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THE STORY, continued
Eliot switches to a tone of irony as she returns to the more public Raveloe scene. Mockingly, she describes the vain efforts to find the gypsy peddler. Meanwhile, she says, nobody seems concerned that Dunstan still hasn't come home.
NOTE: THE MYSTERY
People in town still speculate about Silas' robbery, but interest has died down. Eliot focuses your attention now on Silas, who's been offstage for a while. His loss has made him more shrunken and withered than ever. In retrospect, the author suggests his gold was good because it kept his emotions alive (gold's value changes again). Silas feels cut off from life- yet life is beginning to reach out to him. His loss has changed his reputation in town; now people feel sorry for him. Eliot talks about how clumsy such kindness can be- but it's still well meant.
Her first dramatized example is of Mr. Macey, stopping by the cottage to chat. Listen to his typical thoughtless speech as if you were Silas- which phrases would make you wince? Silas, however, sits there dumbly, too crushed to respond.
The next caller, Dolly Winthrop, is more sensitive. Her role in Raveloe is as a nurse, mourner, and sympathizer. She puts up with her husband Ben's sharp jokes, but her natural inclination is toward sad, serious matters. She's drawn to the cottage by Silas' suffering.
When Dolly knocks at Silas' door, Eliot describes his reaction to this visit in more detail than she did with Mr. Macey's. A need for other people is faintly stirring in Silas. Dolly offers him her homemade lard- cakes, speaking gently.
Dolly is surprised that Silas can read the letters she traced on the tops of the- I.H.S.-which she copied from the pulpit-cloth at church. Though Dolly doesn't know the formal meaning of these letters (they stand for the Greek spelling of "Jesus"), she has the spirit right. Silas, on the other hand, can read, but these letters weren't part of his church's rituals so he can't understand their spirit. Similarly, he doesn't understand the meaning of church bells, which weren't rung in Lantern-Yard. His sect referred to worship as "chapel," so he doesn't even share the meaning of the word "church" with Dolly. Then Dolly expresses the spirit of her religion- a faith that comforts her through life's troubles. She trusts in God and Heaven, although her concept is almost pagan- she sees a group of divinities, "Them as are above us." This is totally different from the religion Silas knew, and he can't even imagine it.
Silas has a hard time communicating with Dolly because he isn't used to talking with people. Yet he's trying. Dolly has brought her little boy Aaron with her, and Silas quietly offers him some cake. Dolly thinks it's good for Silas to have contact with a child (watch for another child to enter his life soon). But short-sighted Silas can hardly see Aaron's face- he's still withdrawn from humanity. Aaron sings a Christmas carol, but Silas' ears aren't used to music- just as his soul isn't used to kindness- and he can't enjoy it.
Dolly leaves, with a last bit of advice to give up working on a Sunday. (This is partly because it's against church law, and partly because of old superstitions.) Silas is relieved to be left alone. Eliot paints a bleak picture of his lonely Christmas day. Possessed by grief, he still doesn't lock his door; he thinks of his cottage as "his robbed home." Eliot adds a sad, short paragraph contrasting him to his loving, trusting youthful self. He is now at his lowest point.
In comparison, the villagers have a merry Christmas, full of traditional celebrations. In the world of the gentry, though, Squire Cass' party on New Year's Eve is the big event, and Eliot describes the eager preparations for it. (No one worries about Dunstan's absence.) Only Godfrey looks forward to the party with conflicting emotions. Eliot dramatizes this in a dialogue between hopeful Godfrey and his demon Anxiety. He seems literally split in two. Compare Silas and Godfrey at this point. Which do you feel sorrier for? Why?
After hearing so much about her, at last you meet Nancy Lammeter, riding to the Casses' party. Eliot tries not to idealize Nancy. Though she's lovely, she's dressed in dowdy clothes. Clinging to her father's waist, glancing nervously down at the mud, she appears unselfconscious. As you read the rest of this chapter, however, you may see why some readers regard Nancy as too good to be true.
You enter Nancy's thoughts as she approaches the house and sees Godfrey. She's embarrassed and confused by the way he's been acting lately. More than that, she disapproves of his reputation. Her pride tells her she deserves a good man like her father. Nevertheless, when Godfrey lifts her off the horse, her emotions go into a tailspin. Clearly, she cares more for him than she'd like to admit.
NOTE: SOCIAL HISTORY
You've heard various characters mention the Kimbles and the Osgoods; now you meet them. The Lammeters are greeted by Mrs. Kimble, the Squire's sister and wife of the Raveloe doctor. Upstairs, Nancy meets her other aunt, dignified Mrs. Osgood. Her son Gilbert is the cousin whom Nancy refused to marry.
Mrs. Osgood has brought to the party the two Miss Gunns. Being from a large provincial town, they think they're superior to country folk. But they're impressed with Nancy's grace, beauty, and extraordinary neatness- an outsider's opinion that confirms what Eliot has already told you. The only flaw they see is her rough hands. Nancy isn't ashamed of her hands, though- work is important to her.
Next you see Nancy beside another Raveloe lady, her sister Priscilla. By comparison, Nancy's special qualities shine out. Priscilla definitely talks like a country girl. The same dress that makes Nancy look lovely makes Priscilla look sallow and dumpy. Nancy, however, insists that as sisters they should dress alike. (What does this tell you about Nancy?) Priscilla does have common sense. Compare her realistic attitude toward staying home and keeping house for their father (as George Eliot did) to Nancy's high- minded reluctance about Godfrey.
Downstairs at tea, Nancy reflects that marrying Godfrey would make her mistress of this house. She admits to herself that she loves him but her morals won't let her unbend. Eliot speaks of this as Nancy's "inward drama." Do you think she approves or disapproves of Nancy's attitude?
While Godfrey and Nancy sit silently, highly conscious of each other, the rest of the party comes alive. Squire Cass is in a loud, merry, patronizing mood. Mr. Lammeter sits in self-contained dignity. Dr. Kimble busily chats to everyone in the room. Eliot points out that these people aren't aristocrats. The Squire's comments about Godfrey and Nancy are boorish. Even Dr. Kimble is not a great doctor- he inherited his practice. Imagine how Godfrey and Nancy feel as they sit here.
Music, which is so important to Raveloe, is introduced by white-haired Solomon Macey, the fiddler. He respects the gentry but he respects his music, too, and it gives him a special role. He plays the tunes people expect to hear, old songs rich in memories. Music gives him power over them, like a Pied Piper, as he leads the party into the parlor to dance.
Not only are all the gentry here, selected villagers round out the scene. An elaborate social ritual is at work, which everyone seems to enjoy. The villagers comment as they watch the gentry dance, much as people today may comment upon a TV show they're watching. From this quarter, you get another view of Nancy and Godfrey. The villagers agree on Nancy's beauty, but opinion on Godfrey is divided.
An accident (fate or bad luck?) calls Nancy and Godfrey off the dance floor. Nancy's dress has been torn, and she must sit in the next room until Priscilla can help her fix it. Eliot presents the lovers' conversation dramatically, letting you know just enough of what each is feeling to add an undertone of passion to the careful banter. Godfrey tries to tell Nancy he loves her. She rebuffs him coldly, firmly, but with a trace of hurt pride that gives him hope. Even after Priscilla arrives, Godfrey stays near, hanging on to these few moments with Nancy.
Just then, while Godfrey is happily forgetting his marriage, his wife is headed toward the Red House. This isn't a coincidence- she chose this night deliberately so she could shame Godfrey in public. She wants revenge because he insulted her. His own actions brought on this impending doom.
Eliot's portrait of this woman is brief but complex. One side of Molly knows that her addiction to opium is to blame for her wretched life. Yet the other side resents Godfrey for living better and blames him for her misery. Eliot reminds you that Molly is limited by her uncultured past. Throughout this commentary, however, Eliot also remarks that most of us react the same way Molly does to our own misery.
Molly, like Godfrey, lacks moral strength. In this scene, her weakness is conveyed in many ways. The falling snow literally makes her slow down and get lost. The snow also symbolizes her moral weakness, which makes it hard for her to get anywhere in life. Her addiction to opium is another weakness. She turns to it when she's in pain and needs comfort. She hesitates, knowing it will hurt her baby, yet she gives in to her selfish craving. The drug, however, makes her even weaker, and the snow soon completely numbs her.
Molly's love for her child is the one thing that fights against her drug addiction. But is she a good mother? Her child is ragged and hungry, a burden that she clutches automatically. She ultimately chooses the opium over her child's welfare, and under the influence of the drug she stops caring about what happens to the baby. On the other hand, there is a tender bond between them. The little girl sleeps peacefully, and when she tumbles awake she cries "mammy" and struggles to climb back into her mother's arms.
The scene shifts to the child's viewpoint. Easily distracted, she sees a bright light and runs after it. She can't see what it is- she seems nearsighted, like Silas Marner.
The little girl toddles straight into Silas' cottage and falls asleep by the fire. Eliot now backtracks slightly to show why Silas' door was open. Pathetically, he believed the villagers' superstition about his gold returning to him on New Year's Eve, and he was looking for his treasure. Why does he have a fit just then? Some readers think it's chance; others think it's a sign of a mystical power running his life.
When Silas comes out of his fit, he turns toward the fireplace. Two logs have fallen apart and he pushes them together. (What could this symbolize?) His nearsighted eyes notice a gleam of gold on the hearth. He thinks at first that it's his money, and his heart pounds. Then the gold starts to move, to come alive (he used to imagine his gold was alive). He touches it. It is not cold and hard, but soft and warm.
When Silas' gold disappeared, he tried to find a logical explanation. Now, however, he's ready to accept a magical explanation for the appearance of the child. He wonders if she is his little sister, come to him in a dream. This memory stirs long-dead emotions in him, and symbolically he also stirs the fire brighter. More memories rush into his mind. Remnants of his old religious feelings revive, and he senses "some Power presiding over his life." This child may be something new in his life, but his feelings for her grow out of his past.
When the little girl wakes, Silas is forced into action. He picks her up and instinctively hushes her cries. (Notice that she still cries "mammy"- it's a natural reflex.) Taking care of her occupies his mind totally, the way weaving and counting his gold did. Although he's slow and a little shy, he figures out how to fulfill her needs. He feeds her, generously giving her sugar he wouldn't have used for himself. He awkwardly wrestles off her tiny, wet shoes. Finally, however, he realizes that she must have come in from outside. He tracks her footprints out into the cold night until he finds her mother, lying covered in snow.
Back at the Red House, the party is in full swing. Eliot takes a few paragraphs to flesh out the scene, describing the rooms as precisely as a stage set, slipping into various characters' minds. She is inside Godfrey's thoughts when an unexpected visitor appears at the door. Through Godfrey's eyes, your attention is focused not on Silas but on the child in his arms. Godfrey immediately recognizes his own child.
Eliot shows you this scene on two levels: the outer public event and Godfrey's inner reaction to it. The men in charge respond discreetly to Silas' news about the woman he's found in the snow, keeping the shocking news from the ladies. The ladies, however, press around Silas, naturally attracted to the pretty baby. Meanwhile Godfrey's thoughts are in turmoil, though he fights to look calm. Unlike Dunstan, who'd probably regard this as good luck, Godfrey is afraid his wife isn't really dead- and he's ashamed of that feeling.
Silas makes a startling announcement- that he plans to keep the child. He speaks of this as his "right," as though she were a prize he'd won. She does cling to him, trusting him more than the motherly women around her. No one seems to take Silas' announcement seriously, however.
Like the men at the Rainbow, these people stir themselves to help Silas. There are limits, however, to their charity. Mrs. Kimble is reluctant to touch the dirty baby. The Squire suggests to Kimble to send his apprentice to the woman in the snow instead of going himself. To the public eye, Godfrey appears to be helping out of a sense of duty. What do you think his real motives are? Notice how his daughter's cry tears at his heart, as if a plant ("some fibre") were growing there. Eliot emphasizes his emotional state with one detail- the thin dress shoes that, in his hurry, he wears out into the snow. Dolly Winthrop, whom he fetches for help, ironically praises him for going to such trouble. Later, his uncle Kimble tells him it was silly for him to come out to help. It seems the gentry aren't expected to help the way villagers are.
As Godfrey wrestles with his conscience, waiting to hear if his wife is dead, he feels responsible for his child. He considers acknowledging her, which he knows is the right thing to do. But he realizes that if he doesn't, he'll be able to marry Nancy. Love for Nancy, not just shame over his wife, pushes him toward moral cowardice. In Silas' cottage, he takes one last look at his wife, who's been pronounced dead. (Eliot calls her "unhappy," which can mean unlucky as well as miserable.) What do you think Godfrey feels as he looks at her?
Godfrey turns to see Silas cradling the child in his arms. Eliot describes the baby's peaceful presence as a sacred, natural thing, and Godfrey is affected by it. How do you think he feels when she turns her eyes away to gaze lovingly at Silas? Remember this scene- it will be re-enacted later.
Godfrey nonchalantly discusses the child's fate with the "withered" weaver. Silas stubbornly repeats his intention to keep her. You don't enter his feelings but you hear his reasons. The first one is logical enough- he senses a kinship with her, as two lonely, abandoned creatures. The second reason is more irrational- he thinks she's come to replace his gold. Silas' mind isn't working clearly, but his heart is. In contrast, Godfrey's heart seems confused while his mind is working busily. He doesn't protest; he hands Silas some money and leaves quickly. His conversation with Dr. Kimble as they head home reflects public opinion- Silas should keep the baby because no one else will.
As Godfrey returns to the party, his anxiety ebbs away. Knowing his secret is safe, he feels relieved and carefree. Except for the nagging possibility that Dunstan may come home and spill the truth, he faces his future optimistically. He tells himself he's doing the best thing for his child. Read carefully how Eliot describes his reasoning. Do you think she sympathizes with him or condemns him? Does this psychological portrait seem realistic- like the way people you know would think and behave?
Although Molly's death is hardly noticed by the world at large, Eliot says, it seems to have a purpose, setting off a chain of events that will affect many people. One of the first changes is in Silas. His decision to keep the child makes the villagers more sympathetic to him than ever. As before, Dolly Winthrop personifies the best of Raveloe behavior, bringing a pile of baby clothes and helping give the baby a bath. Silas' and Dolly's religions seem more in tune with each other now. Dolly believes heavenly spirits brought the child to Silas. Silas believes the child came from an unknown place, the same one where his gold disappeared- he links the two events in a pattern. Dolly agrees, with her almost pagan belief in the rhythms of nature and the great mysterious workings of fate.
Dolly offers to help care for the baby. Silas, still a miser, is determined to do everything, to keep the baby's love for himself. But he is willing to let Dolly, an experienced mother, teach him the "mysteries" of child care. ("Mystery" here means "sacred rites" as well as "unknown questions.") One piece of advice she gives him troubles him, though. She insists he bring the child into the church. Dolly believes in christening the same way she believes in giving children their shots ("noculation")- to protect them from every possible harm. Silas is baffled because he doesn't know the word "christening" (in Lantern-Yard it was called "baptism"). As he speaks of his own religion in a low voice, he still seems bitter. But he agrees to do whatever is good for the child. As he thus moves beyond his own interests, his memory is reawakened. He decides to name the baby Hepzibah, after his mother and sister- though Dolly suggests he shorten it to Eppie. She wishes Silas good luck- which she says comes to anyone who does the right deeds.
Since no one knows whether Eppie's been baptized, the rector has to decide which is riskier- possibly baptizing her twice, or possibly not baptizing her at all. (Remember Mr. Macey's concern over the Lammeter's wedding ceremony?) He decides to baptize her, and Silas goes to church for the ceremony. With the spirit of faith dead inside him, he can't interpret what's going on, but he goes for Eppie's sake.
Eliot suggests that Silas is like an insect- an old fly, sluggish after a long winter, who now basks in the spring sunshine. Out in the meadow with Eppie, Silas rediscovers an important part of his past- herbs. Eliot points out that Silas' regeneration is not so much a matter of learning new things as coming to terms with the past and opening up his feelings, like a blooming flower.
Dolly warns Silas that children must be disciplined. She recommends either spanking or shutting them up in the coal-closet (as she does with Aaron). Silas hates the idea of punishing Eppie. One day, however, while he's busy weaving, she gets hold of his scissors and cuts the strip of cloth that ties her to the loom so she can't run away. She runs outside, attracted as usual by the bright light. When Silas can't find her, he's as terrified as he was when he lost his gold. He searches around the stone-pit frantically, imagining the worst. Then he searches the meadow and the neighboring field, straining his weak eyes. Finally he finds her beside a shallow pond, playing happily in the mud, oblivious to the panic he's just gone through. Like most parents in such situations, Silas is so relieved that at first all he does is kiss her and hold her tight. Back at the cottage, however, he decides to take Dolly's advice and see if punishment will improve Eppie's behavior. He scolds her and unwillingly puts her into the little closet by the hearth for a minute. Then he spends half an hour cleaning her- only for her to climb happily back into the hole as soon as his back is turned. As he later tells Dolly, this is his last try at discipline- he'll just hope Eppie outgrows her mischievous stage. What does this scene tell you about Eppie? What does it tell you about Silas?
Once again you see the public view of Silas changing. As he takes Eppie with him on his business calls, customers greet him as a real person. His obvious love for the child makes him less frightening to others.
Eppie gives him a purpose in life, too. For her, he must be in touch with the community. He appreciates money again because he can use it for her. Notice Eliot's imagery; she compares Eppie to a young plant, and Silas to the gardener who helps it grow. The chapter's final paragraph celebrates the power a child can have to save men's souls. Eliot says these children fulfill a role angels used to play. What does that tell you about Eliot's religious beliefs?
While Silas is opening up through his love for Eppie, in contrast you see Godfrey's narrow, hidden love for his child. He watches her with an interest that he can't show publicly. He gives Silas money from time to time, but he doesn't dare do it too often.
Eliot says Godfrey isn't too worried about Eppie growing up in a humble cottage. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it's Godfrey or George Eliot who believes that "people in humble stations often were... happier... than those who are brought up in luxury." In the next paragraph, however, it is clearly Eliot speaking. She refers to an old fairy tale, where a magic ring pricked its owner when he followed his own desires instead of duty. She suggests that this pinprick was not painful at first- only later. You've just seen Godfrey choose his desire for Nancy over his duty to Eppie. What does this fairy-tale image suggest about Godfrey's future?
The public view of Godfrey is positive- bright-eyed and firm. Now that Dunstan seems gone for good, Godfrey finds it easy to follow a straight path, because it leads straight to marrying Nancy. Inside, though, Godfrey is different from what the world sees (just as Silas was different from his local legend during his long exile). Godfrey is conscious of having been "delivered from temptation"- curiously using religious language, instead of the language of luck, for the first time.
As Godfrey looks hopefully toward his future with Nancy, one of the most important elements of his domestic visions is their children. This leads him naturally to think of his other child. He doesn't envision her clearly- she seems just a sexless "it." But he calms his conscience by promising himself to provide money for her- that's his duty. Eliot stresses this comment with a touch of irony. What should a "father's duty" be, according to Eliot?
This chapter opens in autumn, a time for reaping harvests. Most of Part One was set in winter- a cold, dead season that suited Silas' exile. In contrast, Silas' first years with Eppie were described as springtime- when new life grows.
NOTE: In Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale, sixteen years elapse between Act III and Act IV. The mood changes from winter to spring. During the elapsed time, King Leontes has changed. His teenage daughter, Perdita, who's associated with flowers and nature, is finally restored to him in Act V. Eliot, as an ardent Shakespeare reader, probably intended a similar change between the "acts" in Silas Marner.
In sixteen years, Raveloe hasn't changed much- the church bells ring cheerfully after Sunday services, and the congregation files out in order of social rank. But individuals have changed. Godfrey is a handsome, middle-aged man. His wife Nancy has lost her youthful glow, but in its place there is a mature beauty. Eliot hints that Nancy's experience has sobered her. What do you imagine her experience has been?
Silas, who now looks old, makes a picturesque contrast next to Eppie, the embodiment of youth and high spirits. Her curly auburn hair suggests an inner nature that isn't docile. Nevertheless, Eliot shows you, Eppie has neat, tidy habits- a virtue Eliot praised before in Nancy. Eppie has a good-looking admirer, at first introduced merely as a village lad. The fact that she has an admirer underscores her beauty and signals that a shift in generations has taken place. Soon, however, as the young man joins them, you learn that he is Aaron Winthrop. In the conversation that follows, Eliot establishes the characters' lives. Silas still works hard and dotes on Eppie. Aaron earns his living as a skilled gardener. Dolly and Aaron are as close as family to Silas and Eppie. Godfrey has given Silas and Eppie a lot of financial help, which they accept innocently, with respect.
Eppie's attachment to nature is shown also in the animals around her. On the way home, she scratches a friendly donkey's nose. (Some readers think this donkey represents Silas. What do you think of that interpretation?) A lively little dog and a litter of cats also live in their cottage. The cottage has changed; it's now cozy and clean. But the hearth hasn't been altered, because Silas is attached to it as part of his past. Eppie cooks Silas' Sunday dinner and fusses over him, making him go smoke his pipe while she tidies up.
Eliot reports the Raveloe opinion of this situation. Godfrey is admired for his charity to Silas (you know, however, what Godfrey's real motives are). Silas is admired for raising Eppie. Mr. Macey even says, superstitiously, that Silas' money will come back to him as a reward for this. As Silas smokes, however, you learn that he hasn't been totally transformed. He adopts village customs only for Eppie's sake. He's been able to get a perspective on his past, however, by talking with Dolly about his false accusation in Lantern-Yard. Eliot reports this conversation in a flashback, so you can watch Silas reconciling himself to his past. Note that contact with another human being, Dolly, helps him to gain perspective.
Notice how Silas reverts to biblical language- "clave to me," "lifted up his heel again' me"- to describe his trial. His story confuses Dolly, because Lantern-Yard's rituals are so different from hers. But her faith in God's goodness sustains her, and she advises Silas that he should have trusted God.
Dolly uses common sense and human feeling to find a reason for Silas' accusation. Inarticulate Dolly can't sort it out immediately- she needs to think about it while she's actively engaged with life. One night, while mourning a dead neighbor, she's inspired. She accepts her inability to understand every event. She's seen plenty of sorrow, and she can't see the reason for it, but she feels certain- "I feel it i' my own inside"- that it has a larger purpose. She tells Silas that he shouldn't have abandoned his community- that, to her mind, is the big sin, not turning his face against God. Dolly doesn't insist dogmatically on her solution, though, when Silas points out that it's hard to forgive people sometimes. He does agree with her, however, that there's some large, mysterious good working in the world- that's why Eppie was sent to him. "There's dealings with us," he sums it up.
Silas has told Eppie the story of his finding her. She knows everything he knows about her mother, but she's never been curious about her father. Eliot attributes this to Eppie's purity of mind, a result of her secluded upbringing. (Some readers think Eliot makes Eppie too perfect here. Compare this to Eliot's portrayal of Nancy in Chapter 11.) But, trying to paint a realistic portrait of country life, Eliot points out that not all country children are this innocent. Eppie is also different from other village girls because she's slight and delicate. Do you think Eppie's set apart because of her birth or because of her upbringing?
Like Silas, Eppie is attached to old things- the furze bush her mother was found under, and the old stone-pit. Silas tells her that the water in the pit is going down because Godfrey Cass is draining some fields. This sign of change leads them to talk of another change: Aaron has asked Eppie to marry him. Silas seems anxious- what do you think is going through his mind? Eppie sees this marriage as a way to make Silas' old age easier, for Aaron would come to live with them. Though she likes Aaron, she doesn't seem to be in love with him. Silas thinks she's too young to be thinking of marriage. Yet he is eager to see Eppie's future settled, and he's learned to be philosophical about change, so he decides to ask Dolly for her advice. How do you feel about this marriage? Do you think that's how Eliot wants you to feel?
As the story moves back to Godfrey's world, you see that the Red House has changed, too. The parlor is still dark, but now it's clean and neat. Like Silas, Nancy has preserved the past- the dead Squire's belongings- but no one touches them. In contrast to the big party you last saw here, it seems empty with only four people here today. Yet there were only two people in the scene before- what does Eliot feel is missing here?
The interchange between Mr. Lammeter and Priscilla shows the shift in generations- Priscilla now manages the farm, and Mr. Lammeter has lost his firm control. Priscilla refuses to stay to tea, saying she needs to get home to watch over the dairymaid. Priscilla blames the girl's approaching marriage for her incompetence. Notice her outburst, a few paragraphs later, about men. Why is she so sour?
As Priscilla and Nancy go for a walk, Eliot uses their conversation to help you catch up on their lives. Priscilla, who enjoys her own work, says running a dairy would keep Nancy's mind off her worries. But Nancy says that a dairy wouldn't lift Godfrey's spirits. After praising her husband, Nancy claims she understands why he frets about not having children. This, then, is their marital problem.
After the Lammeters leave, Godfrey goes to look at the draining fields. Nancy sits alone with her Bible. Unlike Dolly, she can read the Bible. But like Dolly, she isn't a scholar, and the words on the page soon fade away as she meditates on her own life. Anxiously, she muses on her childlessness. She knows Godfrey feels deprived. She wanted children, too, but she can deal with her own sense of loss. She humbly accepted the death of their one baby, fourteen years ago. Since then, she's devoted herself to Godfrey to make up for it. But there's one thing she won't do- adopt a child. Eliot points out that adoption wasn't very common then (as it became in her own time and in ours).
NOTE: Nancy tends to form rigid opinions and cling to them. These are essential to her personality- they grow in her mind like grass, Eliot says (more plant imagery). Nancy formed her code early in life, and formed it out of superstition as well as rational thought. How does Eliot seem to feel about Nancy's principles?
Nancy is convinced that adopting a child would be going against the will of God. You can hear her recalling Godfrey's arguments against this. Interestingly, he talks about adopting a specific child- Eppie. Nancy is talking about a principle, however, and she won't budge. She says it was all right for Silas to adopt Eppie because the child came to him unsought- like Dolly, she accepts the mysterious workings of God. But this doesn't bring her peace.
Eliot digresses to describe Godfrey's own feelings about adopting Eppie. Since you have seen Silas and Eppie together, you can imagine the effect of this adoption on Silas, but Eliot says Godfrey never worries about this. Why not? He believes that anyone would want Eppie to rise in social class. Some readers think Eliot condemns Godfrey for this attitude, for he's really fulfilling his own desire for his child. Others say he can't help his class prejudices, and they point out that Eliot says that he's no longer as bad as he was in Part One.
Back in Nancy's mind, you see she's grateful that Godfrey has been so good to her, in spite of her refusal to adopt a child. Then you go back into Godfrey's mind. He appreciates Nancy's loving attention and understands how important her convictions are to her. But his sense of her firm morals only makes it harder to explain the truth about Eppie. He does love Nancy. But because their marriage is childless, he blames this for his unhappiness. Eliot says this is a common human mistake- life is never entirely happy for anybody, but most people can't accept this. Godfrey aggravates this natural tendency by thinking that he's been denied a child to punish him for his past. Who does he seem to think is punishing him?
Nancy rouses herself from her thoughts with a sense, like Dolly's, that she must just live one day at a time. A servant brings in tea and tells her that people have been running up the road away from the village. Nancy looks out the window. You see that it's a beautiful scene, but in her anxiety it looks ominous to her.
The next chapter is swift and dramatic, as a sudden turn of events draws the story to its climax. Godfrey walks into the room, pale and trembling, and Nancy's relief turns to apprehension. Although he's upset, Godfrey tries to break his news kindly- that Dunstan's skeleton has been found.
NOTE: Dunstan's body has decayed, but he was identified by the objects found with his bones. Godfrey's gold-handled whip lay there, re-creating an image of Dunsey swaggering along the hedgerows. In a way, this represents a part of Godfrey that died along with Dunstan. But along with the whip, other gold objects also survived- Silas' coins. These represent a part of Silas that died.
Although this discovery must have an effect on Silas, too, Eliot keeps your attention focused only on Nancy and Godfrey. She enters into both of their thoughts, to show you their differing reactions. Godfrey is in shock, remembering the full implications of Dunstan's death. Nancy, however, is fairly calm, thinking of Dunstan only as the family black sheep. When she learns that Dunstan was a thief, she feels a proper sense of family shame, which she imagines Godfrey feels, too.
But something more is bothering him. This incident has convinced him that all secrets come to light eventually, and he's decided to clear his conscience at last. Notice his steady gaze as he looks at her, and his firm language. He talks explicitly about God, rather than the vague fortune he trusted to years ago. Yet he conceives of God as "God Almighty"- a stern, powerful judge, much different from Dolly's benevolent, mysterious image of God. What's your opinion of Godfrey now?
For a moment their eyes meet directly. Godfrey tells his secret, in plain, direct language. Nancy's reaction is hard to gauge- she turns pale but sits quietly. Godfrey seems scared of her, and he goes on talking, trying to justify what he did. The suspense builds as Nancy remains silent.
But when she speaks, her reaction is surprising. She doesn't condemn Godfrey for his former marriage or for hiding the secret. Instead she focuses on the present. Now that she knows that Eppie is Godfrey's child, she wants to adopt her. She only regrets that Godfrey kept this secret so long, depriving them of the child for many years. She knows attachments build over time, and lost time can't be recovered.
Godfrey is amazed that he didn't predict Nancy's reaction better. Have you ever had a moment like this- when someone you thought you knew inside and out revealed new depths? If so, you know how unsettling it is. Godfrey probes Nancy's feelings, testing whether she really disapproves of him or not. But Nancy, like Dolly, believes that the pattern of events is mysterious and that people can't judge the ultimate outcome of their actions. She doesn't completely forgive Godfrey, but she accepts what's done as done. They agree upon their duty now- to go to Marner's cottage and offer to adopt Eppie.
Eliot prevented you from thinking too much about Silas in the previous chapter. But she moves her scene now to Silas' cottage, where Silas sits contentedly with Eppie. His face is transformed by excitement, because his stolen money has been recovered. Now he has both his treasures. But he explains to Eppie that she has become more precious to him than his gold ever was. He would rather not have the gold back, if it meant losing Eppie. He speaks as though some conscious power took the money away, sent Eppie to him, and then returned the money for him and Eppie to use. Ironically, just as he's saying how forsaken he'd feel if he ever lost her, a knock comes at the door. Eppie opens it to see Mr. and Mrs. Cass, as she politely calls them. She doesn't yet know what you know- that they've come to take her from Silas.
In this scene, Eliot lets you know each character's feelings and reactions at each point. In fact, she scarcely describes the physical scene at all, concentrating instead on the inner drama. The speeches themselves are dramatic, but Eliot adds to this by letting you feel the emotional currents that run beneath them.
Godfrey begins by referring to that day's discovery. It sounds as if he wants to make things up to Silas for Dunstan's robbery. Godfrey's decided to hide the fact of Eppie's birth, if possible. Subtly, he's working his way toward offering to adopt Eppie as a favor to Silas. Meanwhile, the weaver answers him honestly, showing his usual respect for the upper class. Silas doesn't catch the implications of Godfrey's words at all. He simply says that he and Eppie need no help.
Eppie innocently pipes up that she would like a garden. Nancy immediately responds to this. You've seen before that Eppie is as tidy as Nancy, and that both have strong family feelings. You've also seen that Eppie is unusually well bred for a village girl. Some readers think Eliot is suggesting that Nancy would be a good second mother for Eppie. If so, this adds tension to the dramatic choice Eppie will soon have to make.
This conversation is more difficult for Godfrey than he expected, but he presses on. (Compare the way he acts here to his confrontation with his father in Chapter 9. How has he changed?) He talks vaguely about how Eppie ought to be well taken care of- "she doesn't look like a strapping girl come of working parents," he hints. At this point, Silas seems aware of what Godfrey's driving at, but Eppie still has no idea. Godfrey finally states it clearly: he and his wife want to adopt Eppie. Eliot says Godfrey is tactless- what words in his speech do you think she's referring to?
Eppie instinctively cradles Silas' head in her arm. Remember in Chapter 13 when baby Eppie turned away from Godfrey to touch Silas' face? This is a replay of that scene. Again, Eppie doesn't recognize her biological father. She doesn't feel affected by Godfrey's offer, but she's concerned about Silas, "her father," as she feels him trembling. What do you think Silas is feeling here? Like Nancy in the previous chapter, he answers Godfrey in a surprising way. Unselfishly, he tells Eppie that she may make her own choice. Her choice is a humble, simple, polite "No." She says she feels too attached to her "father" and her familiar social circle.
Godfrey likes to get his own way, and he's annoyed at being turned down. Underneath his noble, beneficent air lie selfish motives. Caught off guard, he blurts out the truth about his relation to Eppie- his "claim" on her. (Remember Silas in Chapter 13 talking about his "right" to Eppie?) Eppie reacts with shock. Silas, however, bolstered by Eppie's refusal, now acts like a protective parent. He chastises Godfrey for abandoning Eppie (and, to his credit, Godfrey feels guilty). Silas rushes on, talking about how sixteen years of daily life together has created feelings between him and Eppie that can't be changed. This gives him a real "right" to Eppie. But Godfrey has never known that kind of intimacy, and he can't understand what Silas is talking about. Patronizingly, he scolds Silas for standing in Eppie's way.
Eppie, listening, is repelled by Godfrey's sanctimonious attitude. Silas, however, takes it to heart and, struggling against his own desires, gives Eppie her choice again. Even Nancy at this point feels sorry for Silas. But she agrees with Godfrey- her code sets blood and class above feeling. Godfrey speaks gently to Eppie, and Nancy echoes his hopeful plea. What do you feel for Godfrey at this moment? for Nancy?
Eppie, however, drops her polite manner. They've passed beyond class roles and face each other as human beings. Clutching Silas' hand, she refuses again in colder tones. She says she simply can't stand to desert Silas, knowing how much he loves her. Silas questions her, making sure she won't regret losing a rich social position. Then Nancy questions her, reminding her of her family duty. But Eppie firmly replies to both that she couldn't live any other life but what she's been brought up to.
Godfrey, agitated, leaves. Nancy tries to cover for his rudeness, then hurries after him.
At the beginning of the previous chapter, maybe you felt sorry for Silas. At the beginning of this one, however, you might just as easily feel sorry for Godfrey and Nancy. Godfrey has been rebuffed by his only child. Nancy has no hope now of ending her childlessness. The silence between them as they arrive home seems brooding, ominous. But then they exchange a long, steady gaze that expresses more than words could ever do. What does this tell you about their marriage?
Godfrey takes Nancy's hand and faces the truth decisively. Notice the imagery he uses. He rejects his own father's images, where human relations are like property- "There's debts we can't pay like money debts." Instead, he uses images of nature to talk of affection- "the trees have been growing."
NOTE: TRAGIC CLIMAX
Godfrey doesn't turn his back on Eppie. Considerately, he decides not to make her parentage public, because it wouldn't do anyone any good. Nevertheless, he intends to go on helping her, playing the role he's always played in her life. Nancy urges him not to tell anyone, even her father and sister, about his secret. Some readers think she's being practical here; others think she's trying to save her own reputation. Godfrey, however, says he'll put the truth in his will- he's given up hiding his secrets.
Like any old married couple, Godfrey and Nancy rehash between them the recent events. Godfrey remarks that Eppie dislikes him, but he accepts this as his fitting punishment. What's more important, he realizes that he still has Nancy- and that's enough. He seems purified of his restless, regretful feelings, ready to be content with his wife and home as they are. All in all, do you think this is a tragic ending to this plot? Why?
Now that the climax of the story has been passed, Eliot resolves the one cloud still hanging over Silas- his early experience in Lantern-Yard. Silas decides to take Eppie to visit his old home. Buoyed by his new perspective on life, he's ready to face the past. Eppie's hopes are simpler- like most country people, she doesn't travel much, and this is an adventure.
When Silas and Eppie arrive in the town, however, it's an alien place. You see it through two perspectives, Silas' inner reaction and Eppie's remarks. Time has caused a change here as it does everywhere, and Silas can't recognize the place. Eppie's confused by the noise and crowds. Even Silas has to ask directions. But he's aware that people won't know where Lantern-Yard is. In Raveloe, everyone knows every house, but in the town a back street is familiar only to the people who live there. Silas seems happy when he recognizes Prison Street and the jail. Eppie, however, is disgusted by this "dark ugly place," which "hides the sky" (as usual, Eppie longs for something natural). The grim jail is a lifting symbol for Silas' old life, yet he's attached to it anyway because it's part of his past.
Have you ever revisited a place you once knew well and found it changed? If so, you may understand Silas' eagerness and puzzlement. The shops on Prison Street have all changed, but he discovers a few familiar landmarks to lead him to Lantern-Yard. When he turns the last corner, though, a rude shock awaits him. The entire street has been knocked down and replaced with a factory.
NOTE: SOCIAL HISTORY
With her reverence for the past, Eliot stresses how transient this city is. Silas can't find anyone who's lived there longer than ten years. People and places he used to know seem to be swept away, as though they never existed. Compare this to Raveloe, which is rooted in its past. Would you call your own community transient or rooted in the past? What about America in general?
Eliot cuts immediately back to Raveloe, where Dolly helps Silas sort out what happened. Dolly muses that there are many things in life which remain "dark" to ordinary people. Silas agrees, but he says that since Eppie has come to him, "I've had light enough to trusten by"- the darkness of life no longer troubles him.
In Chapter 6, Mr. Macey said that winter was a strange season for the Lammeters' wedding. The Lammeters were outsiders, but Eppie isn't- she gets married in spring, the right season. Symbolically, the spring is lovely and fertile, filled with flowers and new life. But Eliot also tells you the villagers' practical reasons why spring is best- they have more time for weddings then, and it's better weather for a light dress.
This wedding scene works to restore a sense of harmony after the crisis in Chapter 19. Eppie accepts her wedding dress from Nancy, smoothing over hard feelings. Godfrey has provided the wedding feast, and soon you'll see he's made additions to Silas' cottage in preparation for Aaron's moving in. Everyone in town, from Priscilla Lammeter to Mr. Macey, is on hand to watch the wedding party walk to church. But there is an undertone of sadness. Nancy needs to be kept company; Godfrey has some vague excuse for being away. How do you think they feel today?
All of the village rituals are observed. Mr. Macey makes a little speech to Silas, blessing the marriage. Guests gather in the churchyard early so they can tell their old stories about Silas and Eppie over again. The men head for the Rainbow after the service.
NOTE: A FAMILY
Eliot's own childhood was not totally happy. Her mother seems to have ignored her, and although she was very close to her older brother at first, they fell out with each other later. To some readers, this perfect family picture at the end of this book- "four united people"- is Eliot's nostalgic dream of a family bound by love and respect, not just by blood.
As the wedding party heads home, notice that Eppie's garden is flourishing. Though it's protected, it isn't blocked off from society; an open fence on one side allows flowers to peek through. The novel ends with Eppie's loving, contented comment, "O father, what a pretty home ours is! I think nobody could be happier than we are."
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