|Publisher||William Blackwood and Sons|
Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is the third novel by George Eliot, published in 1861. An outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialisation to community.
The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation’s funds while watching over the very ill deacon. Two clues are given against Silas: a pocket knife, and the discovery in his own house of the bag formerly containing the money. There is the strong suggestion that Silas’ best friend, William Dane, has framed him, since Silas had lent his pocket knife to William shortly before the crime was committed. Silas is proclaimed guilty, however, after a drawing of lots. The woman Silas was to marry breaks their engagement and instead marries William. With his life shattered and his heart broken, Silas leaves Lantern Yard and the city for a rural area where he is unknown.
Marner travels south to the Midlands and settles near the rural village of Raveloe in Warwickshire, where he lives isolated and alone, choosing to have only minimal contact with the residents. He throws himself into his craft and comes to adore the gold coins he earns and hoards from his weaving.
One foggy night, the two bags of gold are stolen by Dunstan (“Dunsey”) Cass, a dissolute younger son of Squire Cass, the town’s leading landowner. Silas then sinks into a deep gloom, despite the villagers’ attempts to aid him. Dunsey immediately disappears, but little is made of this by the community because it coincides with the death of the horse he was meant to be selling for his brother.
Godfrey Cass, Dunsey’s elder brother, also harbours a secret past. He is married to, but estranged from, Molly Farren, an opium-addicted woman of low birth living in another town. This secret prevents Godfrey from marrying Nancy Lammeter, a young woman of high social and moral standing. On a winter’s night, Molly tries to make her way to Squire Cass’s New Year’s Eve party with her two-year-old girl to announce that she is Godfrey’s wife. On the way, she lies down in the snow and passes out. The child wanders away and into Silas’ house. Silas follows her tracks in the snow and discovers the woman dead. When he goes to the party for help, Godfrey heads outdoors to the scene of the accident, but resolves to tell no one that Molly was his wife. Molly’s death, conveniently for Godfrey and Nancy, puts an end to the marriage.
Silas keeps the child and names her Eppie, after his deceased mother and sister, both named Hephzibah. Eppie changes Silas’ life completely. Silas has been robbed of his material gold, but thinks that he has it returned to him symbolically in the form of the golden-haired child. Godfrey Cass is now free to marry Nancy, but continues to conceal the fact of his previous marriage—and child—from her. However, he aids Marner in caring for Eppie with occasional financial gifts. More practical help and support in bringing up the child is provided by Dolly Winthrop, a kindly neighbour of Marner’s. Dolly’s help and advice assist Marner not only in bringing up Eppie, but also in integrating them into village society.
Sixteen years pass, and Eppie grows up to be the pride of the village. She has a strong bond with Silas, who through her has found a place in the rural society and a purpose in life. Meanwhile, Godfrey and Nancy mourn their own childless state, after the death of their baby. Eventually, the skeleton of Dunstan Cass—still clutching Silas’ gold—is found at the bottom of the stone quarry near Silas’ home, and the money is duly returned to Silas. Shocked by this revelation, and coming to the realisation of his own conscience, Godfrey confesses to Nancy that Molly was his first wife and that Eppie is his child. They offer to raise her as a gentleman’s daughter, but this would mean Eppie would have to forsake living with Silas. Eppie politely but firmly refuses, saying, “I can’t think o’ no happiness without him.”
Silas revisits Lantern Yard, but his old neighbourhood has been “swept away” in the intervening years and replaced by a large factory. No one seems to know what happened to Lantern Yard’s inhabitants. However, Silas contentedly resigns himself to the fact that he will never know and now leads a happy existence among his self-made family and friends. In the end, Eppie marries a local boy she has grown up with, Dolly’s son Aaron. Aaron and Eppie marry and move into Silas’ house, which has been newly improved courtesy of Godfrey. Silas’ actions through the years in caring for Eppie have apparently provided joy for everyone, and the extended family celebrates its happiness.
Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880; alternatively “Mary Ann” or “Marian”), known by her pen name George Eliot, was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She authored seven novels, including Adam Bede(1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.Evans used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Although female authors were published under their own names during her lifetime, she wanted to escape the stereotype of women’s writing being limited to lighthearted romances. She also wanted to have her fiction judged separately from her already extensive and widely known work as an editor and critic. Another factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny, thus avoiding the scandal that would have arisen because of her adulterous relationship with the married George Henry Lewes.
Eliot’s Middlemarch has been described by the novelists Martin Amis and Julian Barnes as the greatest novel in the English language.