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.Silas Marner, George Eliot
I have a tendency to avoid classics on my TBR because I expect them to be difficult; George Eliot proves that this assumption is flawed, because I raced through Silas Marner with no more trouble than it took me to read any novel published in my lifetime. While I dimly remembered the bare bones of the plot, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was able to identify with Silas, and how much of a character development journey he goes on.
Silas Marner is not just a miserly weaver, though that’s the starting point for the novel’s relatively simple plot. He was a devout man whose community turned against him and left him cut off from both spiritual and lay society. The idea that moving geographically also created distance between Silas and his ‘local god’ was fascinating. George Eliot doesn’t completely pin down the religious differences between Lantern Yard and the Raveloe church, so modern readers may find themselves wishing there was a little more context.
Marner’s thoughts could no longer move in their old round, and were baffled by a blank like that which meets a plodding ant when the earth has broken away on its homeward path.Silas Marner, George Eliot
Nonetheless, Silas’s journey is well, if simply, related. The way he falls into loving golden guineas above all else feels like George Eliot is describing the symptoms of depression: the way the world shrinks, nothing seems to matter, routine wears itself into a rut from which it’s difficult to escape. Watching Silas rise back out of the slump is incredibly satisfying, even if the method is far from universally applicable.
Silas isn’t the only character who reads as something other than neurotypical: Nancy has fixed personal rules for life which, once arrived at, cannot be strayed from even if being more flexible would make life easier. George Eliot doesn’t dwell on this as much as on Silas, but it’s still fascinating to see in a character so far removed from modern labels. There’s also Priscilla, who rejects both the possibility of marriage and any attraction to men completely out of hand, which may strike a reader as coming pretty close to the asexual or aromantic spectrum.
Silas Marner’s plot is really just the background action holding all the characters together. There’s no mystery as to how Silas’s life changes, and the character who brings about the biggest upheaval disappears off the page entirely for most of the story. His return is unforeshadowed and not terribly satisfying. The ending of the novel, while making perfect logical sense from the events which precede it, feels a little abrupt.
Nonetheless, I had a great time reading Silas Marner and would thoroughly recommend it. If you enjoyed Heidi, you could see this as a very similar story, but told from the opposite perspective.