Silas Marner, George Eliot, 1861
In the novella Silas Marner, George Eliot merges realism and fairy tale. Unlike most European folk tales, the story begins in a Grimm place and ends up somewhere homey and heartwarming.
The title character is an archetypal outcast, a weaver who, through the treachery of a close friend, is cut off from any avenue to human affection. Eliot describes his severely limited existence as the execution of weaving jobs and the accumulation of money repeated incessantly.
When a half orphaned, half abandoned child wanders into his home, Marner finds new purpose and his life becomes entwined with local families.
Silas Marner is a tale of second chances. Eliot posits that whether you’re screwed up or you’ve been screwed over, transformation and redemption are possible, uncomfortable and infinitely rewarding.
As in all her work Eliot is at her best when describing the English countryside and at her worst when condescendingly stereotyping its people. I could read page after page of her describing a flat, featureless stretch of land, but my eyes roll when she generalizes the characteristics of farmers. Her patronizing tone has some purpose in this novel, so it’s more bearable than in Adam Bede.
Ultimately, Eliot creates a great deal of sympathy for a seemingly unlovable loner and the wastrel aristocrats he inadvertently becomes involved with. The book starts off a little slow, but my enjoyment increased with every page. Who doesn’t like a fairy tale re-imagined in contemporary times (granted contemporary for Eliot meant mid-1800s)?
You might like Silas Marner if:
- you’re fond of outcasts
- it would do you good to read a story of redemption
- you’re fond of fairy tales
You might not like Silas Marner if:
- you prefer tragic endings
Silas Marner is an uplifting read, which is rare in the English canon. Authors usually chose to show how a character’s flaws lead to misfortune. Whereas, Eliot starts with unfortunate and flawed characters and shows how their choices lead to their redemption. I like it. It’s nice to read a story with an uncommon plot and an uncommon emotional arc. This is a great, short read for cozy autumn or winter evenings. I might have just convinced myself to read it again soon.