Points to Ponder
George Eliot famously expressed disdain for "silly novels by lady novelists," by which she meant novels that were less high-brow than those she wrote. Eliot is referring to the sensation novel, which began its climb in popularity in the 1860s, and which aimed to produce an excited feeling in its readers. The sensation novel might be considered the equivalent of the Harlequin romance today, or the soap opera -- genres that are marked by their melodrama and by their very deliberate manipulation of the emotions of its audience. But Eliot's fiction, too, partakes of some of these sensational strategies. But while sensational fiction might seek to instigate rebellious and wild emotions and fantasies in its readers, Eliot's fiction seems to aim to produce emotions in order to put these emotions to good moral use. What are some of the ways in which Silas Marner evokes sympathetic reactions of its readers? What are some of the moral lessons that the novel encourages -- some of the ways in which feelings might be put to moral ends? Moreover, can we say that her novel leaves an excess of feeling -- some remainder that isn't recuperated to a moral project, but might be said to be sensational in and of itself?
When Silas first meets Eppie he mistakes her golden curls for his lost gold. Almost immediately, however, he begins to value her more than he ever valued his gold. What are some of the differences the novel draws out between love of money and love of persons? What does Silas's love of Eppie allow him to do that his love of gold did not? For example, loving Eppie integrates Silas more firmly within the community of Raveloe; what kind of moral lesson might Marner be trying to convey here about the way that a mid-century capitalist economy establishes value, or should establish value? What, in other words, are some of the payoffs of trading in a love of gold for a love of persons? All around Silas and Raveloe are signs of industry (think of his old, transformed town of Lantern Yard) and manufacture. Yet his inner circle, once he meets Eppie, is a charmed exception to the rule of industrial progress. It seems as if, in substituting Eppie for his lost gold, Silas has found some sort of higher truth. And yet, it is only through the substitution of a person (Eppie) for gold that he is able to find this truth. Such substitution itself actually conforms nicely to the logic of a capitalist system, even though it seems like this exchange protects Silas from a capitalist logic. Under capitalism, that is, people and things are made exchangeable by the reduction of all qualitative difference to common denominators like price. Can we find any places in the text where the tension between Silas's being protected from capitalism and his complicity with its logic plays itself out?
Silas seems to lose his faith in religion and instead find faith in his fellow man. George Eliot herself had a crisis of faith and, in the 1840's, began moving more towards a secularism than she had previously been inclined to. However, it seems as if the language of faith and sanctity is translated to the secular realm. Think of the ways in which Silas articulates his feelings for Eppie, and for the way in which she's graced his life. Has Eliot's novel left the world of religious rhetoric behind? In what ways can we see it still lingering, and to what effects?
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Part 1, Chapter 1
Part 1, Chapters 2 and 3
Part 1, Chapters 4, 5 and 6
Part 1, Chapters 7,8, and 9
Part 1, Chapters 10, 11, and 12
Part 1, Chapters 13, 14, and 15
Part 2, Chapters 16 and 17
Part 2, Chapters 18, 19, and 20
Part 2, Chapters 20 and 21
Part 2, Conclusion