Friday, 16 January 2009

5 - 'Silas Marner' by George Eliot

George Eliot (who was born not far from my home town and used it as the basis of 'Middlemarch') wrote big books. Big, weighty books with important themes.

'Silas Marner' is about 180 pages long, and at first glance, is about a moody old bloke.

Of course, it's a bit more complex than that. The conflicting tales of the calvinist weaver, cast out of his home society by an evil friend, who finds riches, then despair, and finally fulfilment in the shape of a daughter (Silas does these things, not the friend; commas can be confusing); and the son of a squire who gives into temptation in the form of a secret marriage and hides the presence of the daughter after the hated wife's untimely demise (can you tell what it is yet...) pack countless religious, mythological, social and literary allusions into the twenty-one chapters, and many critics called it her finest novel.

Still, I wasn't entirely convinced. The book is slow at times, and a more thorough analysis of Marner's character before the changes in his life in Raveloe would have added to the story. In addition, while there is meant to be a contrast between the good-hearted (and simple-minded?) village folk and the gentry of the area, the scenes with the higher-status characters actually seem dull at times.

However, the passages with Silas and Eppie are full of interest (especially for a father with a baby daughter!), and the confrontation in Silas' house with Godfrey and Nancy Cass is made for a BBC television adaptation (and probably already has been...). Despite the brevity of the story, you don't feel that the tale has ended too quickly; in fact, for such a short book, a lot seems to have been packed in.

While I've read a fair bit of George Eliot recently (and enjoyed all of it), this, in my humble opinion, does not match up to 'Adam Bede' or 'Romola'. I am soon to re-read 'Middlemarch', and as this time I won't be keeping an eye out for places I know (for some reason, I kept thinking that Eliot would mention prominent Coventry landmarks on each page!), I'm sure I'll enjoy it more - and probably a little more than 'Silas Marner' too.