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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Although there have been occasional complaints that the first part of the book is too gloomy and the second part too sentimental, Silas Marner has always been highly regarded by literary critics. Initial reviews were all positive. In a review published in The Times in 1861, E. S. Dallas praised the novel for its truthful portrayal of village life. He pointed out that although the characters were not idealized they were given dignity by the author’s treatment of them:

The personages of the tale are common, very common people, but they are good and kind, hardworking and dutiful. . . . their lives are ennobled and beautified by their sense of duty, and by their sympathy with each other.

Many modern critics regard Silas Marner as a flawless work, although because it is only novellalength it is not regarded as Eliot’s greatest novel. Critics have shown that the novel is far more than a simple moral tale about a miser who discovers through adopting a young child that love is more rewarding than money. Elizabeth Deeds Ermath analyzes the novel as a “double story about isolation and community,” and points out the complex similarities and differences between the stories of Marner and Godfrey Cass. Q. D. Leavis, in her introduction to the Penguin edition of the novel, discusses it in terms of the social changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. She points out that Marner, brought up in a manufacturing town, has become a slave to his loom—a piece of machinery— whereas Raveloe still clings to the traditional way of life, “the organic community and the unified society.”