Sunday, January 11, 2015

Silas Marner (1861)

I can't say I know George Eliot well—I have attempted Middlemarch with no success yet—but when I connected this title with her I thought I might take a chance. I read it first way back in 7th grade for extra credit and was awfully proud of myself for getting through it. As well I should have been—the language strikes me still as too often cramped, awkward and delicate, full of long sentences, monolithic paragraphs, and dialect (it appears, for example, that people once said "I doubt" when they meant "I don't doubt," among other grievous annoying misdemeanors). Still, it's a wonderful story, with a villain, a few saints, and lots of people between. Silas Marner, our hero, is deeply sad and deeply likable. I was rereading it in a week when everything in my life seemed to be going wrong and my heart went out for him with every setback he suffers and every piece of good fortune too. There is an overall very satisfying movement and growth to so many of the characters, and much transition from dark to light. It's also well plotted—there's a twist that fooled me nearly up to the moment it's revealed, and looking back it's clear Eliot mastered the magician's trick of misdirection. But more than that it's a fascinating character study across a man's life. Descriptions of him often focus on his protuberant eyes, which somehow made him vivid to me. The trajectory of his entire life is given by pieces. We witness the second and third acts and are told of the first. Marner suffers, and we feel it, but it is ultimately heartening in all the best ways. The deadening passages were what I expected, so the surprise was when it slipped into being engaging and compelling. I think I came away from it originally, at 12 going on 13, with something wrong about misers. Silas Marner is more directly about loneliness, alienation, and isolation. It is also about integrity, and about powerlessness, and it is all quite affecting. Yes, there is some resort to convenient coincidence in how it's put together. But I can look the other way because there are just so many very good points about it. The characters are so many of them so interesting. There is a convincing scene with an opium addict. There is a crime that makes one groan with pain. And there are many shades of good people here too. Glad I wandered back to this one.

In case it's not at the library.

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