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First edition title page.
|Publisher||William Blackwood and Sons|
Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is the third novel by George Eliot, published in 1861. An outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it is notable for its strong realism and its sophisticated treatment of a variety of issues ranging from religion to industrialisation to community.
The novel is set in the early years of the 19th century. Silas Marner, a weaver, is a member of a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in an unnamed city in Northern England. He is falsely accused of stealing the congregation’s funds while watching over the very ill deacon. Two clues are given against Silas: a pocket-knife and the discovery in his own house of the bag formerly containing the money. There is the strong suggestion that Silas’ best friend, William Dane, has framed him, since Silas had lent his pocket-knife to William shortly before the crime was committed. Silas is proclaimed guilty. The woman he was to marry casts him off, and later marries William Dane. With his life shattered and his heart broken, he leaves Lantern Yard and the city.
Marner heads south to the Midlands and settles near the village of Raveloe, where he lives as a recluse, lapsing into bouts of catalepsy, and existing only for work and the gold he has hoarded from his earnings. The gold is stolen by Dunstan (‘Dunsey’) Cass, the dissolute younger son of Squire Cass, the town’s leading landowner. Silas sinks into a deep gloom, despite the villagers’ attempts to aid him. Dunsey disappears, but little is made of this not unusual behaviour, and no association is made between him and the theft.
Godfrey Cass, Dunsey’s elder brother, also harbours a secret. He is married to, but estranged from, Molly Farren, an opium-addicted woman of low birth. This secret threatens to destroy Godfrey’s blooming relationship with Nancy, a young woman of higher social and moral standing. On a winter’s night, Molly tries to make her way into town with her two-year-old child, to prove that she is Godfrey’s wife and ruin him. On the way she takes opium, becomes disorientated and sits down to rest in the snow, child in arm. The child wanders from her mother’s still body into Silas’ house. Upon discovering the child, Silas follows her tracks in the snow and discovers the woman dead. Godfrey also arrives at the scene, but resolves to tell no one that she was his wife.
Silas decides to keep the child and names her Eppie, after his deceased mother and his sister, Hephzibah. Eppie changes Silas’ life completely. Silas has been robbed of his material gold, but has it returned to him symbolically in the form of golden-haired Eppie. Godfrey Cass is now free to marry Nancy, but continues to conceal the existence of his first marriage—and child—from her. However, he aids Marner in caring for Eppie with occasional financial gifts. More practical help and support in bringing up the child is given by Dolly Winthrop, a kindly neighbour of Marner’s. Dolly’s help and advice help Marner not only to bring up Eppie but also to integrate her into village society.
Sixteen years pass, and Eppie grows up to be the pride of the town. She has a strong bond with Silas, who through her has found inclusion and purpose in life. Meanwhile, Godfrey and Nancy mourn their own childless state. Eventually, the skeleton of Dunstan Cass—still clutching Silas’ gold—is found at the bottom of the stone quarry near Silas’ home, and the money is duly returned to Silas. Shocked by this revelation, and coming to the realisation of his own conscience, Godfrey confesses to Nancy that Molly was his first wife and that Eppie is his child. They hope to raise her as a gentleman’s daughter, which for Eppie would mean forsaking Silas. Eppie politely refuses, saying, “I can’t think o’ no happiness without him.”
Silas is never able to clear up the details of the robbery that caused his exile from Lantern Yard, as his old neighbourhood has been “swept away” and replaced by a large factory. No one seems to know what happened to Lantern Yard’s inhabitants. However, Silas contentedly resigns himself to the fact that he now leads a happier existence among his family and friends. In the end, Eppie marries a local boy, Aaron, son of Marner’s helpful neighbour Dolly. Aaron and Eppie move into Silas’ new house, courtesy of Godfrey. Silas’ actions through the years in caring for Eppie have provided joy for everyone and the extended family celebrates its happiness.
- Silas Marner – a weaver and miser who is cast out of Lantern Yard by his treacherous friend William Dane, and accumulates a small fortune only to have it stolen by Dunstan Cass. Despite these misfortunes, he finds his faith and virtue by the arrival of young Eppie (daughter of Godfrey Cass).
- Godfrey Cass – eldest son of the local squire, who is being constantly blackmailed by his dissolute brother Dunstan over his secret marriage to Molly. When Molly dies, he feels relief, but in time realises he must account for his deceit to those he has wronged.
- Dunstan Cass – Godfrey’s greedy brother with a penchant for alcohol and manipulation, and the real culprit in the theft of Silas’s bag of gold.
- Molly Farren – Godfrey’s first (and secret) wife, who has a child by him. She dies in the attempt to reveal their relationship and ruin Godfrey, leaving the child, Eppie, to wander into Silas’ life.
- Eppie – daughter of Molly and Godfrey, who is cared for by Silas after the death of her mother. Mischievous in her early years, she grows into a radiant young girl devoted to her adoptive father.
- Nancy Cass (née Lammeter) – Godfrey Cass’ second wife, a morally and socially respectable young woman.
- Aaron Winthrop – son of Dolly, who marries Eppie at the end of the novel.
- Dolly Winthrop – mother to Aaron; godmother to Eppie. Sympathetic to Silas.
- William Dane – William Dane is Silas’ former best friend, who looked after and respected Silas in Lantern Yard. William ultimately betrays Silas by framing him for theft and marrying Silas’ fiancée Sarah after Silas is exiled from Lantern Yard.
- Sarah – Silas’ fiancée in Lantern Yard, who subsequently marries his treacherous friend William Dane.
||This section possibly contains original research. (June 2008)|
In Silas Marner, Eliot combines symbolism with a historically precise setting to create a tale of love and hope. On one level, the book has a strong moral tract: the bad character, Dunstan Cass, gets his just deserts, while the pitiable character, Silas Marner, is ultimately richly rewarded, and his miserliness corrected. The novel explores the issues of redemptive love, the notion of community, the role of religion, the status of the gentry and family, and impacts of industrialisation. While religion and religious devotion play a strong part in this text, Eliot concerns herself with matters of ethics and interdependence of faith and community.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (March 2012)|
The tale is 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.
- The actor Michael Williams played Marner in a Focus on the Family two-part adaptation for radio; this was to be the last acting role before his death.. The production also featured Edward Woodward, Jenny Agutter, Alex Jennings and Timothy Bateson and has subsequently been re-broadcast on BBC Radio 7.
- W. S. Gilbert‘s Dan’l Druce, Blacksmith (1876) takes its initial situation–the arrival of a child in a miser’s life–from Silas Marner (as noted in the libretto), and has a somewhat similar ending, although the middle section is entirely new.
- The critically acclaimed 1954 Indian film Bangaru Papa, in Telugu, starring S. V. Ranga Rao and Krishna Kumari, is also based on award-winning short story writer Palagummi Padmaraju’s loose adaptation of Silas Marner.
- Ben Kingsley played Silas Marner in a 1985 BBC adaptation (broadcast in the US by Masterpiece Theatre), with Patsy Kensit as the grown-up Eppie.
- Lazy Bee Scripts in England published a one-act adaptation of Silas Marner, http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Scripts/script.aspx?iSS=671
- The children’s TV series Wishbone has an episode with an abridged adaptation.
- Steve Martin wrote, produced, and starred in a 1994 movie adaptation of the novel, titled A Simple Twist of Fate.
|This article’s factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (November 2012)|
- A new stage version of “Silas Marner” will be premiered at the Grand Theatre Arts Wing, Swansea in September 2012. Written by Francis Hardy, it will be produced by Fluellen Theatre Company.
- “Chapter 7”. Silas Marner. “when Silas Marner was in that strange trance of his, his soul went loose from his body”
- Illustrated London News. 18 November 1876, page 476
- Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3. p. 141
- Bangaru Papa in Naati 101 Chitralu, S. V. Rama Rao, Kinnera Publications, Hyderabad, 2006, pp. 109–110
- Silas Marner, John Joubert
- John Joubert: composer
- Nagendra (1981). Premchand: an anthology. Bansal. p. 70. OCLC 8668427.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Silas Marner, online at Project Gutenberg
- Silas Marner PDF
- Silas Marner, online at Ye Olde Library
- Silas Marner, complete unabridged book at sparknotes.com
- Silas Marner Cliff Notes
- Silas Marner audio book at Librivox
- Silas Marner – Stage Version
- Discussion of Silas Marner on BBC Radio 4‘s In Our Time
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