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Before going into a discussion about the book, I wanted to let my readers know that there are several publishing companies that print classic literary works. I think the cheapest would be the Wordsworth Classics. Some classics can also be found on the Gutenburg Press site for free as eBooks. Penguin offers two versions of many classic books (Silas Marner included), with the Penguin Classics version being better for students with a long introduction, index, and word explanations. The Oxford World Classics are also good for studying. I find myself always leaning towards Wordsworth Classics or Penguin Classics personally, but I am not sure that it is really because they are so superior to the other publications. Also, your local libraries are often a trove for classic works. Sometimes they might be a bit dusty or browned, but they are still just as magical as their first day on the shelf.
As far as my readings of George Eliot goes, I find “Silas Marner” to be one of her more accessible works. It is reasonably short, about 220 pages, written in two parts, and has a well-paced story that despite spanning tens of years, does not lose its potency. I find it hard to get people to read George Eliot’s works, because they are often intimidated by the size of her novels. One only has to think of “Daniel Deronda” or “Adam Bede” to feel overwhelmed. But “Silas Marner” is a great novel to demonstrate, rather concisely, Eliot’s main themes, beliefs, and concerns as a writer in the 1800s. She focuses on human relationships above all else and explores rather non-religious conceptions of morals. Her works focus on rural life in England and they often have a timeless quality about them. The opening of “Silas Marner” begins almost as a fairy tale. Raveloe, the main village and place of the novel, is set in a timeless and border-less space. She invites the reader to join her on a journey into this strange rural void and try to make sense of the relationships between the different villagers.
The main character, also the title of the book (which is a common trait of Eliot’s novels), is an outcast who finds his way to Raveloe, where he exists on the peripheries of society as a lone, short-sighted weaver. Without giving too much away about the plot, the book is in many ways a bildungsroman that sees the transformation of Silas Marner as a lone hoarder to a sociable villager who interacts with his neighbours and the community of Raveloe at large.
At the heart of the novel of “Silas Marner” is a man who has been hurt too deeply to ever trust again. He is betrayed by his best friend, cast out by his community, and dropped by his fiance. He hides his heart in his work as a weaver, only making contact with people when he makes a transaction of weaving for gold. Rather than put his trust into something that could hurt or leave him, Silas loves the gold that he collects from his weaving work. He sits with it at night and gazes into the small faces imprinted into the coins and thinks of them as his only family. The coins he is yet to earn, become his unborn children. Yet, he is never corrupted by the money. Unlike Scrooge, Silas’ only fault is that he is too afraid to love again. However, with the help of a twist of fate, Silas is forced to open his eyes and see the world in a different way. Suddenly, human relationships replace his affections for cold gold objects and he slowly learns what it means to be in and of the world.
If you have ever felt betrayed, misunderstood, lost, or unloved, this is a book that will show you that there is always hope where you least expect it. As always, share the reading love.