The Miser's Two Bodies: Sexual Perversity and
the Flight from Capital in Silas Marner
INSilas Marner the exodus of property from marketplace to household is as easy as ABC; the avenue of this exodus, elsewhere a circuitous route available only through elaborate pains of detection, here seems the straightest of paths. Silas Marner is the abridged edition of a story whose complicated details we have seen sprawled across the Victorian novel: when a girl's golden hair replaces a miser's lost gold, the complex lines of flight through which estate migrates from the formal economy to the household are simplified to the scheme of a fairy tale.
And even the generations of schoolchildren assigned to read Silas Marner could trace in it an elementary version of the insurance scheme that I have assessed before: the daughter who replaces the miser's money is property that transcends the risky business of commodity ownership. The miser's money is always alienable, but the father's “claim” to the “little 'un'” 1 endures any threat of loss; the system of exchange that propels the plot of the story passes over the door of this estate: while the daughter that one brother abandons to the miser compensates for the gold that another brother stole from him, she remains his even when the money is restored and the natural father seeks to reclaim her, for just as “there's debts we can't pay like money debts” (236), there are claims we can't lose like property, which can always be brought to market.
For all its simplicity, though, this story has a twist: the firm footing that the weaver eventually finds in a father's claim comes on the heels of another, more slippery escape from the sphere of exchange. Unlike others we have encountered, Silas Marner's first attempt to save property from the vicissitudes of the cash nexus is less a transfer of investments away from commodities than a translation of them, less the replacement of the commodity form than an effort to renovate it: “He would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces” (68).
The insecurity of the miser's hold on these beloved figures is only one