Silas Marner

by George Elliot

Book Club Notes

Silas Marner is the story of a weaver set in late Victorian England. We are taken through his life and how he responds to the events that shape his story.
          We meet him as a young hard working weaver living in the town of Land Yard within a Calvanistic style religious community, he is betrothed in marriage, he has friends and is regarded as a valued member of their society. But Silas is naive and too trusting of the world , he is betrayed by his friend, framed for robbing the church funds, is judged by his elders by the drawing of lots and ‘God’ ,is deemed guilty and excommunicated. His world is shattered and he loses his fiancee, his reputation, a future, his faith and trust in God and humanity.
          He travels to Raveloe and sets up his weaving shop. This is a rural community, almost feudal in it’s ways with overseeing landowners headed by Squire Cass and his family. The villagers are a bit stereotyped in their portrayal as a peasantry with their superstitions and suspicions of outsiders, but they are the real heart of the story. George Elliot’s description of Raveloe and it’s people is wonderfully crafted and she explores the themes of class, loneliness, greed, entitlement, community, family and their secrets and lies and family dynamics.
          Silas is living in Raveloe now for 15 years but isolates himself from all aspects of community life. He turns inwards and lives for his work and to earn money. He becomes a miser and finds solace only in his hoard of gold. But this is a misplaced love and is cruelly taken from him in the second robbery of the story. He turns to the people of Raveloe for help and they do not fail him. The gold is not recovered but the community reach out to give him solace especially through the character of Dolly Winthrop and her family who befriend him.
          It is at this point in the novel that Silas is really saved. By Chance a young orphaned child comes into his life, but Silas believes it was fated. He adopts her without any real objections from the Raveloe people and he raises her with their help.
          There are many other story lines running parallel to Silas’s, the main one being that of Godfrey Cass and his brother Dunstan, the spoiled entitled and indulgent sons of the Squire Cass. The events of their lives and how they conduct themselves have a profound influence on what happens to Silas.
          NO SPOILERS! Let us say that George Elliot has overt biblical themes in the writing of her story. There’s the Cass brothers rivalry like Cain and Abel, Silas’s loss of faith when tested and his prodigal return, his ‘covenant’ of love for his adopted daughter Eppie, the people of Raveloe firstly being like Job’s comforters when he was robbed, the fall from grace and pride of the Cass family.
          In the end it is the love between Silas and Eppie that comes through as they are confronted with the revelation of her birth and Eppie has an important choice to make but to the satisfaction of this reader there was no doubt that she would do the right thing. You’ll just have to read this wonderful book to fill in the gaps.

Here are some of the email reader comments from our Covid19 March book club.

Jennifer “I lived in it in a wonderful way one does when reading a book
          about a complete society full of real and believable people”

Margaret “ I thought it far fetched that a man like Silas could cope with a
          toddler but the interaction between the two of them was Wonderful”.

Trish “ every possible storyline is used, the secrets people carry, the various family dynamics, personal loss, greed, redemption, self exclusion and the importance of community, themes that are still relevant today.”

Jane “incredibly moving, so many truths about ourselves in every Page”.

Kristina “Almost a Covid 19 parable as Silas finds community again”.

Gerry “ A great choice, terrific cradle to grave story which kept me engaged all the way”.

Mary “I love the keen observation of how a single event can impact the direction of a life”

Alison Claffey
Dublin Unitarian Church