What do we learn about life in the early 19th century from reading "Silas Marner" by George Eliot

George Eliot was born in 1819, named Mary Ann Evans. She changed her name to George Eliot when she started writing; this was a trend that women novelists followed because they were considered inferior to men so therefore were not taken seriously when they wrote. One of the key things which are relevant to this story is the fact that George Eliot lived in both the town and country.

George Eliot witnessed the industrial revolution as it was in full swing at that time.

She saw people emigrating from the country to urban areas to find work in factories; this is why she included it in the novel with the presence of Lantern Yard.

The Napoleonic wars took place during this period as well. This caused a decrease in the amount of food supplies which were imported into the country. Due to this limit in supplies the prices of home-grown went through the roof. Citizens of a lower class starved because they couldn’t afford to buy food but to balance out the bad there was a good; in the long run this gave Britain superiority over the sea.

Silas Marner is full of twists and turns, from start to finish. It is about people who lived in a changing age and how their lives changed with time. The basic story is about Silas Marner, someone who has done wrong before he is rewarded with a final blessing. The story is quite sad, beginning with Silas in his native Lantern Yard. A key point in, which we must understand and appreciate, is that in those days people were moving from the country into the town.

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People emigrating meant that everyone was trying to adapt from their village life to the fast-paced town life. People liked living in villages but there was no work for them in the villages so they were left with no option but to move to a place where they could find work; mainly in factories, it was also important that the town had a church as they were regular church-goers. It was like a group of set villages put together and called a town; each with its own area name. Silas belonged to this sort of community along with its strange religious cult.

Silas became friends with a man called William Dane, he was of a high standing in Lantern Yard. Silas had a mild epileptic fit but people thought that he was visited by god; this gave Silas a status that he could only dream of. People’s speculations about Silas’ “guest” made him rise to a position of great importance and this is how he got to know William Dane. Silas and William were, in fact, the two most influential figures in Lantern Yard. People sought after their advice and would ask them what they thought was holy. They would also ask Silas to cure ailments with his special knowledge of herbs. After a while things started going wrong for the weaver when an old Deacon, who was ill, died under Silas’ supervision while he was in a visitation.

Silas’ troubles were far from over, along with his inabilities to look after a sick man, he was accused of stealing the church money after the empty bag was discovered behind Silas’ loom. On these grounds William Dane convicted Silas of stealing the money and of being in league with the devil. He was found guilty by the drawing of lots; which were doubtlessly fixed by Dane. The whole community turned their backs on Silas, even his fianc�e Sarah, so the weaver left Lantern Yard for Raveloe.

He rented a cottage and began weaving; desperate to escape the pain in his life, he also grew to love money. He wanted to earn as much money as humanly possible so he worked all day and most of the night in his desperate bid to be rich. Just as things looked to be going right for the lonely weaver, his life flipped 180. One night while he was out collecting supplies Dunstan Cass came to his house and stole all his money. This would be enough to push anyone over the edge but for Silas, it was a lot more than that. For him his life was worthless and pointless, more to the point; over. He, again, tried to get back on his feet by working but he was still a nervous wreck on the verge of a mental breakdown. After a thorough search of the village the blame was nailed on a peddler who had passed through the village. Knowing who it was did not make it any easier for Silas. His heart was in broken and once again he was left to pick up the pieces of his ruined life.

Silas fell into a trance when he went out to look for his money in the New Year. While Silas was unconscious a destitute baby crawled into his home and fell asleep on the fire place. Silas recovered and discovered the baby; he picked it up and took it to the home of Squire Cass, who was, sort of, the Lord of Raveloe.

The Cass family were the highest ranking family in Raveloe. Squire Cass was a widower who had four sons and a house to take care of after his wife passed on. This was very rare for men; the household fell into a horrid state along with the moral state of his four sons.

The Squire’s eldest son, Godfrey, married a pauper, Molly Farren, by being tricked by Dunstan, his younger brother; all this took place in secret. Dunstan was very conniving; he tricked his brother so he could blackmail him. Things go from bad to worse for Godfrey when his wife becomes addicted to Opium, he realised his mistake and regrets not waiting to marry Nancy Lammeter, the girl he loved and wanted to marry.

Within a few years Godfrey disowned Molly and started to court Nancy. Godfrey paid Dunstan to keep quiet; the money came from the tenants which belonged to their father. Godfrey was in debt, a debt who could not afford to pay back. This resulted in him selling his horse, Wildfire, in order to pay it back. Dunstan agrees a deal with a man named Bryce but tells him he’ll deliver Wildfire to him later. On his way home he rides the Wildfire straight into a hedge where the horse falls and dies. Dunstan considers hiring a horse but instead takes the much easier alternative; he goes to Silas’ cottage and steals his money and slowly disappears into the night.

Due to Dunstan’s mystery disappearance Godfrey was left with no option but to tell his father all about the money he lent to his younger brother. Godfrey paid back the money and continued courting Nancy. His conscious was blackened by Molly and their illegitimate child.

On New Years Eve they attended a party at which Godfrey courted Nancy and life just seemed to go on. Silas appeared out of the blue with some very disturbing news. He was holding Godfrey’s baby and he had come to inform him of Molly’s death. Godfrey is relieved to hear of her death so he starts with a clear conscience. Silas offers to look after the child; no one makes any complaints so Silas takes the baby and everyone goes on with their lives as normal.

The story resumes 16 years later. Silas bought up the bundle with help from the villagers; she was christened “Eppie.” Eppie grew very much attached to Aaron, Dolly Winthrop’s son. Godfrey had a child from his wife Nancy but it died soon after. Nancy believed that she should have not any children; she even refused to adopt children. Silas was completely reformed, Eppie gave Silas a reason to live after all the misery and pain in his life, and she changed him into an active member of the community. Dunstan Cass hadn’t returned yet to Raveloe but he was most certainly not missed.

Godfrey was having the stone pits drained, which were near Silas’ house; they found a skeleton and two bags of money belonging to Dunstan. This caused Godfrey to own up about all the things he had done wrong in the past. He told Nancy all about Molly and that Eppie was his child. He also told her that Dunstan had been bribing him along with all his other dark secrets. Nancy was as supportive as could be expected and she told her husband to reclaim Eppie as her own.

Silas had taken care of Eppie for most of her life so it was no surprise that she chose to stay with him when it was up to her to make the final decision between living with the Cass’ or Silas; she chose Silas after a fierce battle between him and Godfrey over who would look after her. Silas had a long talk with Dolly Winthrop who influenced his decision to take Eppie to Lantern Yard. When Silas arrived there he was shocked to find it had disappeared off the face of the heart; instead of Lantern Yard there was a huge factory standing there.

The story ended with Eppie marrying Aaron. The Cass’ were not present but only two people knew the real reason behind their absence.

Eliot was a fantastic writer; this story was structured in a fantastic way. Initially there are two stories; one of Silas Marner and the other of the Cass family.

The main characters in Silas Marner are obviously Silas himself, Godfrey, Eppie, Dolly Winthrop, Nancy, Dunstan, Squire Cass and Aaron Winthrop. Silas is a strange man, he was an outsider from the moment he moved into Raveloe, but he was changed by Eppie; she forced him to socialise with people and to go to church.

Godfrey was very unlucky, he was Dunstan’s brother, his young-adulthood was full of disasters; starting with the marriage to Molly Farren. His luck did change however, after the disappearance of his brother and the death of Molly, Godfrey was able to sort himself out and marry Nancy; his life was shaping the way he wanted it to.

Eppie was the “illegitimate” child of Godfrey and Molly. After the demise of her mother she was adopted by Silas. Silas bought Eppie up, through the tussle with the Cass’ until she married Aaron.

Dolly Winthrop was the typical early 19th century country woman. She regularly gave advice to those who needed it, especially Silas and Eppie. She was a charitable woman, she didn’t, however, go to church every Sunday.

Nancy, the daughter of Mr Lammeter was a very strong willed person with firm morals. She brought order to the Red House after her marriage to Godfrey. She tried to be a good wife to Godfrey and give him a baby and she did but it died soon after birth. She believed this was a sign that she should have no more children. She was very badly hurt when Godfrey told her about his previous marriage but she, once again, proved to be a great wife by supporting him and convincing him to fight for the custody of his only child.

Dunstan was the real villain of the whole story. He lived a life of pleasure; being able to drink and party freely. He pushed his older brother Godfrey into marrying Molly Farren, so he could blackmail him for money; this shows he was truly ruthless if he was willing to do this to his own brother, his own flesh and blood. After, to an extent, killing his brother’s horse, Wildfire, who Godfrey loved dearly, he stole Silas’ money before meeting his destiny; the same as the horse; death, he drowned in the Stone Pits.

Squire Cass was the “lord” of Raveloe. He was coarse but generous with his sons. He was a widower and made his money by renting out land. He did not live long after his son’s marriage to Nancy.

Aaron Winthrop was the 5th son of Dolly Winthrop. He was the gardener at the Cass’ residence, also known as the Red House. He was very keen on Eppie and was luckily enough to marry her at the end of the story.

There are many things in this story which tell us about life in the early 19th century. One of the first things we learn is that rural villagers were very suspicious of any outsiders, particularly of outsiders with any special abilities. This is shown on numerous occasions. For example:

“The shepherd’s dog barked fiercely when one of these alien- looking men appeared on the upland.”

Chapter 1, Page 13, Lines 12-14

This is shown once again not long after Silas’ money was stolen, when the villagers blamed the peddler because of his strange looks and because of the fact that he was an easy scapegoat.

At this time Britain was the most economically developed country in the world, becoming more and more industrialised as time went on. People moved out of the country into the town in search of jobs. Everyone tried to recreate the feeling of unity where everyone knew everyone else. This resulted in groups of religious sects to spring up in one particular area, say where the church was. This is shown in the next quote where Eliot writes,

“Marner was highly thought of in that little hidden world.”

Chapter 1, Page 19, Lines 16-17 These mini cults were often devoted, their members lives revolved around going to church; they were all very protective and zealous in their worship, however, it also showed how quickly Britain was evolving. When Silas returned to Lantern Yard, 31 years after his exile, to find the community was no longer there; it had been replaced by a factory. Strangers were no longer frowned at, there was a strange atmosphere of not much care, people no longer gossiped about one another. This change is highlighted by Silas when he says,

“‘Its gone child’, he said, at last, in strong agitation – ‘Lantern Yard’s gone. It must ha’ been here, because there’s the house with the o’erhanging window – I know that – it’s just the same; but they’ve made this new opening; and see that big factory! It’s all gone – chapel and all.'”

Chapter 21, Page 232, Lines 1-4

Another thing that we learn from “Silas Marner” is that in the early 19th century rich people were very spoilt and did not have to work if they didn’t want to. Dunstan is a great example of this. This is shown in the story when Eliot wrote,

“‘As you please; but I’ll have a draught of ale first.'”

Dunstan Cass, Chapter 3, Page 42, Line 30

This highlights how spoilt the rich folk were. Rich people also had an authority over the working class; they were allowed to adopt any child they saw fit, as long as they were already being fostered already. They thought that poor people were incapable of expressing emotions and that the loss of their child would not affect them much. There was no law preventing them from doing this and the whole of chapter 19 shows this, in the way that Godfrey talks to Silas.

The story shows us how strict the class system really was. This system governed 19th century Britain. Marrying in secret was something which was frowned upon and marrying out of your class was considered the same as a great sin. This was the whole fasard between Molly and Godfrey.

Another thing included in this story is the way they tell of how crime fighting was conducted. There was no permanent police force; the village would elect the most important person to conduct the investigations. This was shown in chapters 7 & 8, after Silas’ money went missing.

This highlights another point regarding village life; the church and pub were the nerve centres of the village. This is shown in the story after Silas’ money is stolen. When he realises of his loss he heads straight for the pub to drown his sorrows with a little help from alcohol. (Chapter 6, Page 77)

In the 19th century it was the Parish’s duty to look after the poor in the area. They had to bury them if they died and send their families to work houses. This is shown around the whole Molly Farren incident. The parish was delighted when Silas offered to look after Eppie; it allowed them to get rid of her as quickly as they possibly could and this lessened the burden upon them. If today, however, a middle-aged man offered parenthood to a little baby it would not be anywhere near as easy for him to take it, a long process would take place before a final decision was made.

The story also shows us that people were the same then as they are now in the sense that they gave advice about children to people who were in need of it. This is shown in the story when Dolly Winthrop speaks to Silas.

“‘Eh, Master Marner,’ said Dolly, ‘there’s no call to buy, no more nor a pair o’ shoes.'”

Dolly Winthrop, Chapter 14, Page 162, Lines 10-11

In conclusion I have learnt that life was very unpredictable in the early 19th century. People always had to live life with strict rules but they always helped each other out; people were friendly to those they knew. We also see that people want a sense of community even in towns and life was based around a hierarchy.

I think that Eliot thought of the town as horrible and liked the idea of living in the country; shown in chapter 2 when she describes the awful smell and conditions. This is because she has lived in both town and country herself, and she says that she preferred the country.

It is not surprising that the novel informs about the time it was set because writers always wrote about the time they lived in and what they saw and then commented on it in their writing. I enjoyed reading “Silas Marner” and there are two reasons behind this. Firstly because it was very well written and taught me a lot about the time it was set in and secondly because it has a story behind it; Mary Ann Evans changing her name to George Eliot in order to get the respect she deserved as a novelist. This was interesting to me because in my opinion things are better if there is a good story behind them and I feel although the change in name is a very small story it has a very huge meaning, it proves that women were thought of as inferior when in actual fact just as good as the men or maybe even better. I would recommend this novel to anyone who would like to learn about early 19th century life or anyone who is after a good read because this novel is most definitely a very enjoyable read.

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What do we learn about life in the early 19th century from reading "Silas Marner" by George Eliot. (2017, Oct 28). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-what-do-we-learn-about-life-in-the-early-19th-century-from-reading-silas-marner-by-george-eliot/

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