Wrongly accused of theft and exiled from a religious community many years before, the embittered weaver Silas Marner lives alone in Raveloe, living only for work and his precious hoard of money. But when his money is stolen and an orphaned child finds her way into his house, Silas is given the chance to transform his life. His fate, and that of the little girl he adopts, is entwined with Godfrey Cass, son of the village Squire, who, like Silas, is trapped by his past.
I picked this book up with some trepidation. The only person I’d ever heard talk about it was my mother who had studied it in school, and therefore hated it with kind of hatred that can only be born by studying a text for a state exam, reading and rereading it too many times to count, examining every sentence in terms of theme, tone and technique till the words have lost all meaning. There really is nothing quite like studying a book for state exam to make you truly hate a book. For this reason its always worth taking the peoples views on such books with a pinch of salt.
This was apparently George Eliot’s favourite novel of the 7 novels she wrote. Like The Mill on the Floss, which I read earlier this year, it is set in rural middle England some time in the early 19th century just before the mass industrialisation of the Industrial Revolution.
This is very much a book about right and wrong, owning up to ones mistakes, not allowing your misfortune to rule your life and not blaming others for your misfortune. That is a lot of morality for what is a pretty short book (its only about 200 – 250 pages depending on the edition). However you never feel like your reading a sermon. I love Eliot’s writing style. She is excellent at painting a picture or scene. Silas Marner is an interesting character. In many ways he reminded me of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The old miser who is given a chance at redemption. It is impossible not to like him. The plot too is enjoyable once it gets going, though perhaps a bit slow to get started.
Overall therefore I enjoyed it. However I had a couple of issues with it resulting in the slightly lower rating despite the overall quality of the book. I found Eppie a bit insipid. She reminded me of one of Dickens innocent virginal little angels. I accept such characters in Dickens but I expected more of Eliot. Eppie lacks all the spirit of Maggie in The Mill on the Floss. She is just a bit too good. The plot, though gripping once I got into it, was a bit slow to get started and then rushed at the end. Eliot spends almost half the book setting everything up and introducing us to the main characters, then crams the big reveal into no more than a chapter. I would have liked to read more about Eppie growing up and for the big reveal to have been given more time, to allow greater exploration of the feelings of the characters.
So is my mothers hatred of this book justified? No. Would I recommend it? Yes. Will I be reading more of Eliot? Most definitely. Will this become my favourite of Eliot’s books, as it was her’s? Probably not.