Originally published in 1861, “Silas Marner: the Weaver of Raveloe”, is the third novel by George Eliot. It tells a moral story about a weaver and how his life changes. The story begins with Silas, who has been displaced from his former home after being falsely accused of stealing money from his chapel. He settles in Raveloe and takes up the profession as a weaver. The only happiness he gets from his solitary life is with the gold he has acquired by working sixteen hours a day. His reclusive and depressive attitude has driven away most of the villagers.
Two brothers live in Raveloe. Their father is the local squire, therefore they are well off financially. But, the youngest, Dunstan, is a gambler, drunk and womanizer. While the oldest, Godfrey has a secret wife who is an opium addict and of low birth. One day, Dunstan steals Silas’s gold and is runs away, never to be seen again. While Silas is mourning the loss of his only friend, his gold, Molly, Godfrey’s estranged wife is tramping in the snow to confront Godfrey in front of all his friends, carrying their daughter. The woman stops along the way, to have some opium, lays down and the one-year-old girl wanders away. She makes her way into Silas’s house. He takes care of the little girl, and when he discovers her mother dead, he adopts her. Naming her Hephzibah, or Eppie for short, Silas raises her and gives her all the love in his heart.
Sixteen years later, Eppie has grown into a lovely girl. She is planning to marry a local boy, and they are going to have Silas live with them. When the body of Dunstan is discovered clutching the bags of gold, in a stone pit behind Silas’s house. They realize that he fell in while fleeing after stealing the gold. Godfrey sees this as a sign and confesses that he is Eppie’s father. He has been helping out financially throughout the years, but since he and his wife, Nancy, a woman of high social standing and moral character, never had children, he would like to adopt Eppie and continue to raise her as a gentleman’s daughter. She refuses, planning on marrying and continue the life she already planned.
In the end, Silas is the father who she claims, but Godfrey and his wife do still help out wherever they can. She and Aaron the village boy marry, and Silas doesn’t lose a daughter but gains a son. They all live happily ever after.
In Raveloe, a fictional village in the English countryside lives Silas Marner. He is a weaver in the early years of the 1800’s. In a world of farmers who spend their time working out doors getting strong and dark, weavers are ostracized. People are almost afraid of them because they spend all their time indoors and seem to be odd. They develop eccentricities. Village boys like to stare into Marner’s window. They watch him weave and whisper about his knowledge of herbs, but mostly, they are enthralled with his quick and dexterous hands. When Silas turns his glare on the boys, they run away screaming.
Silas has lived in Raveloe for fifteen years as a recluse. He hasn’t had friends stop by for a visit or courted any of the local girls. Before that, Silas lived in a place called Lantern Yard. He was fairly happy in Lantern Yard, was active in his community, a respected member of the church and even had a fiancee. But, one day, Silas was filling in his duty monitoring the ill senior deacon of his church, and his life changed. Silas’s best friend, William was scheduled to relieve him but never showed. Suddenly, Silas noticed it was almost morning and the deacon had stopped breathing. Wondering if he had somehow fallen asleep, Silas was surprised to discover the church money that the deacon held, was missing. The church members found Silas’s pocket knife where the money was supposed to be. Then, they found the bag that used to hold the money in Silas’s home.
With his best friend, William’s, encouragement Silas was tried for the crime. The church drew lots to determine his guilt. When the lots proved his guilt, Silas was excommunicated. Afterward, Sarah, his fiancee, called off the engagement. The last time Silas remembered seeing the knife was in the presence of William, but, no one believed him. Silas renounced religion and when William married Sarah, Silas left town, relocating to Raveloe.
A more prosperous community, Raveloe is not as strictly religious as Lantern Yard. Silas settles in to weave and has nothing to spend his earnings on. Since he has no boss or a church to share his money with, he spends time stockpiling money. One day, he notices a neighbor that is suffering from the same symptoms that had plagued his mother years earlier. Since he still remembered what the doctor recommended, Silas gets some of the herbs for the woman. The cure is so effective that other people come to him looking for cures for their own ailments. Silas tries to honestly tell them that he doesn’t know how to help them, but they think he is just holding out. Then they start to blame him for things that go wrong around them. This makes Silas withdraw even more from his neighbors.
Silas is working sixteen hour days and keeping his earnings in a pot under the floor beneath his loom. At night he takes the gold out and plays with it. Greedily fondling it as if it is his only friend. When his wealth grows too much for the pot, Silas transfers the gold into two leather bags. His life continues this way for fifteen years, until one fateful Christmas.
With Chapter three, the story moves to other characters. In Raveloe, one of the most prosperous men is Squire Cass. The squire has two sons, that are a disappointment. Dunston, or Dunsey, as everyone calls him, is a gambler, drunkard, and womanizer. The oldest son, Godfrey is good natured but is hiding a secret. He has a secret wife, Molly Farren, who is an opium addict and a drunk. Godfrey can’t let his marriage be known, especially since he is in love with Nancy Lammeter, who everyone wants him to marry. The two brothers are having an argument because Dunsey took the rent money he and Godfrey had collected, and instead of giving it to his father, he gambled it away.
Godfrey demands the money, but Dunsey doesn’t have it. When Godfrey threatens to tell their father, Dunsey reminds him about his secret marriage and threatens to tell their father that bit of news. Dunsey tells Godfrey to sell his horse to pay for the debt. Godfrey threatens to come clean to his father, and face the consequences, but Dunsey soothes him and offers to take Godfrey’s horse to market himself. The narrator relays that it was Dunsey that convinced him to marry the woman so he would have something to use as blackmail, and Godfrey’s future looks grim. He will become an aging country squire, drinking, and wallowing in unhappiness and regret, because he does love Nancy, and knows she is what his life needs.
The next morning Dunsey leads Godfrey’s horse off to sell it. Along the way, he passes Silas’s house and thinks about the old man’s gold. He ponders thoughts of just taking the money, but would rather sell the horse because it causes his brother pain. He makes a deal with a buyer, who will pay cash on delivery. But, first, Dunsey decides to take the horse hunting with his pals. Racing the horse recklessly, the horse is killed while trying to jump a fence. Dunsey walks away unharmed, but with no way to get the money he needs.
Heading home, Dunsey sees Silas’s house. There is a light on, so he thinks to introduce himself. Finding the door open, and Silas not at home, Dunsey goes in and settles himself before the fire. Soon he starts to wonder about Silas’s gold and notices a place in the floor that looks deliberately recovered. He moves the bricks aside and finds the gold bags. Then he grabs them and steals away into the night.
Soon, Silas returns home. He is anticipating a nice roast dinner and not expecting any problems. Leaving his door unlocked while he ran some errands does not seem wrong to him because he has never been robbed. Even when he can’t find his gold, he doesn’t immediately go to robbery. He thinks a higher power is punishing him again. But, soon his practical nature returns and he tries to figure out which of his neighbors could have robbed him. He decides to find Squire Cass to report the crime.
Silas expects to find the squire at the Rainbow, which is a local pub, but instead learns there is a party that all the members of the higher social class have been invited to. All he finds is the lower class of people at the bar. The discussions range from stories about a wedding a parson bungled to a ghost that is supposed to haunt a local stable. When Silas arrives, he is distraught and out of breath. The pub owner calls for Jem Rodney to help him. When Silas hears the man’s name, he begins to accuse him of stealing his money, since the man is a well-known poacher. Silas says he won’t press charges if the man with return his money. After they calm him down, the pub owner says that Rodney was in the pub all evening, and Silas apologizes to the man for accusing him. When Silas relays the whole story of the robbery and tells them that two hundred and seventy pounds were taken, Mr. Dowlas, the farrier, offers to go back to Silas’s house and look for clues. Finally, Mr. Dowlas and the pub owner take Silas to see the constable.
The town is abuzz with the robbery. All are speculating on the thief. Some think it was a traveling peddler who was in town not long ago, because they found a tinder box at the scene of the crime, that some remembered seeing him with. Silas likes this idea, needing a culprit to stake the blame on. Meanwhile, Godfrey begins to wonder what happened to his brother. He goes to meet with the man that was supposed to buy his horse, only to discover that the horse is dead. On the way home, he thinks about confessing all to his father, including his marriage. But, is afraid because of the man’s temper. Finally, he decides to just confess part of the story and push the blame towards Dunsey.
Predictably, his father does fly into a rage, accusing Godfrey and his brother of wasting all his money. Then he, again, asks Godfrey when he is going to propose to Nancy and offers to do it for him. Godfrey, once again manages to change the subject with half truths, hoping that fate will somehow step in and help him. Silas is depressed. He listlessly continues his weaving, and the townspeople stop in periodically, bringing him food and condolences. But, no one connects the disappearance of Dunsey and the missing money.
One of Silas’s visitors is Dolly Winthrop and her little boy, Aaron. She brings her famous lard-cake and asks him to come to church for the upcoming Christmas celebration. When she asks him if he has ever been to church, he says that he has only been to chapel, but the two of them can’t reason out the difference. Silas comes out of his depression long enough to offer some of the cake to the boy, but the child is too frightened of him to take it.
Although Silas doesn’t attend church on Christmas Day, the rest of the town does. Then the elite goes to the annual Christmas party that night at the squire’s house. Godfrey is excited about the party because he hopes to see Nancy, but still, the fear of his brother’s return lurks in his mind. One of the first guests to arrive for the party are Nancy and her father. Nancy is of two minds with regards to marrying Godfrey. He annoys her, but she also wants his attention. She thinks she isn’t impressed with his wealth, but likes to imagine herself mistress of his home, The Red House. During the dance, everyone sees the two of them as a match, so when he accompanies her into a small parlor the assume they are ‘sweethearting’. But, in reality, she has torn her dress and wants to wait for her sister, who arrived at the party late, to help her mend it.
Meanwhile, Godfrey’s wife, Molly is on her way to his house. She wants revenge on him because he refuses to acknowledge her or help support their daughter. She is carrying the little girl, but, soon Molly decides to have a bit of opium to help her with the cold weather. She lays down to sleep off the drug, and her little girl wanders away. She sees a light in the distance. The light is coming from Silas’s house. He has taken to leaving his door open, almost thinking to himself that his money will wander back inside. As he is standing at the door, he experiences one of his ‘episodes’. He suffers from cataleptic fits, that cause him to stare off into the distance, unaware of anything around him for a short span of time. He is unaware that while he is standing with his hand holding the door open, a little girl has wandered in. After years of close work with the loom, Silas’s eyesight is not great. When he sees something golden on his floor, he at first thinks it is his gold. But, on examination, discovers a little girl. She reminds him of his little sister that died when she was young, so he spends the rest of the night on memories of his life.
Before dawn the little girl wakes, crying for her mother. He feeds her some porridge sweetened with brown sugar, which he always denies himself. When he notices her wet boots and wonders where she came from, he follows her tracks, only to discover the dead body of her mother. The party is still going on when Silas walks in carrying the little girl. Godfrey recognizes her and is frightened Molly is around. Silas tells them the woman is ill and needs a doctor. Godfrey spends some frightening moments until he sees for himself that Molly is dead. He decides to not let it be known that he is the girl’s father, especially since Silas is determined to keep her. Silas feels that the girl is the replacement of his gold. Since he has no one and neither does she, they belong together. Godfrey thinks he will help out when he can, but he is now free to court Nancy.
The kind Dolly Winthrop helps Silas out with the care of the girl. She teaches him what to do, but, Silas wants to do it all himself so the girl can become attached to him from the start. When she brings up having the child baptized, Silas agrees, after she explains what it means. He decides to name her Hephzibah, after his mother and sister. Eppie for short.
Eppie and Silas are baptized together. Taking care of such a spirited and curious child is helping Silas to come out of his shell. He interacts more with the other villagers, and takes time off from work, to play with her. Although he spoils her and doesn’t ever discipline her, she is a happy child. Everyone loves her and in turn cares for Silas. Even the children lose their fear of him. He takes her with him everywhere he goes. Godfrey gives her small gifts now and then but relinquishes any guilt he might feel for not claiming his daughter, by thinking she is well cared for. This frees him to woo Nancy. He seems to be a better person, too.
The next part of the story resumes sixteen years in the future. The church service has just ended and Silas is walking out with and eighteen-year-old Eppie. She has grown into a lovely and kind girl, who is devoted to her adopted father. They are being trailed by Aaron Winthrop, who has begun to make noises about marrying Eppie. Although that would sadden Silas, he knows that he is an old man, and she must have someone to take care of her when he is gone. Although the little house Silas had has grown into a lovely home, she and Aaron want Silas to move in with them.
As for Godfrey, he and Nancy have been married for years but have no children. He has often asked her about adopting, but, she has always shunned the idea, unsure how the child of someone else would turn out, even though she does admit that Eppie turned out fine. Godfrey has been helping Silas and Eppie out over the years, financially. Eppie is aware that Silas is not her biological father, but she adores him. She never wonders about her biological father, therefore, but is curious about her mother. Silas tells her what he remembers and gives her the woman’s wedding ring.
When they drain the stone pit behind Silas’s house to provide water for neighboring farms, they discover the body of Dunsey. The also discover Silas’s money and realize that he had stolen it. With this revelation, Godfrey decides to finally tell his wife the truth. Instead of being angry, she is amazed and wishes he had told her earlier, as she would have wanted to adopt his daughter.
As Silas and Eppie are discussing the upcoming wedding, the hear a knock at the door. It is Godfrey and Nancy Cass. He has come to apologize for his brother and to offer to adopt Eppie. She refuses, saying that she is happy with Silas. When Godfrey tells her he is her father, she says that Silas is the only father she wants and doesn’t want to go with him to be a lady. After the two of them leave, Godfrey realizes that his punishment is for his daughter to not want him, and he will make more of an effort on his marriage because he is glad that Nancy agreed to marry him. He will also continue to help out financially with whatever Eppie needs.
Silas wants to discover the truth behind what happened in Lantern Yard, but when he and Eppie return, they find completely changed and all the people he remembers gone. Dolly consoles him on not ever knowing what happened because he knows he is innocent. As the story comes to a close, Eppie and Aaron are married. Nancy attends, but, Godfrey has gone away for “special reasons”. Aaron and Eppie settle in Silas’s house with him, since it is so cozy. They have made a few improvements, including a wonderful garden, a gift from Godfrey. At the end, Eppie says, “I think nobody could be happier than we are”.
Silas Marner – a simple weaver. Having been falsely accused of theft in his village, he lost his fiancee, Sarah, and best friend, William. After he leaves, the two marry, which looks very suspicious. Silas has lost his faith in God and his faith in his fellow human. When he settles in Raveloe, he becomes a recluse, spending sixteen hours a day weaving. Since he is the only weaver in the area, his business is brisk, even though he is sullen. His only friend seems to be the gold he has earned and hordes. When his wealth is stolen, and replaced with a little girl, Silas becomes a different person. His character makes huge changes as he becomes more outgoing. His relationship with God is restored so he can raise the little girl with a strong faith. The people of the village are helpful to him and he becomes a valuable member of the community. When his gold is returned to him, he thinks that the love of his adopted daughter is more important than all the money in the world.
Godfrey Cass – the eldest son of the squire of the village, Raveloe. Although he is gregarious and a basically good man, he is also weak willed. He allows his brother to talk him into marriage with a low-born opium addict and then keep the union a secret. Then when he falls in love with a girl of his class in the village, he can’t marry her. When Godfrey discovers his estranged wife is dead, and he can marry her, he still keeps his daughter a secret, allowing Silas to raise her.
Dunstan Cass – the youngest son of the squire. He is a gambler and a drunk. He manipulates people and steals money. He is the thief who steals Silas’s gold but then ends up dead in a ditch.
Eppie – Silas’s adopted daughter. When she first comes to him, he considers her the replacement for his gold, but he soon discovers she is so much more than that. She is spirited and brings the sunshine into his life. Although her biological father doesn’t claim her, she is happy and accepts the gifts he gives them while she is growing up. Eppie is completely devoted to Silas, and when she marries a village boy in the end of the book, asks Silas to live with them.
Nancy Lammeter Cass – a pretty girl with a good social class and high moral standards. After a lot of waffling back and forth, she finally agrees to marry Godfrey Cass, Eppie’s biological father. She has a set of codes that she lives by, that seem to be haphazard sometimes. Although she claims to not be impressed with Godfrey’s wealth and class, she likes the position when she marries and can’t understand why Eppie chooses to remain with Silas instead of becoming the daughter of a gentleman.
Dolly Winthrop – a good, moral woman, she is a great help to Silas as he is raising Eppie. She becomes her godmother and eventually, her mother in law. With Dolly’s help, Silas returns to the church and becomes a more active member of the village. He makes friends and becomes well respected.
George Eliot Biography
George Eliot was born as Mary Ann Evans on November 22, 1819, in Warwickshire, England. Her father, Robert Evans, was the manager of the Arbury Hall Estate and her mother was Christiana Evans, the daughter of a local mill owner. She had a sister and brother and a half sister. Since Mary Ann was considered to be too intelligent and not pretty enough to land a husband, she was given the best education. She studied all the classics, including Greek, which came to influence her writing.
Coming from a devoutly religious family, Mary Ann questioned the beliefs, which angered her father later in life. When she was sixteen her mother died and Mary Ann quit school in order to keep house for her father. She also began to write, and by the time of his death when she was thirty, she had become a published magazine author. She became friends with literary people, joining Charles and Cara Bray, who led groups of writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Five days after her father’s death, Mary Ann traveled to Geneva, where she settled for a while.
In 1851, she met George Henry Lewes. Although he was already legally married, the two began to live together in 1854. She began to write under the pen name George Eliot because she wanted her books to be taken seriously. It is commonly assumed that her pen name was an homage to her lover. George, which was his first name, and Eliot which was supposed to be a code for “to L – I owe it.” There were a lot of women writing at the time, but most women wrote romances, and that’s not what she wanted to write.
With the success of her first books, Eliot began to have a lot of fans. When she finally came out as the writer, Mary Ann, who had been shunned by polite society because of her relationship with a married man, was now accepted by the Queen, who never missed one of her books. Eliot was even introduced to Princess Louise, the daughter of Queen Victoria.
In 1878 George Lewes died, and Mary Ann went on to marry John Cross, two years later. Although her brother decided to forgive her and welcome her back into the family with a legitimate marriage, she still scandalized society since John was twenty years younger than her. During their honeymoon, he tried to commit suicide by jumping off of a balcony into the Grand Canal in Venice. The two settled into married life in Chelsea. She married him in May of 1880 and by December, she had succumbed to a recurring kidney infection coupled with a throat infection. She died at the age of sixty-one.
George Eliot could not be buried in Westminster Abbey because of her lapsed beliefs in the Christian faith, and her relationship that bordered on polygamy with George Lewes. So, she was buried in Highgate Cemetery next to George Lewes. A memorial stone was erected in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey in 1980, a century after her death.