Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Classics Challenge: George Eliot's Silas Marner


Katherine at November's Autumn is hosting the Classics Challenge and is posting prompts the 4th of every month. This month she is focusing on classic authors. Turns out she and I both are reading George Eliot. Here's a link to Katherine's post on Eliot, aka Maryann Evans.

Now it's my turn.

My first classic of the year is Silas Marner, by George Eliot. I first read this in tenth grade and didn't really warm up to it. What's to warm up to from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl? The hero of the story is unattractive in form and spirit--he has protruding eyes, is elderly (well, mid-30's, but that's elderly to a teenager, just ask Marianne Dashwood!), miserly, naive, and easily duped. We also read Ethan Frome the same semester and I saw Silas Marner and Ethan Frome as twin losers. Needless to say, Silas Marner was got through and quickly shelved and mostly forgotten.

A few years ago, I picked up the audio version from the library and thoroughly enjoyed it. Most of the details I hadn't remembered, and I found the story of the rebirth of Marner's soul and humanity to be moving, beautiful, and enobling. It didn't hurt that I had discovered Middlemarch in college and counted it among my favorite books when I reread Silas Marner. My admiration for George Eliot predisposed me to give Silas Marner a second chance, and I'm so glad I did.

Now, I'm rereading it again, as part of my George Eliot project (i.e., to read her books in order whilst reading a bio of her life), and it's interesting to see where it fits in the evolution of George Eliot as a novelist. I must say that with Silas Marner, she did set out to tell the story of a most challenging protagonist--even at my more mature vantage point, I have to say that he's still a pretty unattractive person at the outset. I have to believe that Eliot consciously picked an unattractive person for this story--I think the reader has to look on Marner with a certain amount of contempt in order for his redemption at the hand of a child to mean so much and to reflect so well the "man in the mirror," which I think Eliot strives to do.

I've only read the first two chapters, but the backstory has been fully told and Silas is a miserly misanthrope whose life is about to be transformed by grace. I'm really looking forward to reading lit crit about this book as well as what Eliot was trying to do with the story. It's much shorter than the two novels that preceded it (i.e., Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss), and it's very tightly focused on one man, his soul and the child who saves him from himself rather than being about a family or a village or a way of life.

16 comments:

  1. I'm reading Silas Marner for the Classics Challenge, too, Jane. I've read six chapters so far, but unlike you I have never read it before and am completely unfamiliar with the story. i agree that he's an unattractive character, though it's clear that he never started off as a 'miserly misanthrope', his early days were spent immersered in the Church, doing charitable deeds, and he was guilty of naivety more than anything. Will wait until I finish it this week before posting about it on my blog.

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  2. I am currently reading Persuasion, but Silas Marner is on my list as well...thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading this!!

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  3. Lovely post. I'm reading Middlemarch right now and plan to read The Mill on the Floss later in the year.

    I love the little painting of Mary Ann at the bottom of this post. :-)

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  4. I've just started Romola, and need to turn more concentrated attention on it! :) The riches of Eliot's writing warrants that. I haven't read Silas Marner, though I've seen the film with Ben Kingsley. I had to laugh when you reported your youthful association of Silas Marner and Ethan Frome--absolutely! They definitely still occupy a similar corner of my mental map, despite the rather different authors. I look forward to your further post when you finish Silas.

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  5. "I saw Silas Marner and Ethan Frome as twin losers."

    That line just made my morning - thanks :-)

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  6. I'm looking forward to reading Middlemarch later in the year. I confess George Eliot is an author I've neglected so have lots of catching up to do.

    This is my first visit to your blog - very nice and I've enjoyed reading through some of your other posts.

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  7. "The hero of the story is unattractive in form and spirit--he has protruding eyes, is elderly (well, mid-30's, but that's elderly to a teenager, just ask Marianne Dashwood!)"

    That made me smile.

    I like Eliot's style so far, although I've barley started Middlemarch, just a few pages in.

    Thank you for your post, Jane! :)

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  8. I've only read Middlemarch but I fully intend to read other works by Eliot. Thank you for this peek into Silas Marner. Though I'm not sure I could do it, your approach of reading her oeuvre in order is an admirable one.

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  9. I always feel like I had a crap education because I read hardly any classics in high school, but in retrospect I probably would have ended up hating them. As a result, I love Madam Bovary and Ethan Frome (though I admit to not loving George Eliot except for Middlemarch. I DID read Mill on the Floss in high school and hated it, but maybe I'd appreciate it much more as an adult).

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  10. So interesting! I'd never broken down her thinking, using such an MC. Let me just say, stick with the book. I read it after college (probably appreciated it more then) and the shining sweetness of the blonde child reminded me so much of my own mother. So what I took away from the book was a beautiful optimism--Silas was human after all. Yes, keep reading! It's a good 'un!

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  11. I think someday I will commit to a similar project of rereading all of her works while reading a biography. It sounds very rewarding! I always think of Eliot as my soul sister, albeit the envied sister with all of the talent!

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  12. I loved Silas Marner in high school, and again several years ago when I read it a 2nd time. (I also joined the Classics Challenge and hope to read more Steinbeck and Dickens).

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  13. I've read this one a couple of times and liked it much better as an adult reader. Have you ever seen the movie "A Simple Twist of Fate?" It's a modern telling of the story starring Steve Martin. It's marvelous.

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  14. I've only read Middlemarch, which I thought was amazing. I've been thinking about reading the Mill on the Floss - have you read that?

    Silas Marner sounds challenging!

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  15. I read Silas Marner as one of the first books in my first book club. I really liked it and am still reminded of Silas when I do my frequent routine review of my financial condition - like him counting his coins in his little hut...

    I echo what Lisa said earlier about the modernized movie version with Steve Martin. Worth a look if you've never seen it.

    -Jay

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