William Blackwood and Sons, 1861
Wrongly accused of theft, and exiled from a religious community many years before, the embittered handloom weaver Silas Marner lives only for work and his precious hoard of money. When his money is stolen, and an orphaned child finds her way into his house, Silas is given the chance to transform his life—but his fate, and that of the little girl he adopts, is entwined with the villagers. Silas Marner combines humor, rich symbolism, and pointed social criticism to create an unsentimental but affectionate portrait of life in early 1800s rural England.
Reader, allow for this classic to proceed at a slower pace than modern writing. Significant plot twists don’t begin until about two-thirds of the way through the book. In the first half of the book, readers find themselves listening to conversations that don’t seem to be advancing the story and which are, at times, made more confusing by a local dialect. But by the time Eliot published Silas Marner in 1861, the industrial revolution was obliterating much of England’s rural villages and farmland, and these divergences may be the author’s intentional tribute to a vanishing setting.
Even so, Silas Marner may be one of the most beguiling stories a reader will ever find. George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans, wrote with originality and sensitivity about religion, family, shame, and redemption. Silas Marner is not a long book (its page count comprises less than 25% of Eliot’s more flashy Middlemarch, which was published ten years later) and would be a nice first step for readers wanting to experience classic literature.
Have you read Silas Marner recently? What are your thoughts about it?