Sunday, February 19, 2012

Silas Marner and A Simple Twist of Fate

I read George Eliot's Silas Marner as my first classic of 2012 and as part of my mission to read all of Eliot in order. Silas Marner is quite a short book, with fairytale qualities--a lonely miser finds his way back to humanity and community when a little child adopts him--not very subtle symbolism (the gold of the child's hair is mistaken for the miser's gold on numerous occasions) and breathtakingly beautiful prose. Every time I read it, I enjoy it more. Eliot really mastered her craft with this work, and transcended to the artistic level.

That said, I've been eager to watch the highly acclaimed 1985 BBC version starring Ben Kingsley as Silas. It was utterly faithful to the novel, in plot, in tone, in dialogue (much of it I recognized from the novel), and in feeling. I absolutely loved it and was thrilled with Kingsley's performance. I also thought the Cass brothers (Godfrey the heir and Dunstan the ne'er do well) were perfectly cast, as was Nancy Lammeter, played by Jenny Agutter. It was a thoroughly enjoyable adaptation and one that I look forward to watching again.

When I posted about Silas Marner, Lisa from Lit And Life recommended A Simple Twist of Fate, a modern adaptation starring Steven Martin from 1994. So after I finished the BBC faithful adaptation, I watched A Simple Twist of Fate and am now a fan of it as well.

The modern movie is remarkably faithful to the original story, and Martin makes an understandable and sympathetic misanthropist who is redeemed by the love of the child. I absolutely loved the Dolly Winthrop character, this time named April and played superbly by Catherine O'Hara. Gabriel Byrne as the Godfrey Cass character, this time named John Newland, was excellent, and Laura Linney was Nancy, his gentle, practical wife.

The major difference in the modern version is that the discovery of the child's parentage is made much earlier in her life than in the original. In the original story, Eppie doesn't learn who her real father is until she is 18, at which point she is given the choice of whose daughter she wants to be and there the story ends. In the modern film version, the child (this time named Matilda) learns who her real father is when she is 12, and a custody battle ensues.

My only issue with the movie is some ambiguity about why the judge changes his mind about who to award custody to at the very end. I think that part could have been made clearer, and I had to read up on the film on Wikipedia to get it. Apart from that little hiccup, it's a wonderful modern retelling of a fabulous story created by one of literature's greatest artists, and whom I believed truly entered the canon with this work.


  1. I read Silas Marner at the beginning of the year for my classics challenge, too - yes, it's a deceptively-simple tale, beautifully-written. I'm not familiar with A Simple Twist of Fate but shall look out for it.

  2. Thanks for the great review Jane. I have ordered Daniel Deronda to read, arriving later this week I think. Maybe I should read Silas Marner first. I've read Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch. Afraid I still love Austen and Gaskell better, but I'm getting to know George Eliot.

    And both adaptations look great. Right up my alley!

  3. It sounds as though I'd like Silas Marner - and as it's sitting on my tbr shelves I may read that for my next classic in the Classics challenge - thanks for the info.

  4. I want to try to read another George Eliot this year. Silas Marner is one of several on my list. I suppose it would be a good start, plus I like the reward of getting to watch the movie with Ben Kingsley as a reward! He's wonderful.

  5. So glad you enjoyed A Simple Twist of Fate (I did have a problem with that ending myself, particularly since it implied that Martin was fine as a father now that he had money). Now I'm going to have to get that Kingsley series - love him in almost everything anyway!

  6. I have Mill on the Floss on my shelf to read this year. I just checked and I don't own it. I think I should! You make the story sound very interesting. I have to check out the Ben Kingsley tv version too. Thanks for reviewing both! It's exciting to have some classics to look forward to!