Silas Marner is a weaver who, unjustly condemned for a crime he did not commit, abandons his former identity and moves to the country. There, he isolates himself, buries himself in work and almost loses his personhood, his only passion being the gold sovereigns that he earns and hoards. When his gold is stolen from him and, as if in return, a little golden-haired orphan child finds her way to his house, it is the start of a recovery for him, and a new life.

One little moment that I enjoyed thoroughly (perhaps because it echoed so strongly my own little Baby M) occurred when Eppie, the little girl that Silas adopts, was a little older than Baby M is now. Silas has been instructed in discipline by a kindly neighbour, Dolly – with one punishment option (the most lenient) being to shut up the errant child in the coal hole. One day, Eppie steals his scissors, cuts through the linen band that keeps her safely at home, and runs off from Silas, straying over local fields.

He feels that some form of punishment is necessary to impress on her the importance of not repeating the experiment (lest she come to harm), so resolves to put her in the coal hole:

Naughty, naughty Eppie,” he suddenly began, holding her on his knee, and pointing to her muddy feet and clothes – “naughty to cut with the scissors and run away. Eppie must go into the coal-hole for being naughty. Daddy must put her in the coal-hole.”

He half-expected that this would be shock enough, and that Eppie would begin to cry. But instead of that, she began to shake herself on his knee, as if the proposition opened a pleasing novelty. Seeing that he must proceed to extremities, he put her into the coal-hole, and held the door closed, with a trembling sense that he was using a strong measure. For a moment there was silence, but then came a little cry, “Opy, opy!” and Silas let her out again, saying, “Now Eppie ‘ull never be naughty again, else she must go in the coal-hole – a black naughty place.”

The weaving must stand still a long while this morning, for now Eppie must be washed, and have clean clothes on; but it was to be hoped that this punishment would have a lasting effect, and save time in future – though, perhaps, it would have been better if Eppie had cried more.

In half an hour she was clean again, and Silas having turned his back to see what he could do with the linen band, threw it down again, with the reflection that Eppie would be good without fastening for the rest of the morning. He turned round again, and was going to place her in her little chair near the loom, when she peeped out at him with black face and hands again, and said, “Eppie in de toal-hole!”

This was a much lighter novel than I expected. For a nineteenth century novel by such a famous author (and one I have only ever tried to read once before, and not got on with), it was a refreshingly easy read.

This is not, however, to say that it did not deal with serious themes. Eppie’s mother was the discarded, secret wife of the local squire’s eldest son, and an opium addict. Godfrey, Eppie’s father, refuses to own her even when her mother dies and the child comes into the house of his neighbour Silas as an orphan – a decision which he must later come to bitterly regret. He does find happiness with his true love, Nancy – but remains childless.

Nancy herself is a sweet girl who becomes rather prone to “excessive rumination and self-questioning” – to the extent that she even denies herself the right to look over the things she put away for her dead baby, lest it should be wrong of her to pine for what was not meant to be. This is, Eliot says:

… perhaps a morbid habit inevitable to a mind of much moral sensibility when shut out from its due share of outward activity and of practical claims on its affections – inevitable to a noble-hearted, childless woman, when her lot is narrow. I can do so little – have I done it all well? is the perpetually recurring thought; and there are no voices calling her away from that soliloquy, no peremptory demands to divert energy from vain regret or superfluous scruple.

I did find myself wondering, time and again, how people can have taken George Eilot for a man, pseudonym or no pseudonym.

Here’s an Amazon link.
My copy came from the library.

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