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Silas Marner | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Silas Marner, Chapter 11 what is Eliot's attitude toward the women changing clothes in the Blue Room?

Eliot takes a slightly amused, slightly critical tone when describing the women—especially the younger ones—who are changing into their good dresses for the squire's annual New Year's Eve dance. Her comments make clear that she considers it best for a young woman to dress in a style that becomes her rather than slavishly following fashion. When Nancy Lammeter enters the Blue Room, there are six women already crowded in among the beds and the boxes of clothing. The narrator identifies five of them: Nancy's aunt, Mrs. Osgood; the two Gunn sisters; and Miss Ladbrook and her mother. The younger women (except Priscilla Lammeter) are busy examining and evaluating one another to assess their relative attractiveness. Mrs. Osgood introduces Nancy to the Miss Gunns, who are visiting her. Nancy wonders why they have chosen low-cut gowns when their necks and shoulders are unattractive, reasoning that it must be "from some obligation not inconsistent with sense and modesty." It is most likely because they feel they must dress in the latest fashion; the narrator has already described them as having "the tightest skirts and the shortest waists." At the same time, the Gunn sisters are sizing Nancy up. They had not expected such a pretty woman to turn up at a village dance, so they look for negative features and find them in the roughness of her hands, which are used to work, and in her "utter ignorance and vulgarity," as demonstrated by her use of dialect in pronunciation and word choice. Miss Ladbrook and her mother are probably more in line with what the Gunns expected—somewhat behind the times in fashion. Priscilla's dress is also unflattering—but only because Nancy insists they dress alike. Nancy says this is so that they look like sisters, but the narrator claims this is not done maliciously. It is, however, thoughtless. Still, Priscilla really doesn't care; she is completely aware of and at ease with both her positive and her negative qualities. Readers may wonder whether she might not be the one woman in the room of whom Eliot wholeheartedly approves.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 11 what details does Eliot provide to locate the events in time?

In Chapter 11, three details in particular make clear when the New Year's Eve party occurs: descriptions of the clothing people wear, Squire Cass's remark about the "old king," and the fiddler's choice of tunes. From the first paragraph, when Nancy Lammeter arrives "attired in a drab joseph," Eliot's readers would have recognized the time period. A joseph was a long coat commonly worn in the late Georgian period. She goes on to describe what the dancers wear. One older woman is wearing a turban, which was fashionable in the 1790s. Nancy's "light-brown hair [is] cropped behind like a boy's" and her ringleted curls lie "quite away from her face"; short hair and curls pulled back from the face was a typical fashion of the first decade of the 1800s. The next decade saw women wearing dresses that bared a lot of skin like those of the Gunn sisters; men wore tight breeches like the "ruddy sons" in the chapter. At tea, the squire remarks that "most things are gone back'ard in these last thirty years—the country's going down since the old king fell ill." The "old king" is George III, whose illness made him unfit to rule. In 1811, his son, who would become George IV in 1820, had become regent, ruling in his stead. Solomon Macey plays three tunes that are named by the narrator. "The Flaxen-Haired Ploughboy" was written during George III's reign. "Over the Hills and Far Away" was a traditional Scottish song from the 1600s of which several versions became popular. "Sir Roger de Coverley" was a traditional dance tune, also probably originating in the 1600s, but which continued to be very popular in Regency England. These details combine to set the chapter in early Regency England, which is around 1811 or shortly thereafter.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapters 4 and 12 how does Silas Marner's open door affect his life?

Before his money is stolen, Silas Marner seldom leaves his door unlocked when he's not home. He does so in Chapter 4 only because he has to go out after using his key to suspend his pork over the fire. Here, leaving his door open leads to misery because he loses his dearest companion—his gold. Afterward, though, he often leaves the door unlocked. On the surface, this is because he feels he has nothing left to lose. But on a symbolic level, it represents his recognition that he is no longer self-sufficient; he needs help and has opened his life to his neighbors. Some of those neighbors, such as Mr. Macey and Dolly Winthrop, come through his door to offer comfort (as they see it). In Chapter 12, readers learn Silas has not only been keeping the door unlocked, but has also left it standing open—not out of hope, but out of "yearning and unrest." On New Year's Eve, this allows his treasure of coins to be replaced with a much greater treasure—not only a child, but the return of "tenderness" and of a sense that there is a benevolent God at work in his life. There are both similarities and differences between Dunstan Cass's and Eppie's approach to Silas's cottage. Both arrive at night in bad weather. Both are drawn to the light from his cottage. Both make straight for the warmth and light of his hearth fire. When each arrives, Silas is absent, either physically or mentally. But when Dunstan arrives, the weather is worsening, going from fog to drenching rain, and the darkness is total due to the clouds and fog. When Eppie arrives, the snow has stopped, and the sky is clear, allowing the stars and moon to light her way. When Dunstan comes in, he takes the warmth of the fire, considers eating Silas's pork (but doesn't because it hasn't yet cooked through), steals Silas's money (and dearest companion), and leaves again. Eppie comes in, warms herself, and stays, bringing a different and much more fulfilling type of wealth and companionship into Silas's life.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 12 what can be inferred about Molly Farren as a mother?

Since marrying Godfrey Cass, Molly Farren has had a hard life. She is poor and miserable. Rejected by a man she no doubt expected to sweep her off into a life of wealth and comfort, she has had to fend for herself—apart from occasional gifts of cash from Godfrey. Unfortunately, Dunstan Cass's blackmail keeps Godfrey unable to provide a steady flow of support. This adds to Molly's bitterness over Godfrey's rejection. So it is likely Molly has to work; in order to go back to her job as a barmaid, though, she has to leave her daughter alone. As the narrator observes, the girl is "accustomed to be left to itself for long hours without notice from its mother." Because Molly is also addicted to opium, she may also be unable to attend to the child when she is heavily under its influence. Despite all this, Molly has managed to raise a child who feels loved. Molly "refused to give [Godfrey] her hungry child" and even under the increasing influence of opium, she "clutche[s] more and more automatically the sleeping child at her bosom." Eppie is curious, communicative, and loving, all of which indicate that Molly has never mistreated her and has spent at least some time talking and playing with her. When Silas and the girl come upon Molly's body in the snow, the child shows no fear and only love for her mother, wanting to go to her immediately despite the scary circumstances.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 13 what is meant by the statement "no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity"?

One of Eliot's themes in Silas Marner is secrets and lies and how they affect those whose lives are subject to them. In this observation, the narrator is referring to Godfrey Cass and how secrets and lies drive him to wish Molly Farren dead. Godfrey is not at heart a liar but has had to learn to be one in order to cover up his secret marriage to Molly Farren. When he sees Silas Marner at the New Year's Eve dance carrying Eppie, he recognizes the toddler immediately and, in the way of people struggling to keep hidden such a momentous secret, he is terrified others will see her and immediately recognize she's his child. When Silas mentions a dead woman near the quarry, Godfrey realizes Molly had been bringing Eppie to the Red House to expose their marriage. Although a kind man at heart who would not normally wish anyone ill, he is suddenly afraid Molly might not be dead. If she's alive, she can do what she came to do: tell everyone they are married. Godfrey would probably be disinherited and would never see Nancy again. If, however, it's true that Molly is dead, his future is secure, and he will probably manage to convince Nancy to marry him. For his life to go as Godfrey wants, it's better if Molly is really dead; only this way can he continue to cover up the secret marriage and the lies surrounding it. The hope that she's dead stems from this "duplicity."

In Silas Marner, Part 1 who is the luckier of the two older Cass brothers?

At the beginning of Silas Marner, Dunstan Cass frequently says how lucky he is. In Part 1, Chapter 3, for instance, when Godfrey Cass suggests it might rain on the day of the hunt, where Dunstan plans to sell Wildfire, Dunstan replies, "I'm always lucky in my weather. It might rain if you wanted to go yourself. You never hold trumps, you know—I always do. You've got the beauty, you see, and I've got the luck, so you must keep me by you for your crooked sixpence." And until he jumps one fence too many, Dunsey's luck seems to hold. As for Godfrey, he doesn't seem so much unlucky as the victim of his own poor judgment in marrying Molly Farren and letting Dunsey know about it. As a result, he cannot marry the woman he loves and is subject to his brother's blackmail. However, when Wildfire dies, Dunsey's luck begins to turn. He doesn't immediately see this because he is uninjured. However, as night closes in, his luck with weather changes: It becomes foggy and then rains. When he finds Silas's cottage and his stash of coins, Dunsey again thinks his luck has saved him, but when he rushes back into the night, he is rushing to his death in the old quarry. All his bad luck seems to have come at once. With Dunstan out of his life, Godfrey's luck seems to improve. He had been hoping that chance would save him, and it has. Molly is dead, and Silas has adopted her child. This leaves Godfrey free to court and marry Nancy. By the end of Part 1, Chapter 13, he seems by far the luckier of the two.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 13 what is the significance of Godfrey Cass's shoes?

From the moment he hears Silas Marner say there's a dead woman near his cottage, Godfrey Cass is worried and distracted. His fear that Molly Farren is not dead and that his secret marriage to her will be discovered blots out all other thoughts. He has to find out if he's safe or not. This preoccupation shows in the fact that he doesn't think to change from his indoor dancing shoes to boots for going out in the snow and mud, even though he's the one who fetches Dr. Kimble's boots. Interestingly, he does think of how others may perceive him; the narrator says he has "just reflection enough to remember that he must not look like a madman." Two different reasons are suggested by others for his neglecting to change into boots. Godfrey goes through the snow to find Dolly and take her to Silas's cottage. She expresses concern about his "getting his feet wet" while on "an errand of mercy" and suggests he go home. When he won't, she says he has "a tender heart." Although she's right that he was too distracted to think of changing his shoes, "a tender heart" is not the reason for his distraction. Nevertheless, Godfrey accepts the praise unthinkingly. His uncle suggests another reason: He supposes Godfrey has chosen to ruin his dancing shoes to "spite" Nancy. Godfrey picks up on this excuse of ruining them intentionally, but makes out that he was tired of dancing and didn't want to have to dance with "the other Miss Gunn." The narrator points out "prevarication and white lies ... are worn as lightly as mere trimmings when once the actions have become a lie." Godfrey has become adept at lying to cover up his secret without giving it second thought—even about something as seemingly unimportant as his shoes.

In Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 14 how is Silas Marner's stolen gold related to Eppie?

In Chapter 14, Silas Marner, Dolly Winthrop, and the narrator draw connections between his stolen money and Eppie. Silas still sees a very direct connection between the two: "The money's gone I don't know where, and this is come from I don't know where." Both the loss of his gold and Eppie's arrival on his hearth are still mysteries to Silas, though he feels that somehow "the gold ... turned into the child." Dolly sees a natural pattern at work in the exchange of the two: "like the night and the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the harvest—one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor where." She supports Silas's choice to keep Eppie because she sees a design in the loss of the gold and the arrival of the child. The narrator points out the great difference between Silas's love of the gold and his love for Eppie in how they affect him: The gold was a lifeless object that "needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude." It didn't interact with the world, help Silas to grow and change, or enrich his life. Eppie, however, makes "endless claims and [has] ever-growing desires"; she takes him out of himself and away from his loom, connects him with the community, and "warm[s] him into joy because she ha[s] joy." It is as if the gold had just kept his capacity for love on life support long enough for Eppie to come into his life and resurrect him. Now that she's there, Silas's only interest in money is what it can do for Eppie. This is very like the way he felt about his earnings in Lantern Yard, where he could use them in service of the congregation.

How does adopting Eppie affect Silas Marner's relationship with religion in Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 14?

Silas Marner has never understood the Anglican religion and how it is celebrated. In his strict Lantern Yard community, the sect dominated the congregation's lives; they were defined largely through their role in the congregation and believed that God was a direct actor in their lives. Thus, when Silas was framed for theft and found guilty by lottery, he cut all ties with those who had betrayed him—William Dane, Sarah, the rest of the congregation, and even God. When he moves to Raveloe, he notices religion is different there, but his bitterness as well as his likely feeling that Anglicanism is too lax combine to keep him out of the church. This is one of many reasons the villagers find him a bit spooky. Dolly Winthrop clearly thinks he's a heathen and is surprised to learn the unfamiliar name he has chosen for his new daughter is actually "a Bible name." It is because of Eppie that he finally, after 15 years in Raveloe, ventures into the church and is even christened. He wants Eppie to be a full member of the community, and belonging to the church is necessary to membership in the village community. Silas knows what isolation is like, and doesn't want that for his child. Of course, this has implications for Silas himself; he will have to learn his catechism and attend church with some regularity; otherwise, he cannot require these things of Eppie. Through Eppie, therefore, he makes his peace with God, letting go of the bitterness he felt; he also further integrates into village life.

How is foreshadowing used in Silas Marner, Part 1, Chapter 15?

The second paragraph of Chapter 15 alludes to the fairy tale "Prince Darling," in which a fairy gives a prince a gold ring that pricks him whenever he does something bad, such as get into a selfish temper or hurt an innocent animal or person. The ring is a metaphor for conscience. Here, the narrator likens Godfrey Cass to the prince, wondering if the ring—that is, Godfrey's conscience—pricks him when he leaves his child to be brought up in relative poverty by the weaver when he himself could have offered her so much more. The ring in the fairy tale pricks lightly for smaller offenses and more painfully for larger ones. In keeping with that, the narrator suggests that Godfrey feels only a mild discomfort when he first shirks his responsibility for Eppie and that he will feel a great deal of pain when it is much too late to do anything about it. This foreshadows how he suffers when he and Nancy Lammeter eventually realize they will never have children of their own.

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