Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Silas Marner (George Eliot)

Silas Marner – a young man, shy and early-wronged – lives an inward life. He works, and weaves, and becomes fixated by the gold he receives in payment. He collects it, piles it it up, and takes it out just to stare at its shimmer. One day, this precious bounty is stolen and, now forced to lead a life free of luster, his world falls apart. Meanwhile a rich aristocrat in his village has secretly married a peasant girl, who has born him a child. But the women dies, and the body and child are found by Silas half-frozen on the side of a road. The aristocrat, unwilling to compromise his reputation, says nothing. Silas takes the child, and finds awakened within himself a deep-rooted compassion, only dormant it seems, not dead, during his period of reclusivity. Silas nurses this young girl, keeps her safe, and – finding her full of living gold – she  becomes his redemption. Slowly and surely Silas’ human side is drawn out, but this fragile recovery is threatened by forces far outside of his control....

Our consciousness rarely registers the beginning of a growth within us any more than without us: there have been many circulations of the sap before we detect the smallest sign of the bud.” 

George Eliot is my favourite writer.  Since Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss and Adam Bede are all amongst the best things I’ve ever read, I was likely to come to the conclusion I did: Silas Marner is bloody fantastic.

Spring Water

Most fiction that you read is like wine – rich, delicious, flavourful. George Eliot’s is like water – pure, clean, and essential. She writes about life almost style-lessly; her fiction is a snapshot of real life. But it’s better than that.  Her books have the most wonderful – almost mathematical – coherence. The plot seems to be driven entirely by the characters, and these characters are driven by their thoughts, and these thoughts are influenced almost entirely by other events and characters within the world of the novel. It’s a great big sea of causation. I think George Elliot gets too little credit for the simple intellectual difficulty of what’s she achieves. She manages to solve the nth-level, simultaneous equation of causation  within the novel, and turns it into a coherent – and riveting – story.

Silas Marner is slightly different – it’s a little parable, a short novel that packs a big punch. It feels almost concentrated. This novella is as stylistically sparse as other of Eliot’s novels – there is no rhetorical flourish, improbable circumstances or unexplained moves. it is as inner-driven as the others. Real characters make real decisions in a world that seems real, yet, somehow, the resulting story is as concentrated as a myth, an allegory, an essential component of human life.

That’s amazing! George Eliot has developed a foundational, archetypal expression of human existence, just by describing a situation that you feel could really happen. Hamlet needs huge drama, huge sweeping emotions - great speeches, betrayal, death. George Eliot simply takes a seemingly random snapshot of life and comes out with a similarly profound result.

Eye of the Tiger

I think there’s hidden wisdom in there too - and it’s pretty coherent. By hoarding gold, Silas Marner is fostering love for something internal – his work, his wealth. Don’t we all hoard things, inside of us? The novel is saying that losing that thing you love – that you feel you rely on – will hurt you badly, but it won’t destroy you, and, perhaps, is is the loss that will make your redemption possible. And, ultimately, that redemption will be found both in giving love to somebody, and allowing yourself to need help. It is found in a focus, not inward on your own pain, but on the world around you. 

Silas Marner is a triple distilled story,  as pure as mountain melt-water. This is myth making at it’s most sublime. Eliot’s story is full of wisdom, but stylistically clean - it seems to just be a slice of life, imbued with qualities that make it more than real life, more than fiction. It is almost something magical, with a simple trope: the path to saviour is love.

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