Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 1 Chapter 11 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 1, Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

The Lammeters arrive at the Red House for the dance. Nancy Lammeter, who has ridden pillion behind her father, is helped down from the horse by Godfrey Cass and hurries into the house. Inside, she is greeted by Godfrey's aunt, Mrs. Kimble, and dispatched to the Blue Room to change for tea. She is sharing the room with six other women, including her aunt, Mrs. Osgood, and Mrs. Osgood's visitors, two Miss Gunns, whose father is a wine merchant some distance away and who wear the latest fashions even though they do not suit them. The Miss Gunns are particularly interested to see what Nancy will wear because her beauty seems out of place to them in such a backwater. Still, they are critical of her "ignorance and vulgarity," including her use of the local dialect.

Priscilla Lammeter finally arrives. She is coarse-featured, untidy, and ruddy-complexioned. Her cheerful conversation is blunt and constant and soon drives Mrs. Osgood and the two Miss Gunns from the room. When they are gone, Priscilla tells Nancy that she wishes Nancy would not make her wear the same dress as Nancy herself as the styles and colors that suit Nancy don't suit her. But Nancy says she wants them to look like sisters and would be happy to wear the styles and colors that suit Priscilla instead.

When the two sisters enter the parlor for tea, they are seated "near the head of the principal tea-table" with Nancy between Godfrey and Mr. Crackenthorp, the rector. Her inner emotional turmoil over Godfrey, whom she loves but whose strength of character she doubts, shows only in "a becoming blush," prompting the rector to say he has seen "the roses blooming on New Year's Eve." When Godfrey fails to follow up on the compliment to Nancy, his father, who is in a jovial mood, says he cannot "remember a sample to match her" when he was young. Light-hearted conversation continues, with the men ribbing one another. Then, the squire brings it back to Nancy again by asking Godfrey, "Haven't you asked Miss Nancy to open the dance with you?" Godfrey does so, and Nancy accepts. The squire hears Solomon Macey playing the fiddle in the next room and asks his son Bob Cass to bring the fiddler in. The fiddler wishes everyone a happy new year and plays a special tune for Mr. Lammeter: "Over the Hills and Far Away." Mr. Lammeter recalls how, if his father heard that tune, he would say to his son, "Ah, lad,Icome from over the hills and far away." When Solomon begins playing "Sir Roger de Coverley," everyone goes into the White Parlor to dance.

The squire, the rector, and others of his generation lead off the dance "before sitting down to play cards." Some of the villagers have been invited as spectators, and they sit "on benches placed for them near the door," watching and commenting on the dancers. Mr. Macey, with his tailor's eye, admires the squire's spring and Mr. Lammeter's slimness; Ben Winthrop admires Mrs. Osgood and thinks Nancy and Godfrey would "make a fine match." Godfrey and Nancy leave the dance, causing Ben to guess they're "sweethearting," but the truth is that the squire has stepped on Nancy's train and torn some stitches at the waist of her dress. Godfrey leads her into a small side parlor, where the card tables have been set up. He says he'll leave her to wait for Priscilla, but then doesn't leave. He flirts with her a bit, saying, "You know one dance with you matters more to me than all the other pleasures in the world." Nancy replies that she doesn't know that and doesn't "wish to hear it." He sees reason to hope and is trying to break through Nancy's "quiet and firm" demeanor when Priscilla bustles in to fix Nancy's gown. Godfrey stays "with a reckless determination to get as much of this joy as he could to-night, and think nothing of the morrow."

Analysis

Until now, readers have heard a lot about Godfrey's feelings for Nancy but have not met the woman herself. She is the central figure in Chapter 11. For much of the chapter, she feels uncertain of her position in Godfrey's affections. Readers learn that there was a time when she felt sure that he wanted a future with her, but for unknown reasons, that suddenly changed. Now he gives mixed signals, sometimes paying her a great deal of attention, and other times avoiding her. Because she refuses "to marry a man whose conduct showed him careless of his character," she has decided not to marry at all. Still, it's clear that she does want to marry Godfrey and that he would be able to convince her if her were free to do so.

Nancy is a kind person, but very reserved and aware of her image. She knows she is beautiful, but she is also hard-working and proud of her abilities. She is not well-educated, though, which is likely because she has been brought up on a working farm and did not spend long at Dame Tedman's school. The narrator, emphasizing that times have changed in the decades since the time when this story takes place, says, "There is hardly a servant-maid in these days who is not better informed than Miss Nancy." This is what the two Gunn sisters notice when they hear her talking. The narrator also points out that Nancy has "the essential attributes of a lady—high veracity, delicate honour in her dealings, deference to others, and refined personal habits, ... she was slightly proud and exacting, and as constant in her affection towards a baseless opinion as towards an erring lover." Her sister also makes clear that Nancy can make anyone do as she wishes while "never rais[ing her] voice above the singing o' the kettle." It is likely she would bring the discipline to Godfrey's life that he feels he needs.

Nancy is very unlike her older sister—except perhaps that both are kind, well-intentioned young women. Nancy is beautiful; Priscilla is not. Nancy is restrained; Priscilla is blunt and exuberant. Nancy is a romantic at heart and dreams of running the Red House; Priscilla has a head for business and just hopes her father lives a long time so that she can run the farm and dairy for him. Despite their differences, the sisters get along well. Yet their mother's sister, Mrs. Osgood, feels so close to Nancy that she has left her several pieces of jewelry in her will; in contrast, she avoids spending time with Priscilla, finding her "too rough." Priscilla gives a good example of this blunt roughness when she states that she is "ugly" and then turns to the Gunn sisters and includes them in this condition by saying, "The pretty uns do for fly-catchers—they keep the men off us."

While the chapter focuses mainly on Nancy and adds to readers' understanding of her relationship with Godfrey, there are moments of lightness, too, many of them provided by the menfolk present at the party. At the dinner table, Dr. Kimble teases Nancy and his wife, and the squire teases his brother-in-law. Underlying some of their comments is a cutting edge, such as Kimble's remarks about his wife's cooking. Later, as the dancing gets underway, Mr. Macey and Ben Winthrop chat about the finely dressed dancers. Mr. Macey examines the men's figures and comments on the cut of their outfits. Ben is more interested in checking out the women, though he would bet Macey could have "nothing against Master Godfrey's shapes." It's a bet he'd lose, though, as Macey, true to form, considers for a while, then says, "Pretty well down'ard, but a bit too round i' the shoulder-blades. And as for them coats as he gets from the Flitton tailor, they're a poor cut to pay double money for." Ben is annoyed and replies, "When I've got a pot o' good ale, I like to swaller it, and do my inside good, i'stead o' smelling and staring at it to see if I can't find faut wi' the brewing." The two continue bickering, sometimes touching on weightier subjects such as Dunsey's disappearance, but still doing so amusingly. At the end of their exchange, they speculate on why Godfrey and Nancy are leaving the dance floor, which segues into the next scene between the young couple.

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