George Eliot’s 19th century novel explores the lives of the people of Raveloe, especially those of Godfrey Cass and the weaver Silas Marner. Raveloe was a small, sleepy village tucked far away from the advancing industrial revolution. “Raveloe lay low among the bushy trees and the rutted lanes, aloof from the currents of industrial energy” The inhabitants of the village led simple lives and were all traditionally church going. They were highly suspicious of strangers, particularly those from different parts of the country.
This reflects the fact that travel was inevitably slower and more arduous than it is today, and any traveller would have been seen as though almost from a different country. Even though Silas and Godfrey have seemingly nothing in common, leading two very different lives separated by a large gulf in class, they are both linked together by the power of gold, in the literal and symbolic sense. By the end of the novel their paths have intertwined.
The book starts with Silas very much alone, his faith in mankind and God shattered.
Poor Marner went out with despair in his soul that shakes trust in man and God, which is little short of madness to a loving nature” George Eliot describes Silas as “honest” and “simple” and says he is “a good man”. He lives within a religious sect in a convent called Lantern Yard in a large soon to be industrialised northern town. When his friend of many years at the sect, William Dane, betrays him by falsely accusing him of the theft of gold, Silas is crushed.
At the base of Silas’s problems throughout the book is gold. He leaves the sect a broken man, a deep distrust of mankind firmly rooted in him.
The weaver travels to Raveloe, a village that is almost the exact opposite of his home town, trying to forget his past life but consumed with a lasting bitterness. “There was nothing here, when he rose in the deep morning quiet and looked out on the dewy branches and rank tufted grass, that seemed to have any relation with that centring on Lantern Yard.. ” Once in Raveloe Silas goes into a self imposed isolation, afraid of betrayal again. Whilst not being a particularly gregarious person in the first place, quite shy and simple, Silas now loathes having any contact with the people of Raveloe.
Godfrey Cass, the son of Squire Cass and a respected and well liked man in the village is also in a state of uncertainty. He is plagued by fears he may lose his vast inheritance, and without money, for which he has been accustomed to his whole life, he would be destitute, with no means to attain an income of his own. “The disinherited son of a small squire, was almost as helpless as an uprooted tree” He has for several years kept secret a marriage to a woman of much lower class that would surely degrade him in his social groups and have an adverse affect on his attempts to marry Nancy Lammeter.
Complicating matters is the fact that Godfrey’s scheming brother Dunstan knows of this and is blackmailing his brother extortionate amounts of money to keep quiet. Godfrey is fast running out of money himself and has turned to desperate measures to raise it. Just as in Silas’s case, gold is the root of Godfrey’s dilemma. Godfrey has already taken rent from one of his father’s tenants and given it to Dunstan and now must sell his beloved horse Wildfire to raise money. He is stuck in this position due to his own cowardice, not raising up the confidence to tell his father of the marriage and end his turmoil.
He frequently decides to expose what he has done before backing away from it, fearing the consequences. This irresolute behaviour indicates he is not a very strong willed man “But when he awoke in the still morning darkness he found it impossible to reawaken his evening thoughts; it was as if they had been tired out and were not to be roused to further work” This weak behaviour does not endear him to the reader, to whom it is obvious he is an indecisive man with gold controlling his decisions. Godfrey allows Dunstan to take Wildfire to be sold at the end of chapter 3.
He gets a good price for the horse but whilst racing it takes a fall, ‘staking’ Wildfire which leads to the animals quick death. Dunstan walks off unscathed, minus the desperately needed money. Walking home he notices Silas’s house unattended On arrival in Raveloe Silas’s closes himself into his home and begins working feverishly in his loom, not stopping. He takes comfort in the repetitive work, having no time to reflect on his friend’s treachery, resembling a spider spinning a web “He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection”.
George Eliot compares him to an insect as the only human urges he has are to eat, drink and sleep. He does not long for companionship and is more similar to a spider than a human being. It is at this stage he is first paid for his work in Raveloe. He enjoys the feel of the gold in his hand and likes looking at the shiny guineas, almost resembling old friends to him. This is the first time in his life he has his own money and he clearly enjoys the experience.
As he carries on working with little pause he amasses a pile of money and the coins slowly replace a whole left by friendship in his life “.. e drew them out to enjoy their companionship”. He feels he knows the coins, their texture and colour are soon very familiar too him and they become the only thing he can rely on, a comfort as he distrusts practically everything else “He handled them, he counted them, till their form and colour were like the satisfaction of a thirst to him”. They are the one constant, along with his work in the loom, that keep his life together. Godfrey allows Dunstan to take Wildfire to be sold at the end of chapter 3. He gets a good price for the horse but whilst racing it takes a fall, ‘staking’ Wildfire which leads to the animals quick death.
Dunstan walks off unscathed, minus the desperately needed money. Walking home he notices Silas’s house unattended and hearing rumours of the weaver’s gold enters to search for it. He finds the hidden money and exits, walking off into the night. Marner’s life comes crashing down when the gold is taken from him. Some time after first entering Raveloe Eliot establishes Silas’s growing love and continued need for gold over a prolonged section of the book, so the reader is fully aware of how deep his requisite for it is.
Upon discovering his gold missing Silas cannot quite believe that it is gone, searching again and again for it in it’s hiding place under the floorboards “He passed his trembling hand all about the hole, trying to think it possible that his eyes had deceived him” The thought of his precious gold ever disappearing never crossed his mind, as his disbelieving actions show. As he frantically searches every nook and cranny in his home the reader immediately sympathises with his predicament and feels a great deal of pity for Silas, seeing his distress at the loss.
His reaction shows how much the gold means to him. He goes to his loom, looking for something to reassure him, to calm him. The moment he accepts the gold has vanished he lets out a terrible, despairing wail, the pain of his past betrayal seeming to resurface in the loss of the gold. He lurches out of his home, heading to the Rainbow pub to plead for help in assisting the capture of the thief he was now certain had taken his money. In this moment of anguish Silas begins the first steps towards rehabilitating socially. He has no choice but to go to other people and tell them of the theft.
The repercussions of the villagers knowing of the robbery are that they, much like the reader, pity Silas and their opinions of him as ‘odd’ or ‘crazy’ alter. “It was now apparent that Silas had not enough cunning to hold his own. He was generally thought of as a “poor mushed creatur”” After the money has gone Silas’s life is without purpose. He lived for the evenings when he would count and look at his money, feel its friendship.
He still works on the loom but only to fill the time. He has no desire to work for money as it would look meagre compared to his stolen hoard. The thought of the money he would get by his actual work could bring him no joy, for its meagre image was only a fresh reminder of his loss” His loneliness is acute and leaves a chasm spaced hole inside of him. His neighbours visit often and bring gifts and kind words, neither of which has too much effect on Silas. He spends the Christmas period alone and this is when Eppie comes into his life. Godfrey’s wife, Molly, decides to visit him during the same time, carrying their child, on the night of a party at Godfrey’s house.
She plans to tell the squire who she is in an act of vengeance. She is an opium addict and has been for several years and whilst walking down the freezing country lanes to Red House she takes a draught of it. She falls unconsciousness and collapses in the snow, leaving the child to wander off. She finds her way into Silas’s cottage where she walks through the open door and sits by the warm hearth. At the time Silas was in a cataleptic fit, a condition that causes him to freeze and fall numb to the world occasionally and did not see the little girl, Eppie, enter.
As Silas opens his dreary eyes he mistakes the girls curly golden hair for his own gold, a position she will in the next fifteen years. As he realises it’s a small girl emotions stir immediately within Silas, emotions long since forgotten and never used whilst in Raveloe “.. it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe-old quiverings of tenderness” The child has a marked effect on him, even chuckling at her playing on his lap. When Silas realised she came in from the cold he goes out to investigate, finding the now dead body of Eppie’s mother.
Godfrey’s new year party is disrupted by Silas bursting in, requesting a doctor. He sees him clutching the small girl and recognises at once that it is his daughter. When hearing of the woman in the snow he believes it to be his wife and wishes her to be dead, to end all his problems “Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at the moment: it was, that the woman might not be dead” This kind of thinking does not endear him to the reader, selfishly guarding his own interests.
When it becomes apparent the woman is dead and Silas wishes to claim Molly, Godfrey has the chance to tell the truth, that he is her real father, he does not have the courage, merely giving Silas some money towards some new clothes. With Silas now caring for Eppie but having no idea how to look after a small child he once again reaches out into the local community. Dolly Winthrop offers her services to Silas, already having a five year old son.
The little girl brings Silas back into regular contact with society, makes him more at ease around people. the child created fresh and fresh links between his life and the lives from which he had hitherto shrunk continually into narrower isolation” Unlike the gold Eppie desires and needs things, making Silas think of the future in ways he didn’t before. The gold forced Silas to live a repetitive, isolated life whereas Eppie has reawakened him to the world, given him joy again. He went for walks with Eppie in the Summer where he would have been on the loom before, allowing him to appreciate things more. Eppie is like gold to him, she has replaced the satisfaction the gold gave him with human emotions.
She is like “treasure” to him. There bond grows just as strong as a real father-daughter one would and continued to do so over fifteen years. Godfrey made sure Eppie always was “well provided for” over the fifteen years and watches over her. He and Nancy are now happily married but are ironically childless after a miscarriage. Believing he would have children with Nancy may have been part of the reason he didn’t take Eppie and now he is left with no one to carry on the family name. When a skeleton is found in the drained quarry it is proved to be Dunstan’s, along with Silas’s money.
This pushes Godfrey into some sort of action. He manages to tell Nancy that Eppie is his daughter after the first revelation. They decide on taking Eppie back and set off to Silas’s home immediately. Silas has realised that Eppie has enriched his life much more than his gold ever could as he looks at his now returned money. At this point Godfrey and Nancy knock on the cottage door. After carefully building towards the subject of Nancy’s parentage Godfrey reveals he is her biological father and that he wishes to take her back, offering her all the money she would ever need.
Nancy does not wish to leave Silas, the man who has been a proper father to her. Godfrey cant understand her decision, saying he has a “natural claim” on her as if she were some possession. Godfrey and Nancy leave and it is clear to the reader that while Godfrey has more wealth, Silas is the richer man. George Eliot is saying here that human love is more rewarding and enriches you far more than money and material items, the likes of which Godfrey was offering.