I always find it hard to rate and review classics. Usually they’re classics for a reason, I usually enjoy them just fine, and at the very least I appreciate them. Earlier in the year I read Middlemarch, which was wonderful and long, and I thought I should expand my Eliot horizons.
Silas Marner is much shorter than Middlemarch, and a much easier read. You probably know the basics: old, miserly bachelor happens to become the caretaker of an orphan, who teaches him the True Meaning of Life.
(Spoilers follow, in case you also missed this one in HS English and don’t want to know the ending) One thing that surprised me was how late in the book the savior orphan is introduced. It was well over halfway before the child makes an appearance, although if you knew it was coming you might have been able guess. So even though the story is about the thawing of Marner’s heart, it’s just as much about why people do the things they do–how Marner reacted to false accusations of stealing, how he became a miser in the first place, what went through Dunstan’s mind as he thought about –or, more accurately, didn’t think about–robbing the old man of his gold, etc. Eliot is a master of the character study and her observations about internal justifications and the lies or half-truths we tell ourselves are clever and deft.
It’s almost a series of vignettes of small-town life. A full chapter early on is devoted to a discussion that takes place in the village pub, fleshing out the characters and their relationships. A good-hearted woman, Dolly, eventually befriends Marner and helps him raise his new daughter, and their relationship unfolds slowly, with great care–their conversations were probably some of my favorite because they were so different, but so earnestly trying to understand each other.
Rating: 4/5. It was at times meandering, and at times seemed too simplistic (but I’m glad I didn’t read this in high school because I don’t think I would have appreciated it). I wanted a little more about the townspeople, and I wanted to spend a lot more time with the orphan Eppie. Since I read Middlemarch first, this almost seemed like a draft…like Eliot was testing out some ideas that eventually fully blossomed in Middlemarch. Strangely, Silas Marner seems more dated–I think because it’s shorter and has fewer musings on human nature and internal conflicts and relationships, which are really what make Middlemarch relateable and modern-feeling, although it was also written in the 1860s (!)