his life is defined and redefined by circumstances some in his control others not.

Eliot's publisher commented that the novel was very sad. 

"Eliot replied that it was not a sad story because “it sets in a strong light the remedial influences of pure, natural human relations.”  

Eliot celebrates the many chances that each individual has in life to find meaning and contentment.  The story has a happy ending, a fairytale ending.

"It also presents a realistic portrait of nineteenth-century life in a traditional English village in which the spirit of kindness and cooperation overrule petty differences."

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George Eliot herself says in her diary that the idea of Silas Marner came to her quite suddenly.  She actually put off her writing of Romola to write the new book which became Silas Marner.  The novel itself was a rustic novel, that is it showed the contrast between the evils of modern society and the value of a simple life close to nature.  At the time that Eliot wrote the novel she had recently moved from her country home back to London.  Eliot, really Mary Anne Evans, was living openly with her lover, George Lewes.  This was a shocking moral lapse in Victorian society.  Upon their return to London, they were ostracized from polite society because of their immoral relationship.  Unfortunately the couple could not marry because Lewes could not obtain a divorce from his unfaithful wife.  I believe that her unhappiness with city life in London may have spurred her to write this novel where healing was brought in a natural setting by a child.

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basch | Student

Marner's life changes as soon as he finds the little girl. earlier, his alienation, and isolation from the village community turned him into a miser, whose najor concern was money-making. I think, in light of this fact, that Eliot meant to say the probably the best solution for such a condition is human bondage. the little girl in one way or another, drew his attention from money into more important things. he now cares for her, and as a result this re-integrate, or re-introduces him to the community. his bond with the little baby changed his life much in the same manner as the breaking of it cut him off from the former community he belonged to.

lit24 | Student

George Eliot does not explicitly state her reasons for writing "Silas Marner;" but by correlating external evidence (her journal entries for instance) with internal textual evidence we can hypothesize what her reasons would have been for writing the novel.

1. Historical change: Although the novel was published in 1861 the events of the novel actally take place at the time of the Napoleonic wars (1810s): "In the early years of this century" (Ch 1) and "It was still that glorious war-time" (Ch.3).  Perhaps, George Eliot felt disturbed by the rapid historical and social changes of the Victorian age and longed for a more settled past when social change occurred at a more leisurely pace.

2. Love for the countryside: George Eliot's Journal entry of 28th September 1860,when she had moved from the countrside to London reads,"the loss of the country seems very bitter to me."  It is then that  she also mentions for the first time that she is planning to write "Silas Marner." The first paragraph of Ch.2  describes how disoriented a person may feel when he is uprooted from familiar surroundings.  The novel contains many picturesque descriptions of both the English countryside and the lifestyle of the simple rural folk. Maybe, the  writing of this novel provided some relief from this bitterness.

3. The Epigraph: George Eliot chose the following lines from Wordsworth's "Michael" as the epigraph for her novel: "A child, more than all other gifts,/That earth can offer to declining man/Brings hope with it and forward looking thoughts." These lines are the motto of the novel and encpasulate its  main theme, the redemptive power of childhood. Children and childhood memories of an adult serve to make life more meaningful and purposeful.  In the novel Silas comes out of his self-imposed seclusion only after the discovery of Eppie. It must be remembered that by the time she came to write "Silas Marner" she had also become the surrogate mother of her live in companion George Henry Lewes' children.

4. Human sympathy: Her publisher John Blackwood remarks that George Eliot told him that "Silas Marner" sprang from her childhood  recollection of a man whose stoop and expression led her to think that he was an alien. Silas also is alienated from his fellow beings and the novel traces sympathetically, how Silas overcame his alienation and became a respectable member of his community. In Ch.1 he literally lives on the fringes of Raveloe: "Silas Marner worked at his vocation in a stone cottage  ... not far from the edge of a deserted stone-pit." but by the end of the novel he is at the centre of his community.