Three “Literary” Women’s Blogs, Book Week, & Is Silas Marner a Classic?

Matisse, "Woman Reading with Tea"

Matisse, “Woman Reading with Tea”

Last week I wrote The Blogger Chronicles, a series on the pros and cons of blogging.

And so I am declaring this “Book Week” at Mirabile Dictu.  (“I have been reading” is my new motto.)

Before I move on, let me give you links to three literary women bloggers I neglected to mention.

1.  Mary Beard’s A Don’s Life appears at the TLS (my favorite book review publication and the only one I subscribe to).  Beard, a classicist, historian, professor at Cambridge, and TV celebrity, writes a blog about classics, her domestic life, travels, experiences on TV, and more.

Her latest post: “A 1950s childhood: 5 objects of nostalgia”

2.  Novelist Caroline Leavitt’s CAROLINELEAVITTVILLE. In her latest post, she writes about SheBooks, an e-book publisher of short stories and memoirs by women.

3.  Novelist Jennifer Weiner’s A Moment of Jen:  In her latest post, she writes about counting “the number of books reviewed that were written by women, and the number of women writers profiled in the Times, and then I grumble when those numbers turn out to be significantly lower than the number of male authors whose works and selves got that consideration.”

And now for BOOK WEEK.  First Book Post Up: Is Silas Marner a Classic? 

One of the disadvantages of taking a vacation in London is that the Nuneaton tour of George Eliot is apparently in Nuneaton. Perhaps I should go there?

Daniel Deronda is my favorite novel by Eliot, and possibly my favorite novel of all time, but instead of rereading it I have been catching up on her shorter works, because even her lesser works are better than most other novels.

silas-marner-weaver-raveloe-george-eliot-paperback-cover-artWhen my friends read Silas Marner at the public school, I was attending a hippie/lab school ($25 a year) and reading Middlemarch.  My school apparently couldn’t afford to buy books, so I took courses like Independent Reading (in which I read everything from Middlemarch to Sisterhood Is Powerful! to Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn), and an English lit course where there were enough copies of Macbeth, but we had to choose between David Copperfield and Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case (and  a few others I can’t remember) in the novel unit, probably because there weren’t enough books to go around.

Not everyone did a lot of reading, though there is much nostalgia for this school, which closed in the ’70s.  (There are still reunions, I think.)   One of my most vivid memories is of running a consciousness raising group in a classroom over the lunch hour.  I also recall the principal’s emerging from the office to stop two students from disrobing in the halls, an episode I had found unexpected and  intriguing.

I saw no need to read Silas Marner until I realized that I’d never read it.

If I were still at hippie school, I would doubtless have referred to it as “f—ing Silas Marner,” because it’s not very good, and that’s how we talked then.

The plot?  Silas Marner, a weaver, goes to chapel regularly. He is very religious, and very happy in Lantern Yard; but one day his friend sets him up for the theft of the church’s treasury.  Although his friend committed the robbery, Silas is blamed and prayed for; he moves to Raveloe to get away from his bad rep, and works as a weaver out of his home.  Ironically, “post-theft” he falls in love with gold.  He hides it under the floor and loves to count it.  But when someone steals the gold, Silas is devastated.  It turns out for the best, though, because shortly thereafter he sees the gold curls of a toddler (instead of gold!  yes, that’s how ungainly the structure is) whose opium-addicted mother has died in the snow. The little girl has wandered into his house, and, happily for all, he raises her and becomes a favorite of the villagers.

It is an extremely sentimental novel, rather too perfectly structured and clumsily put together, and exactly the kind of thing mediocre school teachers used to love to teach because there’s much symbolism, and it’s really no work for them (and so thank God for the hippie school, where we were left alone to learn).

Eliot is a wonderful writer, but this is the kind of writing we’re dealing with here:

…he had a dreamy feeling that this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life:  it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe–old quiverings of tenderness–old impressions of awe at the presentiment of some Power presiding over his life; for his imagination had not yet extricated itself from the sense of mystery in the child’s sudden presence, and had formed no conjectures of ordinary natural means by which the event could have been brought about.

“Somehow a message”–oh, please.

Not Eliot at her best.

But Terence Cave, the writer of the introduction to the Oxford edition of Silas Marner, says,

By thus placing Silas so precariously on the threshold of unconsciousness, George Eliot was also able to give imaginative form to the Comtean notion of a gradual evolution of human consciousness in human history.  Nineteenth-century German philosophers (Schopenhauer in particular) attributed the great movements of the history not to conscious decisions made by individuals, but to an unconscious collective will…

Read Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, or The Mill on the Floss if you want to understand Eliot.  Silas Marner just isn’t as good.

5 thoughts on “Three “Literary” Women’s Blogs, Book Week, & Is Silas Marner a Classic?

  1. Silas Marner? Oh please! I am one a George Eliot admirer, but I did not like this book. As you say, “exactly the kind of thing mediocre school teachers used to love to teach because there’s much symbolism, and it’s really no work for them.” Our public school had plenty of books, all the same, and they included Silas Marner which we must have read in 8th or 9th grade. I was scornful then of the sentimentality and the language. I have since seen it described as a sort of fairy tale and that makes sense, but no 14-year-old want to read a fairy tale.

    For years I was turned off George Eliot until at some point I read Adam Bede. This was no fairy tale. I was in a wonder land of real people and real places. At a book sale I picked up a set of all George Eliot’s books and have read right through them, including many essays and letters. I’m only missing Romola and will get to it some day. Perhaps I’m reluctant because it doesn’t have the English setting. I never went back to Silas Marner, however.

    Daniel Deronda has a Jewish theme. In Israel they name the streets and avenues after people. So, not Main Street, but Jabotinsky Street. I found a George Eliot street. It wasn’t an important street, but still very nice.


  2. Nancy, I’m so glad you agree with me! George Eliot is wonderful, and this is the first book I have not liked by her. Felix Holt, which I recently read, is not her best but it is still excellent.

    George Eliot Street in Israel! How nice. Yes, I love Daniel Deronda and the development of the Jewish theme. Eliot was a remarkable woman.


  3. I hope to read Deronda and Floss soon. I read Marner twice, I believe. I enjoyed it, although it’s not Middlemarch. I recall liking the idea that a dude well along in life is transformed by something other than a religious or spiritual awakening.


  4. I skipped junior high on the day we were going to discuss Silas Marner. I hated it and didn’t finish reading it. Many, many years later I read The Mill on the Floss while my husband read Adam Bede and we discovered there were great Eliots after Marner.


  5. Kevin and Cynthia, I love Gwendolyn Harleth (Deronda) ,MaggieTulliver (The Mill), and Adam (Adam Bede). Did anyone ever write better than George Eliot?

    Kevin, Eliot at what I consider her worst is still better than most of what I read. I didn’t like Silas much, but parts of it are magnificient. I could spend months reading Daniel Deronda–it’s all magnfificent–but it’s not on my “list” this year.

    Cynthia, I’m so glad I didn’t start with Silas… The Mill is another of my favorites!


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