Silas Marner

Silas Marner is a novel by British author George Eliot (1819-1880). It was written in 1861 and ranks among her best works, together with Middlemarch (1874) and The Mill on the Floss (1860).

Silas Marner is often defined as a moral fable, despite the fact that it explores a series of ethical, social and spiritual dilemmas. In this classic work, Eliot explores the themes of redemption, individualism and destiny. The story reveals the main character's complete metamorphosis, from being banished and despised by everyone he knew, to becoming a respected member of society and a happy person.

George Eliot was the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans, born in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire. She wrote under a male name because she believed that the works of a female writer would not be taken seriously. Eliot also wanted to demonstrate her negative attitude toward other female writers of her time, whose romantic fiction she criticized openly in an essay Silly Novels by Female Novelists, published in 1856.

In her early life Eliot was a devoted Evangelical due to the influence of her father and her teachers but later she developed a religious skepticism. Her work was influenced by the ancient classics, particularly Aeschylus, Sophocles and Ovid. Apart from being a leading Victorian novelist, she was also a journalist and a translator. Eliot's works are characterized by realism and psychological insight.

The novel is set in the early 19th century and tells the story of a weaver, called Silas Marner. He used to belong to a religious sect in Lantern Yard but was falsely accused of theft and had to leave. Silas moved to the small village of Raveloe, where he remained an outsider and was even suspected of witchcraft. Because of his solitude, he eventually became obsessed with his job and the money he earned. Over the next 15 years he accumulated a significant sum. Silas fell into deep despair when Dunstan "Dunsey" Cass, the younger son of Squire Cass, the wealthiest man in Raveloe, stole the money. Soon afterwards, Dunsey disappeared.

The Squire's elder son, Godfrey, was secretly married to opium addict Molly Farren, but was in love with a high-class girl, Nancy Lammeter. One night, Molly decided to reveal the secret marriage and headed for the New Year's dance at the Squire's house with her baby daughter. On the way there, she took opium and collapsed in the snow, while her little girl wandered into Marner's house and fell asleep there. Silas followed her trace and found Molly dead. Godfrey found out about the incident but did not claim his daughter. Silas raised her as his own child and called her Eppie. The little girl became the focus of his life and helped him come to terms with his past and finally find happiness.

Sixteen years later, Godfrey was married to Nancy while Silas and Eppie were enjoying a happy life together. Dunsey's skeleton and the lost gold were discovered by chance in the stone quarry behind Marner's home and Godfrey confessed the truth to Nancy. They visited Eppie and revealed who her real parents were but she refused to leave Silas. The next day Silas returned to Lantern Yard to find that the town had changed dramatically and the church he once attended had been demolished. He realized that he would never know what had led to the accusations that had driven him away, but he had family and friends and was a respected member of society.

George Eliot used her personal experience in various parts of the novel. Her father played a crucial part in her early life, which was similar to the relationship Silas and Eppie had. Eliot had a secret relationship with a married man, G.H. Lewe. This is paralleled in Molly's affair with Godfrey. In addition, Silas lost his faith after being accused of a crime he did not commit and Eliot was likewise disappointed in orthodox religion.

Silas Marner has been adapted for radio and was broadcast on BBC Radio 7. In 1985, the BBC television drama was widely acclaimed and guest starred British actor Ben Kingsley and actress Jenny Agutter. In 1961, distinguished British composer John Joubert wrote an opera entitled Silas Marner. A Simple Twist of Fate was an American film produced by Steve Martin in 1994 as a modern adaptation of George Eliot's story.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Best-Known Novels of George Eliot
George Eliot.
Modern Library, 1940
The Critical Response to George Eliot
Karen L. Pangallo.
Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: "Critical Response to Silas Marner" begins on p. 93, and "The Weaver of Raveloe: Metaphor as Narrative Persuasion in Silas Marner" begins on p. 99
The Novels of George Eliot
Jerome Thale.
Columbia University Press, 1959
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "George Eliot's Fable for Her Times: Silas Marner"
The Afterlife of Property: Domestic Security and the Victorian Novel
Jeff Nunokawa.
Princeton University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Five "The Miser's Two Bodies: Sexual Perversity and the Flight from Capital in Silas Marner"
Hoarding Motherhood in Silas Marner
Shillock, Larry T.
West Virginia University Philological Papers, Vol. 51, Fall 2005
The Therapeutic Narrative: Fictional Relationships and the Process of Psychological Change
Barbara Almond; Richard Almond.
Praeger Publishers, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Silas Marner (George Eliot): Chronic Depression Resolves in a Complexly Layered Therapeutic Process"
Temporarily FREE! Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender
Jerilyn Fisher; Ellen S. Silber.
Greenwood Press, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Gender in Silas Marner by George Eliot (1861)" begins on p. 264
The Victorian Sage: Studies in Argument
John Holloway.
Norton, 1965
Librarian’s tip: "Preliminary: 'Silas Marner'" begins on p. 111
George Eliot and the British Empire
Nancy Henry.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Discussion of Silas Marner begins on p. 81
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