Her favourite book, 'Silas Marner' is one of George Eliot's shorter novels, but one with a big heart. It is a simple tale with big themes and adorable characters. As would be expected, Eliot paints a charming picture of an old English countryside; complete with rich, poor, religious and superstitious. As a fan of Dickens, I very much enjoyed Eliot too.

Silas Marner is a simple weaver, who having been exiled from a religious community in Lantern Yarn, sets up a new, isolated life in the primitive village of Raveloe. Here his fortunes do not improve, for soon enough Marner's stash of gold, hidden under his loom in a hole in the floor, is stolen and Marner's faith in humanity is again diminished. Symbolically, however, a twist of fate pairs him with a girl of two years, who wobbles into his home unexpectedly, sporting coils of golden hair. At once Marner's gold is replaced by another kind of gold. Slowly his isolation is reversed and his standing in Raveloe becomes of greater repute.

There are, of course, other elements and twists to the story, but in its essence 'Silas Marner' is like a revised folktale given 19th century context. The symbolism is obvious; Marner finds gold in the immaterial and in his unexpected love for the orphan child. The fact that his local pub is called 'The Rainbow' is tantamount to the romantic notion of finding gold at the end of one. Fairy-tale at its heart, the story, because of its realistic context, is able to explore themes that another tale couldn't. Is the child a gift from God? Is Marner's transformation inevitable or divine? Is it better that the child be raised in poverty, but with love, than in wealth and disregard? Such questions are raised, but for me the appeal of the novel is in Eliot's beautiful, though unsentimental, descriptions of the relationship between the old man and the golden child. In the end, I felt it was heartbreaking, but whereas Dickens could make more of this, Eliot is capable of a restraint which only heightens the sentiment, between the lines. In truth, I was less engaged with the chapters dealing with the wealthy families of Raveloe, though perhaps this serves only to feel more sympathy for the humble, mysterious, though ultimately lovable Silas Marner.

I am yet to read other Eliot classics, but this seems a great place to start.

© 2020 by Chris Soul. 

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