23 August 2009

Past perfect: George Eliot's Silas Marner, the weaver of Raveloe

Author: George Eliot
Pages: 212
Written in: 1860-61

Lost and found

Every now and then, when I feel underwhelmed with contemporary works - some of it either because it's too sparse or simply lacking in quality -- I'm gripped by the urge to take up a classic. It allows me to soak my mind in the elegance of the English language...long-winding sentences that bristle with beauty, offering timeless insight into the human condition.
So last weekend I found myself scanning my bookshelf, seeing if there were any classics that I'd left unread and could take up. A quick search got me to Silas Marner - a book my grandfather gave me years ago from his collection.
Right away I must say the book lags behind in scope compared to Eliots' other novels, not quite posessing the wrenching emotional depth of A Mill On The Floss nor the narrative sweep of a Middlemarch, but it comes with a virtuosity and tenderness that makes it greatly readable. Importantly, Silar Marner shows the remedial influence of pure, natural relationships and the power of love when life has otherwise been unfair.

The book recounts the tale of a man - once full of affection and faith - forced to shun society when he's wrongly accused of theft. Silas re-settles in a countryside called Raveloe, where he gains the reputation of being cranky and mad, because he won't allow let anyone get close to him. His past life makes him so bitter that he lives the life of a recluse for years, mechanically carrying on with his work. His only source of pleasure is to gaze at the gleaming gold coins that he gets for his weaving work. He hordes it, and clings on to it dearly. All his repressed emotions are transferred towards the protection of his coins. Naturally then, he's grief-stricken and devastated when the gold gets stolen one day.
And yet, this loss of gold brings about a physical change in Silas. Earlier, he would close his doors and shun society in fear that someone would steal his gold. Now, he has nothing to hide. But emotionally, Silas is distraught at the loss. Which is why he leaps with joy when he sees gold hidden in the frost one Christmas night. But it isn't the gold he thinks it is. They are the golden locks of a two year old girl abandoned at his door. This treasure proves to be priceless, as a major transformation comes about in Silas as he brings up the girl, Eddie. Their relationship is touching, as Silas' frosty exterior melts away, revealing his tender fibres he'd kept locked in his heart for so long.
The other two important characters in the book are that of the well-heeled, Godfrey Cas and his wife Nancy. Their relationship as a married couple is one of deep affection and trust, even if they have many a crisis to overcome. Of course, they have a connection to Eddie.

There are some problems with Silas Marner. You're never sure why Godfrey Case marries a woman called Molly before Nancy. This part is very sketchy. Also, there are some chapters that are meant to give the reader a sense of the social scape in the country side. These parts tend to meander not adding anything substantial to the narrative. I'm guilty of skipping some of these portions.

As I said, the book is probably not in the league of Eliot's other two classics, but it's a neat story and can be an excellent introduction to the author. More importantly, my desire to read something of genuine value and pleasure was completely satiated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love the reflection on Marner...Will check back again!