Silas Marner is a novel by George Eliot. Published in 1861, it was the third novel by George Eliot aka Mary Ann Evans. Silas Marner happened to be the first novel of hers that I read. Did I like it? That would be a bit of an understatement here. Perhaps it is better to say that I loved it. Naturally, I knew who George Eliot was prior to reading this novel. My expectations were high and this novel certainly met them. Now, that I think of it, I don't understand why I haven't read this novel before. It is not like I'm not familiar with English literature. That just goes to prove that even when were a student of (English) literature, there still might be some classical writer you missed on reading. However, it is never too late. It is somehow very comforting to think of all the great classical works that one hasn't read yet. It is like being told you'll be granted a special gift in future. Isn't that what literature is? A wonderful gift to us. Before I get all philosophical, let's get back to the topic and that is this review.
Silas Marner is considered to be a classic. In my opinion, it is more that deserving of that title. It is an extraordinary novel indeed. I absolutely enjoyed reading it and I would recommend it to everyone. When I wrote my review on bookreads, I gave it 4 out of 5 starts. This was because I felt that the novel ended too suddenly for me to truly connect with the characters (and form emotional attachments to them). It is not in any way a critique of this novel. Silas Marner is certainly an impressive work of literature. Since I read it, I felt the desire to learn more of it. I'm currently in the process of reading more about it. I even plan to reread it some day.
Since I already wrote a review for goodreads, I will share that one as well:
I've read this book today and absolutely loved it. It is remarkably deep for such a relatively short novel. I don't remember when exactly I started reading it, but I know I made it to the third chapter in one go, found the story fascinating, but somehow I forgot about it until I picked it up again this afternoon. My favourite way to read doesn't include pauses. Obviously that isn't always possible but when I get the chance to do so I tend to use it- like I did this afternoon. I've really enjoyed reading this novel and I'm happy I had the chance to finish it today.
The opening of the novel might seem a bit slow to some. The first few chapters are focused solely on the protagonist and you're not quite sure how the story will develop. Silas Marner leaves his home after being wrongly accused. He arrives and settles into a new community but besides focusing on his work and savings, he has no dealings with anyone. Basically, he completely isolates himself from human society. He becomes obsessed with his savings, in this novel often referred to as his gold. This idea of an old man obsessed with his gold has been present in literature since the ancient times (Marner isn't old at this point, but it is said he looks the part). You probably remember the Roman comedian Titius Maccius Plautus and his comedy Aulularia, that has been interpreted and copied by many notable European writers, right up to modern times.
Anyway, you can notice the key theme of this novel right from the start. This is a novel that focuses heavily on the theme of guilt and innocent. Silas, albeit innocent, gets punished for his crime. The novel doesn't leave it at that. There is another character that gets introduced and that is a young man plagued by some disgrace. When we meet him, he is in the process of being blackmailed by his brother for this crime of his. This young man wants to marry a certain Nancy, beautiful and virtuous girl, but his 'crime' prevents him. As I started to read about this man, I wondered what his connection to Silas might be, and I was a bit inpatient for the story to get back to Silas.
However, what I did not expect is how quickly things will develop from that point. Silas gets robbed, his gold is taken from him and he end up a broken man. Once this happens, the story really gets started. From this point, the plot develops effortlessly and effectively. I stressed the fact that Silas Marner is not a long novel. That doesn't mean that it lacks anything. Quite on the contrary, the narrative flows quite naturally. The new characters that get introduced soon start to take a form of their own. The characterization of characters is for the most part very well done, even the minor characters make sense. For all its briefness, this novel managed to discuss religion, social customs and morality standards of its time. It goes on very subtly about it, so subtly that you might miss it if you skip a passage or two...Don't!!! This is a novel you must read without skimming. The more you pay attention to conversations between the characters, the more you notice certain hints about, for example, the role of religion in one's life. That kind of subtle development of a philosophical theme, well that's quite an achievement, if you ask me. All the same, I was left feeling hungry for more.
The plot reminded me of Les Miserables. When I checked the date, it turned out that this novel was published one year prior to well-known masterpiece by Victor Hugo. There are so many parallels between the two. The Miserables features an ex-convict, who becomes a foster father for an orphaned child. Likewise, Silas finds a gold haired child and decided to adopt her. He reminded me of the protagonist of The Les Miserables in so many ways. The relationship between his adopted daughter mirrors the one I read about in Les Miserables. Moreover, in both novels, it is the daughter that gives meaning to the life of the feather and teaches to him the lesson of love. In both stories, the father figure would remained withdrawn from society if it hadn't been for the daughter.
Silas accepts the girl as a miracle and he forgets his gold. Trying to be a good father for her, he reconnects with other human beings, finds friendship again, develops meaningful relationships with his neighbours and the whole community whose outcast (by choice) he was for so many years. However, many question remain... Whose child she might be? Will she be claimed? Is she really an orphan? Who stole his gold? More tales of guilt and innocence will be told by the time this story is finished. There is one element in which this story differs from that of Les Miserables but to find out about it, you'll have to read the novel. In the end, there won't be any secrets left.
I do recommend this classic. I think it's well written and developed. I was somewhat perplexed by all the similarities between Silas Marner and Les Miserables, but I don't think it's possible there was any copying (one either side) simply due to the fact that the novels must have taken a long time to write. I don't think that Hugo could have developed and written his novel only a year after Silas Marner was published. Moreover, the novels are situated in different societies. As much as Les Miserables is a distinctly French novel in the sense that it speaks of the French society of the time period it describes, the same is the case with Silas Marner. Some things are universal, such as the philosophical question of a man's role in society, but societies described in these novels are different. The society of Silas Marner is distinctly English. So, I wouldn't say that either of these these novels feels like the copy of the other. I think it was more the case of great minds think alike.
What more to say? I must admit that Silas Marner didn't move me as deeply as Les Miserables but that might be because it is a big more vague. Silas is a fascinating protagonist, but he remains somewhat distant. I didn't feel we were given an insight into his psyche, thus I felt a bit less emphatic towards him than I might have been otherwise. In addition, the story did have a rather sudden (albeit highly credible) ending. The story did move me, but I can't say it moved be to tears or anything like that, hence 4 starts instead of 5. It did made me think a great deal and that's always a tale sign of a really good book. To sum it up, it is a wonderful classic, well worth your time