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Silas Marner
George Eliot




With the very first sentence of this book, you are swept back in time. "In the days when" sounds like "Once upon a time," the traditional fairy-tale opening. Next you're drawn to a distant place, buried deep in the hills. And finally you're introduced to creatures of another race, shrunken, distorted, and pale, like gnomes. Eliot writes in the rhythms of blank verse and a hushed, solemn tone. The next few sentences focus entirely upon the weavers, viewed from a distance as weird, alien creatures.

NOTE: Eliot was inspired to write this novel by a memory of a weaver she had seen in her childhood. The dominant features she remembered were the bag on his back, his stooped shoulders, and an "expression of face that led her to think he was an alien from his fellows," according to her publisher John Blackwood. Look at this figure silhouetted against the sky- solitary, sad, and weighed down. It's a strong visual image, which would make a striking opening shot of a movie.

Because the weavers come from another part of the country, villagers see them as a threat and shun them. Eliot asks you to understand the mentality of people who have no contact with the world outside their home village. In Eliot's time, this was already hard for readers to grasp. Just think how much harder it is for us, living in our mobile society of supersonic jets, long-distance telephones, satellite television, and space shuttles! Try, however, to put yourself into the villagers' frame of mind for a minute, and imagine how you would regard the lone figure of the weaver.

Now, after the broad sweeping opening, Eliot moves from the general to the particular- to one weaver named Silas Marner. She shows you the precise location of his cottage and makes you hear the rasping sound of his loom. Some readers have pointed out that Silas is unlike the villagers because he works with a machine. Others point out that the farmers work with machines, too- Eliot mentions the winnowing- machine and flail- but those sounds are familiar to Raveloers, while the loom's sound is not. The loom does seem to have taken over Silas' spirit. As the lively village boys peer in the window, you see Silas bent like a slave at his work, unaware of the world around him.

Notice how Eliot shifts in and out of different minds. One moment she is with the boys, looking in the window. The next moment, she sympathizes with harmless Silas, irritated at the interruption. Then she shares the boys' terror as they run from Silas' goggle-eyed stare. She moves from there into the minds of their parents, with their primitive superstitions.

Eliot pauses to discuss this superstitious quality of the peasant mind. In her sociological analysis, however, her language becomes abstract and incomprehensible. What she's really saying is that the peasants' life is hard, so they naturally think God is harsh, too. It's interesting that Eliot refers to her own experience with an old laborer to illustrate this concept. It's as if she's proving her credentials as a social analyst.

Now Eliot fills in the details of her setting. She locates Raveloe on the map, in the English Midlands. She sets a date for the story, by referring to coach-roads (by Eliot's own day, railroads had replaced coaches) and the Napoleonic Wars. She describes the buildings of the village and sketches its social hierarchy, headed by a few farmers with large land holdings. Picture the village to yourself. Do you think it's a glorified vision or a realistic one? What evidence can you point to?

Silas came to this place from the north fifteen years ago, you learn, but he's never joined in the village life. Eliot shows you the villagers' view of him. She tells Jem Rodney's story about finding Silas in a paralyzed trance on the road one day, and you overhear the locals' eager discussion about this event. The gossipers also refer to another incident, when Silas magically used herbs to cure someone named Sally Oates. After this, Eliot explains in her own voice why Marner is tolerated in Raveloe- they fear him and, pragmatically, they need his skill.

Then she plunges deeper, into Silas' past. She speaks of his "metamorphosis"- a scientific word for an insect's change in shape. (Watch for more insect imagery.) Indeed, you learn, he was a different creature in the past. He was deeply involved in a small religious sect, made up mostly of skilled workers like himself. Unlike the villagers, these people thought Silas' trances were a sign of God's favor. Silas also had a dear best friend, William Dane. Dane, however, with his narrow eyes and egotism, forms a definite contrast to Silas, with his deer-like eyes and his gentle, trusting nature.

NOTE: Eliot seems unsympathetic to the Lantern-Yard sect. The very name suggests that its faith casts only a dim light (a lantern) of knowledge in a closed-in space (a yard). She says that it gives its members a sense of security, but she describes their joyless beliefs with heavy irony. Notice how long and roundabout her sentences get, mocking the brethren's interpretation of Silas' fits. She also shows how they persuaded Silas to give up his herbal studies, which he enjoyed. Her description of Dane's views is sarcastic, while she pities Silas for his earnest doubts.

Eliot continually hints at William's falseness as she tells Silas' story. Dane seems to undermine Silas' engagement to Sarah and his place in the sect (Dane interprets Silas' fits as a mark of the devil). So when you see Silas sharing with William the job of nursing an ill deacon of the church, you may suspect trouble. Silas stays late at the old man's bedside, but William never shows up. Silas falls asleep- or probably has a fit- and when he comes to, the deacon is dead. Silas innocently goes off to work as usual. But that night he is summoned to a mysterious church meeting (it's William Dane who comes to fetch him). There, Silas is shown his own pocket-knife, which was found in the dead deacon's dresser drawer- where a bag of church money should have been.

Silas, knowing he's innocent, stays calm. But when the brethren search his house, William finds the money (he probably hid it there). While William is accusing him, Silas remembers with a sickening jolt that William had borrowed his knife the day before, but loyally he says nothing. The congregation tries the case by praying and drawing lots.

This, Eliot says, was typical practice for some sects. They bypassed the legal process, believing that only God should judge and punish offenders. In this ritual, everyone in the group drew a slip of paper. Whoever drew a particular marked slip was judged guilty. William Dane probably fixed it so Silas would draw the damning piece of paper.

Silas feels sure he'll be cleared, although he's already disturbed by William's treachery. Then comes the shocking decision- the lots show that Silas is guilty. What could he have done to prove his innocence? What would you have done in his place? He is asked to leave the sect, to return the money, and to confess his guilt. He protests, explaining that William had the knife. But in the heat of emotion, he speaks against God, causing the brethren to side with William. Silas leaves with his faith in God as shattered as his faith in his fellow man.

Silas' reaction is extreme, for his world has been turned upside down. He seems helpless and passive. He doesn't try to regain Sarah's confidence, he doesn't question the church's decision- he just buries himself in his familiar, repetitive work. As you might expect, Sarah soon marries William Dane. Silas leaves town so quietly that the brethren don't know about it until he's gone.


Imagine setting foot on another planet, with a moonlit rocky landscape and a green sky. Imagine trying to talk to the natives- purple blobs of flesh that emit high-pitched whines. You might feel the way Silas Marner does when he arrives in Raveloe. Its landscape is unfamiliar- woods instead of rolling hills- and its people are slow-moving and prosperous, totally unlike the urban artisans he's lived among. Eliot stresses that this shock would have fallen especially hard on a simple mind like Silas'. His thoughts fly back longingly to Lantern-Yard, picturing the chapel and hearing the familiar service again. Though he has broken with its doctrines, he's still tied in his heart to the physical place, from years of association. This is natural, Eliot tells you- and she compares him to a child, responding instinctively to a parent's sheltering care. Already Eliot is foreshadowing the attachment to Eppie which will be his salvation.

Eliot looks back in time, comparing Silas' faith to some ancient religion, ruled by local gods who co- existed easily with their neighbors' gods. In Eliot's own time, people debated endlessly over which religious group truly represented the universal God. Eliot, however, thought there should be room on Earth for many different religions.

At the end of this second paragraph, light stands for knowledge and darkness stands for uncertainty. Right now Silas is frightened by life's mysteries- "the blackness of night." This image recurs at the end of the next paragraph, too, in his "dark" future. Yet in the paragraph after that, when he receives his first gold coins, their "brightness" seems simply to mean they're desirable.

Eliot the psychologist reveals how young Silas Marner turns into that bent old man you saw earlier. First, he takes refuge in his work. Eliot compares him to a lower life form, a spider (insect imagery), especially apt because like a spider Silas weaves a web. Eliot says it's normal for any person to bury himself in work when life isn't going well. If you've ever known any workaholics, you may understand this defense.

Silas' life is reduced to a series of physical actions- throwing the shuttle, watching the cloth grow, preparing meals. He doesn't allow himself to reflect upon his past, present, or future. Notice the image used to describe his worn channel of thought- "its old narrow pathway."

One day, a Mrs. Osgood pays Silas in gold for the linen he weaves for her. Although Silas has no purpose for the coins, he likes them for physical reasons- they feel and look good. His old Puritan work ethic becomes transformed into a desire for the money itself. The new feeling grows like a plant, rooted in old feelings (here is another major strand of imagery).

Now you learn the full story of Silas' curing Sally Oates. Though he's trying to shut off memory, when he sees the sick cobbler's wife he remembers how the same disease killed his mother. The memory of his mother reminds him of his herbal medicines, and he treats Sally. In a place like Raveloe, however, there are few private deeds. Soon everyone wants some of Silas' "stuff." Being honest, Silas doesn't claim any special powers, but when he refuses to treat other people, the villagers turn against him more than ever. Eliot notes ironically that this deed, which might have forged human ties for him, only drove him farther away.

As Silas' coins begin to pile up, he becomes obsessed with accumulating more. He hides them in a hole in the floor, which Eliot shows you precisely. She explains that there's little robbery in Raveloe, however- everyone would recognize the stolen objects if the thief used them. Some readers believe here that Silas feels his loom and his coins are alive. But others are quick to point out that in the next paragraph, Eliot says he becomes harder, narrower, and bent, until he has a "mechanical relation to the objects of his life." Do you think Silas is a machine? Consider this as you read on.

One day, however, Silas drops an old brown pot that he's used for years. The familiar object felt like a real living thing to him. He grieves when it breaks, and he carries the pieces home to keep on a shelf. Notice Eliot's simple language here- what kind of an effect does it create?

Before the chapter ends, Eliot gives you another detailed picture of Silas, weaving all day, caressing his coins at night. Once again, he ignores the herbs in the fields for his new "religion" of gold. Notice repeated imagery- the coins are like "unborn children" (another foreshadowing of Eppie) and his life has dwindled to one narrow channel of thought. (Literally, he never walks off the path on his daily journeys. Metaphorically, his life has become like a dried-up rivulet, trickling through the sand.) But now that Silas' metamorphosis is complete, Eliot tells you, an event is coming to change his life.


Eliot leaves you in suspense about Silas' great change while she shifts to the other end of the social spectrum. Squire Cass is the greatest man in Raveloe, she tells you, although her tone is ironic. She first discusses the local gentry as villagers might- pointing out Cass' big brick house, casually mentioning the Osgoods. But then she discusses these landowners with an outsider's perspective. She makes you aware that political conditions later brought this class to ruin, through their wasteful living habits and poor farming. Yet when she describes the generous feasts that people like Cass and Osgood hold, she paints a glowing picture of old-fashioned plenty. (You'll see one of these feasts later, in Chapter 11.) The poor enjoy this bounty, too. Do you think Eliot approves or disapproves of this social system? What evidence supports your opinion?

There's a reason why Squire Cass throws big raucous parties and spends his time at the local pub- his wife died long ago. Eliot expresses here her ideal of woman's role- as a source of order, refinement, and loving feelings. Lacking a mother, the Cass sons have turned out badly. Compare this all-male family to Silas Marner's, which seems to consist only of himself, a mother, and a sister.

Eliot lets you hear the village gossip about Dunstan and Godfrey. While Dunstan sounds thoroughly bad, Godfrey seems good-hearted. But people have been worried about Godfrey's behavior lately. Everyone's hoping he'll straighten himself out by marrying Nancy Lammeter, obviously the daughter of another important Raveloe family.

Now you meet the Cass brothers in person, so you can make up your own mind about them. As Godfrey stands by the fire, the parlor around him defines his gloomy mood. It's dimly lit and messy, full of pleasure's leftovers- discarded hunting clothes, half-empty mugs of beer, ashy pipes, and a dying fire. When Dunsey, who's been drinking, strolls into the room, his jeering tone lives up to the villagers' opinion of him. Agitated, Godfrey demands that Dunstan return the money he borrowed from Godfrey, which was a tenant's rent payment. Dunstan knows how to manipulate Godfrey, though. He threatens to tell the Squire about Godfrey's marriage to drunken Molly Farren, and Godfrey reacts with fear. Now you know why lately Godfrey's been acting strangely.

Like Silas, Godfrey is taken advantage of by a thieving brother. (Dane was like a brother to Silas.) Both hope to marry a nice young woman but are prevented by shameful situations- Silas' conviction and Godfrey's marriage. What obvious contrasts, however, can you point to?

This is the first scene Eliot dramatizes directly. She doesn't comment much, except to show characters' gestures and expressions. In slangy, lively speech, the brothers refer casually to people they know, whom you haven't met. You've caught them in the midst of life, with upcoming events (the hunt, Mrs. Osgood's party) and ongoing quarrels. Afraid of their father, they blackmail each other. Godfrey declares he may confess his marriage to the Squire to shake off Dunstan's hold on him. But Eliot takes you into his thoughts, to show that this springs from desperation more than courage- Molly's been threatening to reveal herself to his father, anyway. He thinks over the consequences of confession: losing Nancy and being disinherited. Bred to a useless life, he couldn't do anything for a living. Dunstan knows how to handle his brother. He sits back, waiting until Godfrey has cowardly talked himself out of this move.

Godfrey realizes that he must sell his horse Wildfire to get the money. Actually, this is Dunstan's suggestion, and Dunstan convinces his flustered brother to let him sell the animal. Compare Dunstan's cool confidence in his own luck to Godfrey's nervous decision to risk getting caught rather than turn himself in. Which brother seems the stronger in this scene? Which brother do you like better? Why?

After Dunstan has left, Eliot enters Godfrey's thoughts with sympathetic insight into his problems. Surprisingly, even though Godfrey is from the top rung of rural society, Eliot says he lacks culture. Typically, she tangles herself up in a long, indirect, abstract sentence to express this. ("The subtle and varied pains springing of the higher sensibility... that dreary absence of impersonal enjoyment and consolation... the perpetual urgent companionship of their own griefs and discontents.") In the last chapter, she asked you to pity how Silas' simple mind reacted to his situation. Here, she urges you to feel sorry for Godfrey because even a crude squire's son feels pain when his life turns out badly.

Next Eliot explains how Godfrey got into this jam- Dunstan urged him on in his brief passion for Molly. But Godfrey doesn't feel like a victim, as Silas did. He knows his own foolish bad habits are to blame, though it's agonizing knowledge. In contrast to this, his love for Nancy summons the better side of his nature, the side that's muffled in his motherless home. Read this passage carefully. Do you think Eliot blames him or excuses him for his mistakes?

Either way, Eliot tells you, Godfrey's too weak to face up to his position. He's willing to let Dunstan sell his horse for him. That way he can go to a party where he'll see Nancy, and avoid the town where Molly lives. After all his soul-searching, he lets his mind slide back into bad habits and heads for the pub. Eliot shows his growing hardness as he pushes his dog aside. The dog follows him, however, because she's too dumb to assert herself- just like Godfrey.


You enter Dunstan's thoughts as he rides Wildfire to the hunt the next morning. Passing Silas' cottage, he remembers village rumors about the weaver's hoard of money and considers getting Godfrey to borrow money from Silas. These are idle thoughts, such as you might have about anybody when you drive past that person's house. Nevertheless, Eliot told you at the end of Chapter 2 that a change was coming in Silas' life, so now you should be on guard. Dunstan doesn't think the plan through, but the idea is planted in his mind. He decides to go on and sell Wildfire, though, for the fun of horse-trading and of hurting Godfrey. Notice that Dunstan's motives are all negative. At the hunt, he lies for the sake of lying. The other men, Bryce and Keating, however, understand what Dunstan's up to- they don't seem any better than he is. Maybe his vices are typical of this social class. Do you think Dunsey's an interesting Villain? Why?

Dunstan wangles a high price for the horse, as he expected. But this good luck goes to his head. He doesn't do the sensible thing, which would be to deliver the horse safely right away. Instead, he takes Wildfire on the hunt. When he falls behind the other hunters, he rides recklessly. He pushes the horse to jump over a hedge, and Wildfire falls onto a sharp stake. The horse is killed, yet Dunstan doesn't even seem upset about this accident- he's just glad that no one was watching. He doesn't reflect that his luck has turned bad, or that he's to blame. All of his reasoning centers on what he can do next. He figures Godfrey won't be too angry because Dunstan has another plan- borrowing money from Silas- to offer him. He'd like to rent another horse to ride home, but since he hasn't got enough money, he convinces himself that it's a shorter route to go straight home. With a cocky air, he sets off, thinking about how he'll make people at the pub admire him when he boasts of how he walked all the way home.

Notice the mist gathering here. It may remind you of scenes in movies in which swirling mist creates a sense of imminent danger. The mist in this chapter, however, also symbolizes Dunstan's confused sense of right and wrong. Eliot often uses weather to express a moral environment. This chapter, for example, started on a cold, wet morning, attuned to Dunstan's malicious mind. Watch the role that weather plays as the story moves on.

Typically, Dunstan still thinks he's a lucky fellow, just because he's getting home without being seen. Yet he's surrounded by mist, rain, and darkness, and he stumbles along the road until a light shines out. (Note the darkness and light imagery again.) He realizes that it's Silas' cottage. Dunsey's half-baked plan for borrowing money from Silas has been growing in his dim mind as he walked. He decides to get started on it right now.

Dunstan is surprised that the old weaver isn't home and that his door's unlocked. The brightness and warmth inside are inviting, though, so Dunstan walks in and makes himself at home. Dunstan, with upperclass prejudice, is surprised that Silas has pork roasting for dinner. Of course, this is out of character for Silas' reputation as a miser, but most poor folks back then couldn't afford meat more than once a week. Remember this when you see how the gentry eat.

Eliot traces Dunstan's thinking step by step. He notices the pork roasting slowly, hung over the fire from a string attached to a door-key. Silas obviously has stepped out only for a moment. Dunstan thinks of the nearby stone-pit and leaps to the conclusion that Silas has fallen in. That would make it easy for him to steal the old man's money. This is such an attractive idea that he assumes Silas is dead and starts to wonder where the money is. Dunstan can only think of obvious hiding places, but Silas has chosen an obvious one. Dunstan notices a spot in the floor where the sand has been moved around. (People scattered sand over their floors to absorb dirt back then.) He pries up the bricks to find Silas' two bags of gold.

Look at how easy, almost accidental, this theft is. The money seems to fall into Dunstan's hands. Some readers see this as a sign of fate- that Dunstan was meant to steal Silas' gold for some divine purpose. Others see it as a sign that life is random, and that Silas is still a victim.

Dunstan seems a little confused by this opportunity, but he doesn't stop to think clearly. He scoops up the gold, replaces the bricks, and slips outside. The darkness of night seems to be his element, now- he seeks refuge in it. Is this another case of Dunstan's good luck? Wait and see how things turn out.


There's a sharp contrast as Eliot switches to a picture of Silas, trudging along the road. He looks pathetic, huddled under a sack against the rain, but unlike Dunstan his mind is at ease. Eliot finds this ironic- the deed that will devastate him is already done.

Eliot digresses to discuss how people fool themselves into feeling secure. She says they follow a "logic of habit"- you feel safe only because you've been safe for years. After a long convoluted sentence explaining this in the abstract, she gives examples from everyday life. What tone of voice do you hear her using here?

Silas innocently looks forward to his hot dinner. You learn that Dunstan was right- it's unusual for Silas to have meat for dinner. Miss Priscilla Lammeter (Nancy's sister, you might guess) gave it to him. Silas' thoughts explain why his door wasn't locked: the key was part of his rig for roasting his meat, and when he remembered a last-minute errand, it was too much trouble to take it down. Eliot describes the chain of events carefully, showing how each decision- unimportant in itself- led to the robbery. In your opinion, does this make Silas responsible for what happens to him?

Try to see the next scene through Silas' blurry, nearsighted vision. Entering his cottage, he sees nothing unusual. The fire blazes as he moves around the room, putting his lantern, hat, and sack in their usual places. Meanwhile, you can see what he doesn't see- two sets of footprints in the sand. As he adjusts the meat and settles near the warm hearth, you view his face, lit by the fire. You see him as the villagers do- skinny, bug-eyed, and pale. But then Eliot takes you inside his soul, repeating what she's pointed out before- that he clung to his monotonous loom and hard gold only because his faith had deserted him.

Silas decides to give himself his nightly pleasure of looking at his gold. Watch the shifting value of gold in this chapter. Eliot says it is hard, making Silas' soul hard. Yet the coins' effect on Silas is also like wine, bringing intoxicated joy. Later, when he realizes his gold is gone, he thinks of it as another human who's abandoned him.

He doesn't notice anything out of place at first as he opens the hiding place. His heart thumps wildly when he sees the hole empty, but the idea that the gold is really gone doesn't register all at once. Have you ever lost or broken something valuable? If so, you may understand this sense of stunned disbelief.

Watch how Silas' actions, like an actor's in a play, express the stages of his panic and grief. He gropes around the hole again and again, until he's trembling so hard he nearly drops his candle. Then he searches his entire cottage, turning things inside out, hoping that maybe he'd put the bags somewhere different for a change. He feels around the hole again. He rocks back, looks feverishly around the room, and then puts his hands to his head and cries out. Finally, he staggers over to sit at his loom, the one comfort he has left.

Silas tries to think clearly. He focuses on the idea of a thief, because he might get the gold back from a thief. Reasoning that his money had to have been taken that night, he searches outside in the rain and mud for footprints. For a moment, his hysteria surfaces and he fears a supernatural power at work- the same one that struck him down before- but he pushes that thought away and returns to the idea of a thief. Naturally, he suspects people from the village and seizes upon one man, Jem Rodney, as the probable thief. (Remember Jem Rodney- the poacher who discovered Silas having a fit once by the roadside?) Because it relieves his mind, Silas invents evidence pointing to Jem. Eager for action, he runs out into the rain to summon the authorities. He doesn't lock his door- there's nothing to protect anymore.

Eliot moves out of Silas' limited, intense emotional state to the more relaxed world of the village. She conveys Marner's opinion of the Rainbow- a sinful place (his moral judgment is still Puritan) for the husbands of his customers. But it's where the authorities are likely to be, so that's where he heads.

NOTE: Eliot explains the social hierarchy of the pub. The richer customers drink in one room, the parlor, while commoners gather across the hall in the kitchen. (Many English pubs today still have a refined saloon bar and a plainer public bar.) At the Rainbow, the gentlemen drink hard liquor- "spirits"- while poor men drink cheap beer. The people of Raveloe seem to like this stratification. It is fluid, though. Tonight, for example, the richest gentry are away at the Osgoods' party. Therefore, the lower upperclass men who weren't invited have moved over to the lowerclass bar, where they can be the big shots. Does this seem confusing to you? If so, just think of how a stranger would react to the different cliques and social categories in your school.


Eliot backtracks to recount the evening's conversation at the Rainbow. This re-establishes your sense of the Raveloe community, which contrasts against Silas' isolated existence.

If you could paint Eliot's description of the men at the pub, it would probably look like a seventeenth-century Dutch painting by Jan Vermeer or Frans Hals. Eliot admired this school of art, called "genre" painting, which featured tavern or kitchen scenes in realistic detail. You can see here figures side-lit by the fire, and pipe-smoke hanging in the air. Facial expressions are drawn dramatically. Social distinctions are clear in details of drink and clothing.

There isn't anything important these men have to say- they talk for the sake of fellowship. Mr. Snell, the landlord, like a master of ceremonies, begins the conversation by speaking to his cousin the butcher. As you read this scene, be aware of how slow it is, full of long pauses, repetitions, and rambling arguments. Today, people talk quickly, getting right to the point, and jump from topic to topic. But in an old society like Raveloe's, people took all night to speak their minds.

The butcher and the farrier (blacksmith) get into an argument over the breed of a slaughtered cow. The farrier likes arguing for the sake of it, but he can't get the easygoing butcher to fight. Mr. Snell ends this pig-headed quarrel and shifts the topic to the Lammeter family, who owned the cow. He calls on the parish-clerk Mr. Macey, who sparks another quarrel with his new deputy Mr. Tookey. In this ongoing dispute, not only do Macey and Tookey know exactly what they're arguing about, others such as the wheelwright Ben Winthrop butt in, too. The whole community cares about how Tookey does his job. They also care about music and the ritual of the church service.

Originally, George Eliot wanted to write Silas Marner in verse. (You can be glad she didn't- her poetry was usually stilted and boring.) She changed to prose because she felt the story would need humor. This chapter demonstrates the kind of humor she meant- based on funny personalities rather than wisecracks. Part of you may be laughing at these yokels, like the pompous farrier with his thick-headed arguments. But another part of you may laugh with them- at the interplay of characters, the teasing banter, and the droll understatements, like Mr. Macey's comment that there are two opinions about every man. The ribbing is good-natured (notice how out-of-place Ben Winthrop's harsh insults sound) and someone like Mr. Snell always restores harmony.

Although everyone in Raveloe probably spoke with a country accent, Eliot distinguishes the lower classes by writing their speeches in dialect. This was unusual in Victorian novels, although Shakespeare's comic "rustic scenes" provided a model for her. Eliot's dialect is just thick enough to give you the flavor of a rural world. Notice the several techniques she uses. She spells a word as it is pronounced ("allays," "nat'ral"). She uses ungrammatical constructions ("it's no better nor a hollow stalk"). She has her characters use countrified sayings ("I'd keep him in liver and lights for nothing"). Occasionally she uses unusual dialect words ("throstle").

Snell smoothes everyone's feelings and then prods Mr. Macey once more to tell his story about Mr. Lammeter. This story's been told many times before- probably in the same words- but everyone enjoys hearing it again. It's like hearing your favorite comedian do a routine that you know by heart.

Eliot wrote this long anecdote for another reason- to show how people in Raveloe regard aliens. The first Mr. Lammeter, like Silas, came from the outside world, which to Raveloers seems like another planet. But Mr. Lammeter fit in with their values. He brought good sheep with him, and he "know'd the rights and customs o' things." As Macey traces the Lammeter family tree, you see how much these people feel connected with the past.

Mr. Macey finally tells his story about the Lammeters' wedding, when the minister that day mixed up the questions and responses in the ceremony. Mr. Macey was afraid the marriage wouldn't be legal. (Note how outward forms and rituals are important.) The minister, however, being an authority figure, set Macey's mind at ease.

The next story Macey tells is in direct contrast. Another outsider, a man named Cliff from London, owned the Warrens before the Lammeters. Though he was a tailor, he tried to move into the upper class (notice how horses symbolize the upper class here). Not only did Cliff violate the Raveloe class system, he also rejected the dignity of his trade.

One more element of the Raveloe mind surfaces in this story- superstition. Cliff was rumored to have a relationship with the Devil (much as Silas is supposed to). The men argue over whether the Warrens' stables are haunted. Not everyone in the pub believes in ghosts- the farrier, Mr. Dowlas, is as you'd expect a skeptic. But this lively debate suggests that plenty of people in Raveloe do believe in ghosts. Belligerently, the farrier dares any ghost to come stand inside. At this moment, Silas walks in.


At first you see Silas as the men at the Rainbow see him- a weird figure who doesn't fit in the convivial surroundings. Eliot gently mocks their reaction to Silas, using insect imagery again, in their curious quivering antennae. Their minds still running on ghosts, the men look at him as if he were one. Then Mr. Snell, as the host, addresses Silas. Silas replies in broken, agitated phrases, calling for the authorities. He injects a note of tragedy into this comic evening.

The men don't react to the news of his robbery at first. When Silas accuses Jem Rodney, Jem seems more annoyed than afraid. Jem's one of the poorer customers, sitting far from the fire, yet he is more accepted here than Silas is.

Once they've absorbed what's going on, the men at the pub treat Silas kindly. Eliot moves inside his mind to describe the effect of this. A vague sensation of blurry faces, voices, and the fire's warmth unlocks Silas' heart, and a new kind of feeling starts to grow inside him (note the plant imagery). The news transforms Silas' reputation: The superstitious villagers imagine that the Devil robbed Silas, so he must not be one of the Devil's helpers. Everyone chimes in with his own opinion. Mr. Snell, the peacemaker, tries to convince Silas of Jem's innocence. And Mr. Macey, who believes in authority, starts talking about the proper legal proceedings.

Mr. Macey's remark about accusing the innocent arouses Silas' memory of his own false accusation years ago. The force of memory is important for George Eliot. Remembering his mother's death helped Silas rediscover his herbal medicines to cure Sally Oates in Chapter 2. He tried to forget his past in Lantern-Yard, but remembering it is good for him now, giving him compassion for Jem.

Silas is jolted by Mr. Macey's words into withdrawing his accusation of Jem. This takes a great effort, however- it's excruciating to give up his hope of recovering his money. The men around him don't seem to understand his inarticulate pain. Mr. Macey makes a dry joke about Silas' money being in Hell. Dowlas the farrier suggests that Silas missed the thief's footprints because of his poor eyesight ("eyes... like an insect's," he says). Officiously, Dowlas lays out the procedure for inspecting the premises and offers to serve as a deputy. But at least he's willing to get involved. Everyone in the room, in fact, agrees that it's their duty as respectable men to take action. How would the men of your neighborhood act if a local eccentric came running to them wildly for help?

Of course, the men get bogged down in another silly quarrel, over whether the farrier can serve as a deputy. (As a veterinarian, he usually puts on airs of being a doctor, and doctors are traditionally excused from constables' duties.) Imagine Silas sitting there, shivering and waiting for them to resolve this dispute. How would you feel in his place?


The other side of Raveloe- the gentry's world- seems unconnected to the goings-on at the Rainbow. Eliot briefly mentions Godfrey, returning from his party to find that Dunstan hasn't come home. This doesn't seem very important. In the morning, however, Godfrey is swept up in the news about Silas, just as everyone else in town is.

Think about hometown crime cases that are covered on your local television news. They unfold with new evidence daily. This is what happens in Raveloe. A tinder-box is discovered near the stonepit, and people argue over whether it's a useful piece of evidence. Eliot reports the tides of gossip with irony. Everyone has his or her own theory of the case. Mr. Macey thinks the Devil stole the gold, but when Mr. Tookey says constables shouldn't investigate the Devil's crimes, Macey has to defend the authority of constables. Mr. Snell's theory is that a gypsy peddler he saw a month ago was the thief. The other constables respond to this theory eagerly- aliens like gypsies are logical criminal suspects to them. Somehow, the question of whether the gypsy was wearing earrings becomes crucial. Everybody in town has a different opinion; they all feel it's their duty to solve the mystery. And of course all this discussion takes place at the Rainbow, giving the men an excuse to congregate there.

Silas would like to believe the peddler is the thief, but he's too honest to invent incriminating stories as everybody else has. The villagers, however, ignore Silas' testimony clearing the peddler, preferring their own stories. How do you think Silas regards all this activity?

At this point, Godfrey appears at the Rainbow. Like Silas, he's out of key with the Raveloe mania- he recalls that the peddler wasn't evil at all. Then he rides away from the village. While there's a public uproar over Silas' robbery, Godfrey investigates his own robbery privately.

Eliot switches from ironic commentary to direct dramatization now, recording Godfrey's restless thoughts as he rides along. When Godfrey meets Dunstan's friend Bryce, Bryce tells him what happened the other day at the hunt. Bryce is surprised to hear that Dunstan hasn't come home, but he doesn't seem concerned. (Compare this to how seriously the Raveloe villagers take Silas' mishap.) Godfrey isn't as cool and controlled as Bryce, though he tries to be. Because you're inside his thoughts, you can feel his sense of impending doom.

Bryce tells Godfrey that Dunstan is a "lucky" fellow- meaning, ironically, that Dunsey's unlucky because he killed Wildfire. Yet Godfrey sees Dunstan as lucky, because he walked away unhurt from the accident. He sees himself as the victim of Dunstan's good luck. ("He'll never be hurt- he's made to hurt other people.") Godfrey doesn't feel lucky because he's haunted by his inner fears.

Riding home, Godfrey sorts out his position. He feels he has to tell his father about Dunstan's losing the money. How strong is Godfrey's moral sense? His main reason for confessing is that he's sure he'll be found out. He won't, however, take the blame for squandering the rent money himself. He feels, too, that he should confess everything, including his marriage. But he has practical reasons for this: Molly herself might show up at the Red House soon.

Eliot now gives you Godfrey's view of his father- and it isn't pleasant. The Squire seems hard, like a rock, yet he's a lazy landlord and a lazy father. Godfrey focuses on aspects of the Squire's personality that he resents and fears, making it harder than ever to make up his mind. Have you ever gone back and forth like this over a question? If so, you'll know that you never stop until you're finally forced into action. Godfrey goes to sleep with good intentions, but he sees things differently the next morning. His old habits of cowardly thought return to sap his resolve. Eliot's spent a lot of time showing you what Godfrey is thinking of doing, or planning to do. But the real test is what a man actually does. What do you think Godfrey will say to his father?


Breakfast rituals at the Red House say a lot about the Cass family. The family doesn't eat together. There is no hunger here- the table is spread with food- the Squire even has to take a morning walk to work up an appetite. When he does sit down, he feeds meat to his dog- enough for a poor man's Sunday dinner- before he bothers to eat anything himself. He drinks ale for breakfast, too, which villagers only do on holidays.

Eliot's description of the Squire is mostly negative, but he does carry himself with dignity. She claims this comes from having gone through life believing he was better than the people around him. Eliot believed that human characters are formed by their environments. Watch how other characters' physical bearing expresses how they've been treated for years.

The Squire, who may have been based on landowners Eliot's father worked for, is a classic reactionary. He's convinced that the younger generation is worthless and that the world's going to pot. His grumbling makes it hard for Godfrey to start his confession. Finally, Godfrey blurts out his problem about the lost rent money. The Squire flies into a rage, just as Godfrey expected.

Instinctively, the Squire zooms in on the crux of the question- why did Godfrey lend Dunstan the money in the first place? Although Godfrey tries to deflect his father's anger onto Dunstan, the Squire soon turns back onto Godfrey. Godfrey isn't a very good liar, but he isn't honest enough to come out with the whole truth. He says he gave the money to Dunstan because of "young men's fooleries." This triggers the Squire's prejudices and distracts him.

The Squire seems to relate to his sons only through their need for money or their hope of inheriting his property. In a rage, he threatens to disinherit them and start a new family. He reminds Godfrey that the property isn't entailed (under British law, entailed property had to be passed down to the owner's eldest male successor). He warns Godfrey that Godfrey would benefit from helping the property be run better. The Squire's an insecure father- he compares himself constantly to what "some fathers" do, and he speaks of how his grandfather ran things. In the end, he blames Godfrey's faults on Godfrey's mother, as if disclaiming all fatherhood. Silas, in contrast to Godfrey, seems to have no father. As you read on, look for other examples of good and bad fathers.

Often, Eliot doesn't describe her characters physically, because she wants to focus on their inner moral workings. This scene is dramatized to focus on Godfrey. You see the Squire's gestures and expressions, but you feel Godfrey's reactions.

What is your opinion of Godfrey here? Some readers point out that he does tell the first half of his story honestly. But his father's reaction is so violent, he loses courage. The more you see of Squire Cass, these readers feel, the more you pity Godfrey. In the midst of this scene, he wishes his father had disciplined him more.

Other readers, however, think Godfrey has no excuse. The Squire hasn't even punished him for losing the money, yet as soon as his father comes close to guessing his deeper secret- his marriage- Godfrey turns coward. These readers say it's easy for Godfrey to blame his father for indulging him, just as it's easy for Squire Cass to blame his dead wife for his son's weakness, but people should accept responsibility for their own mistakes.

Ironically, the Squire mentions Nancy Lammeter, not knowing how closely she relates to Godfrey's other problems. In this dialogue, you learn more about Godfrey's courtship of Nancy- there's been an understanding between them for a while, and Nancy has already turned down a proposal from her cousin. You learn that she's pretty, and her home is probably more refined than the Casses'. Read this scene twice- from the Squire's point of view and then from Godfrey's. In the Squire's eyes, Godfrey isn't acting like a man. But feel the pressure Godfrey is under, from his father and from his own desire for Nancy, while he can only evade the issue.

The Squire ends this discussion abruptly, ordering Godfrey around like a servant. Casually, he disowns Dunstan- for the time being, at least. Godfrey escapes from the room, but is his position improved? He hasn't been punished, but he hasn't cleared his conscience, either. What's more, he has a new fear- that the Squire will speak to Mr. Lammeter about Nancy. He hopes, however, that good fortune will keep him out of trouble. Eliot asks you to look at this impulse as a universal human reflex. In a series of parallel sentences, each structured with the phrases "Let him... and he will," she gives everyday examples of this impulse at work. But such a faith in Fortune, she declares, ignores the fact that a natural chain of events follows from every human action- "the orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind."

THE STORY, continued


ECC [Silas Marner Contents] []

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