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Friday, March 13, 2009

Silas Marner

Eliot, George. 1861. Silas Marner. Bantam Classics. (My edition was mid 1980s) 186 pages.

In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses--and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak--there might be seen, in districts far away among the lanes, or deep in the bosom of hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of the brawny country folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race.

Shocker of all shockers: I liked this one. Quite a lot, in fact. Why is that shocking? When I read this little volume--and no, it's not the same copy--in tenth grade I absolutely hated it. Hate is really too kind a word for what I felt. Needless to say, it held the title of most-hated-book until my college days when Jude the Obscure took its place. (It still holds the honor, in case you're curious.) Which just goes to show you that almost without a doubt classics--at least some classics--fail to be appreciated by high schoolers. Maybe that's inaccurate. I'll rephrase, anytime a person--especially a teen person--is required to read a book, no matter how good or great that book is (sometimes they're really bad, I'm not saying all are good) then it's an uphill battle to have him/her have a positive response to it. It just goes against human nature to like something we're forced against our will to read. And its understandable to me. What could a fifteen year old have in common with Silas Marner, a middle-aged weaver obsessed with gold? He's old (relatively speaking at least!). He's strange. No one likes him in his village of Raveloe. He's an outsider, it's true, a loner. And arguably some teens could see themselves in that way. But is that enough?

Silas Marner, in case you've never been subjected to it, is the story of a man, a weaver, who takes refuge in Raveloe after escaping his unfortunate past. He is living only for himself. The money he makes from his trade, he hoards. He loves his gold. Treasures it. He's not the only one keeping secrets in the village. There's a man, Godfrey Cass, who has quite a secret. Something in his past that he's willing to do just about anything, pay just about anything to prevent from coming to light. His brother, Dunstan Cass, is blackmailing him. He'll tell all to their father--Squire Cass--if Godfrey doesn't do things his way. Why does Godfrey care? really really care? He wants to marry Nancy Lammeter. The secret? He already has a wife, a wife his father would never approve of, a wife he's ashamed of, a woman he'd never claim in a hundred million years. Dunstan (and Godfrey) are in need of money, Silas Marner has plenty. Put the two together and you've got a robbery destined to happen. But things don't always go according to plan, Dunstan disappears the same night as Silas' gold. But that's just the beginning. Silas doesn't know it then, but things are about to start looking up! His life is about to change for the better! Why? His "gold" will be returned to him--providentially according to Silas and his friends--in the form of a golden-haired baby girl whom he names Hepzibah (Eppie) whom he adopts and raises to the satisfaction of all but one....Godfrey Cass.

This one had themes that I couldn't even begin to grasp as a sophomore. And the language? the style? I didn't appreciate the little things. The phrases. But here's the thing. I can now. Everything that I missed then, I can appreciate now. Here is one of my favorite passages:

I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbors with our words is, that our goodwill gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips. We can send black puddings and pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own egoism; but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil. There was a fair proportion of kindness in Raveloe; but it was often of a beery and bungling sort, and took the shape least allied to the complimentary and hypocritical. (77)

I liked the characters--some more eccentric than others--too. I came to appreciate the flavor of this one.


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