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In what ways is George Eliot's Silas Marner a Victorian novel?

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George Eliot's Silas Marner contains many elements that are commonly found in the general Victorian novel. She confronts the varying role of women in society with the poor, drug-addicted Molly Crass. Eliot also tackles class with Molly's secret marriage to Godfrey. Lastly, at the end, we see her comment on industrialization. A factory replaces the church in Marner's hometown.

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According to one description, Victorian literature is typified by “idealized portraits of difficult lives in which hard work, perseverance, love and luck” prevail over hardship and struggle. The novels tended to be morally instructive and aimed to improve and edify the middle-class reader on whom the novelist’s livelihood and popularity depended.

Silas Marner is an excellent example of the Victorian novel’s typical moral idealism and depicts a world whose inherent moral order punishes the wicked and rewards the good. The novel is set sixty years earlier than its writing, a pre-industrial past before mechanical looms and steam engines had turned the weaver’s traditional craft into factory-scale production. This context is essential to Eliot’s purpose to critique the increasingly industrialized age’s rising materialism and its erosion of strong communities and eternal values.

From the opening pages, Eliot lays out the central theme about the nobility of honest labor by glorifying the “pallid and undersized” hand-weavers, looking puny next to the “brawny” rural yokels. Eliot is suggesting for men like Silas an almost mythological status, despite their looking like the “remnants of a disinherited race," a dying breed.

Another example of Eliot’s Victorian moral idealism is her critique of religious hypocrisy, suggesting that true faith has been corrupted by material forces. Instead of believing Silas, his “narrow sect” condemns him and casts him out. This is an indictment of the lack of simple Christian principles among the community that supposedly lives in strict accordance with religious doctrine, but it also foreshadows the theft of Silas’s own gold and the emotional distress resulting from his avarice. While theft was at the root of Silas’s exile from his sect, it was also the impetus for his redemption through his love for Eppie and his spiritual reawakening.

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George Eliot's Silas Marner has much in common with many of the British novels written from about the late 1830s to the end of the century. Of course, another name for this period is the Victorian age. That’s why the novels of this time went on to be called "the Victorian novel." These novels share many common themes. Let's see how Silas Marner reflects some of those themes.

One main theme in Victorian novels is the varying role of women. We have the social climber Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, the tempestuous Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, and in Silas Marner, we have Molly Crass. Molly was a lower-class girl who married into the upper-class Squire family; she turns into an opium addict and dies. Again, in Victorian novels, we see women depicted in a variety of ways (though some of them might not seem so flattering).

Molly's marriage to Godfrey brings us to another theme of Victorian novels: class. In Silas Marner, we see the Victorian novel's preoccupation with social class. Why does Godfrey hide his marriage with Molly? It’s because she's from a lower class. For more Victorian novels that center on class, check out Dombey and Son or Jane Eyre. In the latter, Jane doesn't marry Rochester until she discovers her inheritance and is more his equal when it comes to money.

Another concern of Victorian novels in industrialization. Charles Dickens tackles this theme in Hard Times. Silas Marner, too, ends on a note of industrialization. When Marner returns to the town he was banished from, what does he discover? He finds out that the church has been replaced by a factory.

You might also want to think about how Silas Marner links to themes of displacement, secrecy, and nostalgia. All of those elements are prevalent in most Victorian novels as well.

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George Eliot's 1861 novel Silas Marner is a classic example of a Victorian novel. Several features that mark it as Victorian are as follows:

In the Victorian novel, an orderly world is upheld: good triumphs over evil and is rewarded. In this novel, the goodhearted and earnest Silas Marner finds redemption and reward, despite his bitter loss of faith after being framed for a crime he did not commit.

Victorian novels valued sentiment or emotion, which they believed could bring readers to moral regeneration. A pure and innocent child was often the means to redemption for adults. Eppie plays that role in Silas Marner. The two-year-old, her drug-addicted mother dead outside in the cold, wanders into Marner's cottage. He is grief-stricken because his gold has been stolen. For a moment, when he sees Eppie's golden hair, he believes his gold has been returned to him. Instead, he finds himself faced with a toddler. He takes in the golden child and raises her. Eppie brings his heart back alive, softens his bitterness, and helps Silas become part of the community. Through the child, he is redeemed, and in true sentimental Victorian fashion, he decides she is more valuable to him than any gold could ever be. But, as it happens, his stolen gold is recovered! (After all, he is sincere and selfless and deserves to have it returned.) The evil Dunstan Cass had taken it—and, true to a Victorian novel, he dies for his pains, his wickedness punished and his corpse only recovered years later.

Finally, Silas returns to his native village to find that it has been transformed by industrialism. The effects of industrialism were another typical theme of the Victorian novel, as writers recorded a once-rural country transformed by technology.

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There are several ways in which we can say that George Eliot's Silas Marner is a Victorian novel.

First, it was written in England during the reign of Queen Victoria and thus it conforms to the technical definition of Victorian novel.

Next, it has many themes which are found in other Victorian novels. First, it deals with loss of faith, a theme common in many Victorian religious novels.

Second, it has a "fallen woman" theme, with the fallen woman treated sympathetically.

Third, it has an urban vs. rural theme, addressing one of the major demographic changes of the Victorian era.

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