Literature Study GuidesSilas MarnerPart 2 Chapter 18 Summary

Silas Marner | Study Guide

George Eliot

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Silas Marner | Part 2, Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Godfrey Cass returns home with shocking news. Nancy immediately fears that something has happened to her father and sister. But Godfrey reassures her that "it's nobody living." Dunstan Cass's skeleton has been found wedged between two stones in the bottom of the drained quarry. Along with his body were "his watch and seals, and [Godfrey's] gold-handled hunting-whip." Nancy, somewhat surprised that Godfrey is "so deeply shaken by what had happened all those years ago to an unloved brother," asks whether he thinks Dunsey killed himself. Godfrey tells her, "No, he fell in ... Dunstan was the man that robbed Silas Marner." Nancy is shocked and, because she is related to Dunsey through her marriage, ashamed.

Godfrey announces he has something else to tell Nancy. Then he remains "silent ... for two long minutes." He says he's been keeping a secret from her, but doesn't want her to find out from anyone else. Nancy again feels "dread"; she looks up at Godfrey, and their eyes meet. Godfrey says, "That woman Marner found dead in the snow—Eppie's mother—that wretched woman—was my wife: Eppie is my child." For a moment, Nancy can't respond. Godfrey explains that he didn't tell her because he "couldn't bear to give [her] up." Even now, he's afraid she'll leave him. Finally she says, "Godfrey, if you had but told me this six years ago, we could have done some of our duty by the child. Do you think I'd have refused to take her in, if I'd known she was yours?" Godfrey realizes he has underestimated Nancy. She goes on, "If we'd had her from the first, if you'd taken to her as you ought, she'd have loved me for her mother—and you'd have been happier with me," and starts crying. Godfrey points out she wouldn't have married him if he'd admitted it all back then, and she says she doesn't know what she would have done and that she "wasn't worth doing wrong for—nothing is in this world." Godfrey asks for her forgiveness, and she says he's made up for it over the past 15 years, but that she doubts he can make up for the wrong he's done Eppie. He says they can take her now, and they plan to go to Silas's that night.

Analysis

Eliot has not shown readers Godfrey's visit to the quarry and the discovery there of Dunsey's skeleton and the things beside it. Nor has she described the thought processes that led him to come home and confess all to Nancy. But by this point in the book, readers know Godfrey pretty well. In Chapter 17 the narrator says that "his natural kindness had outlived that blighting time of cruel wishes," and he has been punished for not claiming Eppie from the start. Now the shock and shame of what his brother did has combined with the shame and longing associated with his own actions to overcome his conviction that he must prioritize the preservation of his marriage over confession. But the ultimate final goal is not to sweep aside all secrets between himself and Nancy—although that is important to him—but to bring Eppie to live at the Red House. The loss of his brother is finally complete and irrevocable; Dunstan will never come riding back from wherever he's been these past 16 years. Perhaps without knowing it, Godfrey is seeking to fill that void by retrieving his living daughter.

The narrator has said that Nancy has lived by a code of her own since she was 23. For her, that code overrides all other considerations. She loved Godfrey, but if he had not changed his ways 15 years earlier, she would have remained single rather than marry someone who drank and caroused. She realizes that Godfrey is right when he says she wouldn't have married him had she known about Molly and the child. But Godfrey's priorities are different from Nancy's. He has always placed having his greatest desire above everything else, even doing the right thing. Fortunately, earning Nancy's love has been his greatest desire most of his adult life. Now, Godfrey feels that coming clean is the only way he can make sure a greater power doesn't intervene and cause her to learn his secret from someone else just as Dunsey's secret has come out through the draining of the quarry. Now, Godfrey sees that the best way to earn her love is to be honest.

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