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Silas Marner : The Weaver of Raveloe is a novel by George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) which was first published in 1861.
Set in the earlier years of the 19th century, Silas Marner was a weaver and had been since a young man. While living in this industrial town, he was also a highly thought of member of a little dissenting church. Silas was engaged to be married to a female member of the church and thought his future happiness assured. However, due to the betrayal of a fellow parishioner, who blamed him for a theft that he did not commit, Silas was expelled from the congregation. He found out later that his former fiancee married the man who had betrayed him. Later on, he went to settle in the village of Raveloe, where he lived as a recluse who existed only for work and his precious hoard of money until that money was stolen by a son of Squire Cass, the town's leading landowner, causing him to become heartbroken. Soon, however, an orphaned child came to Raveloe. She was not known by the people there, but she was really the child of Godfrey Cass, the eldest son of the local squire. Because the mother was a woman of low birth, Godfrey had refused to clarify her as his wife, and the woman, Molly, went to seek out Godfrey for revenge, but she never made it there and died on the way. Silas named the child Eppie (after his deceased sister Hephzibah) and changed his life completely. Symbolically, Silas lost his material gold only to have it replaced by the golden-haired Eppie. Later in the book, the gold is found and restored. Godfrey wanted to take her back when she was a young woman but she refused to go back with him and his second wife, Nancy Lammeter. At the end, Eppie married a local boy, Aaron, son of Dolly Winthrop.
Ultimately, Silas Marner is a tale of fellowship, reward, punishment and humble friendships.
Characters in "Silas Marner"
- Silas Marner – a weaver, protagonist
- Godfrey Cass – son of the local squire.
- Dunstan Cass – Godfrey's greedy brother.
- Molly – Godfrey's first wife who has a child by him. She dies leaving the child.
- Eppie – child of Molly and Godfrey who is cared for by Marner.
- Nancy Lammeter – Godfrey Cass's second wife.
- Aaron Winthrop – son of Dolly who marries Eppie at the end of the novel.
- Dolly Winthrop – mother to Aaron.
One of the main symbols Eliot creates to illustrate Silas's solitude is the loom. The loom is a place where Silas shuts out the existence of the community.
In Silas Marner George Eliot combines humour and rich symbolism with a historically precise setting to create an extraordinary tale of love and hope. This novel explores the issues of redemptive love, the notion of community, the role of religion, and the status of the gentry and family. While religion and religious devotion play a strong part in this text, Eliot concerns herself, as always, with matters of ethics, and it is clear that for her, ethics exist apart from religion. On the surface, the book has a strong moral tract; the bad characters like Dunstan Cass get their just deserts, while the good, pitiable characters like Silas Marner are richly rewarded. Although it seems like a simple moral story with a happy ending, George Eliot's text includes several pointed criticisms on organised religion, the role of the gentry, and the impact of industrialisation. It was written in the period during Industrial Revolution and may be a reaction against it.
The Epigraph to this novel is as follows:
"A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts."
The novel begins with:
"In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses-- and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak--there might be seen in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race."
It ends with:
"O father," said Eppie, "what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are."
"God gave her to me because you turned your back upon her, and He looks upon her as mine: you've no right to her!"
Literary significance & criticism
Silas Marner is a mixture of human emotions. This includes emotions such as trust, betrayal, love, despair, depression and happiness. Recently, it has been studied in some secondary schools in the United Kingdom, United States and Ireland. It is also a part of the Cambridge A Levels syllabus in Singaporean junior colleges offering Literature courses.
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
The tale was set in "the South Midlands," and the fictional Raveloe was based on the Warwickshire village of Bulkington. There are also correlations between locations in the book and the village of Inkberrow, Worcestershire. It is not known whether the relation is genuine, a coincidence, or deliberate naming by the locals. To the west of the village is Stone-Pits, and at the east side, a tree-lined drive leads to the entrance of the Red House.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
- Ben Kingsley played Silas Marner in a British-TV adaptation (broadcast in the U.S. by Masterpiece Theater), with Patsy Kensit as a grown-up Eppie.
- Steve Martin wrote and starred in a 1994 movie adaptation of the novel, titled A Simple Twist of Fate.
- Bits and themes of this novel are borrowed in an episode of The Simpsons, "Moe Baby Blues", in which a lonely, almost-sociopathic man begins to enjoy life after saving the life of his friend's baby daughter.
- The novel is mentioned in the movie A Christmas Story as literature the children in Miss Shields' class are studying.
- Silas Marner, online at Ye Olde Library
- Silas Marner, complete unabridged book at sparknotes.com
- Silas Marner Cliff Notes
- Silas Marner audio book at Librvox