Classic Club Spin: Silas Marner by George Eliot

 

The back cover of my Penguin Popular Classics edition of Silas Marner tells me it was George Eliot’s own favourite novel. The story revolves around Silas Marner, a weaver living in Raveloe, a village on the brink of industrialisation. He was wrongly accused of theft and left his home town to live a lonely and embittered life in Raveloe where he became a miser, hoarding his gold and counting it each night. Until one night his life is changed by the theft of his money and a little girl who came to live with him, having been abandoned in the snow.

It took me a while to settle into George Eliot’s style of writing, with her long, long sentences – some so long I had forgotten how they had started, before I got to the end. But once my mind had adjusted to the rhythm of her writing I enjoyed this short book (221 pages in my copy). It’s set in the early years of the 19th century (she was writing the book in 1861) and begins with a description of linen weavers and the superstition that surrounded them. They were:

… pallid undersized men, who by the side of brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race. The shepherd’s dog barked fiercely when one of these alien-looking men appeared on the upland, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure bent under a heavy bag? – and these pale men rarely stirred abroad without that mysterious burden.

In that far-off time superstition clung easily round every person or thing that was at all unwonted … no one knew where wandering men had their homes, or their origin … to peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery … (page 9)

There are two strands to the storyline – one about Silas and the other about Godfrey Cass, two very different men, one poor, a social outcast and the other rich, the son of the local squire. They move in very different social circles, the Cass family life is one of lazy indulgence, but their lives intersect through the arrival of the little girl.

I really enjoyed this short book, bringing to life a world that had disappeared by the time George Eliot was writing it. It has the touch of a fairytale about it, or of a folk myth, and it tells of the consequences of our actions. The characters come to life through Eliot’s descriptions and I could easily picture their appearance and hear their speech. For example

She actually said “mate” for “meat”, “appen” for “perhaps”, and “oss” for “horse”, which, to young ladies living in good Lytherly society, who habitually said ‘orse, even in domestic privacy, and only said ‘appen’ on the right occasions, was necessarily shocking. (page 113)

I wondered whether this would be a sentimental tale, but although it is touching it isn’t sentimental. In the end it’s about a world of uncertainties, of ways of looking at life, of the nature of belief and religion and of the possibilities of change. And it does have a happy ending.

As well as being my Classics Club Spin book it’s also one of my TBRs, qualifying for the Mount TBR Reading challenge.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The result of the Classics Club Spin is No. 1 which for me is Silas Marner by George Eliot. I am so pleased – I wanted a short book and lo and behold this is a short book!

Although the shortest of George Eliot’s novels, Silas Marner is one of her most admired and loved works. It tells the sad story of the unjustly exiled Silas Marner – a handloom linen weaver of Raveloe in the agricultural heartland of England – and how he is restored to life by the unlikely means of the orphan child Eppie.

Silas Marner is a tender and moving tale of sin and repentance set in a vanished rural world and holds the reader’s attention until the last page as Eppie’s bonds of affection for Silas are put to the test.

First published in 1861 as Silas Marner: the Weaver of Raveloe, George Eliot described it as ‘a story of old-fashioned English life’.

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I was pleased when the Classics Club Spin number came up as 8, because for me that was The Mill on the Floss, a book I’ve had for years, so it was time I read it. I think one of the reasons I hadn’t read it is the size of the font – it’s small. But then I realised that there is a free e-book, so I read it on my Kindle as I could increase the font size.

Description (from my paperback copy of the Penguin Popular Classics 1994 edition, shown above):

George Eliot drew on her own anguished childhood when she depicted the stormy relationship between Maggie and Tom Tulliver. Maggie’s often tormented battle to do her duty and belong on the one hand, and to be  herself, wild and natural, on the other, propels her from one crisis to another. As the Tulliver fortunes decline and fall, the rift between Maggie and her family becomes almost irreconcilable. But Maggie’s biggest mistake of all is to fall in love with Stephen Guest who is engaged to another woman.

Both a sharp and observant picture of English rural life and a profoundly convincing analysis of a woman’s psychology, The Mill on the Floss is a novel that tackles the complexities of morality versus desire.

My thoughts:

The Mill on the Floss was first published in 1860. The story begins in the late 1820s, when Maggie, who is ‘big for her age, gone nine‘ and her brother, Tom aged about twelve are living at Dorlcote Mill on the banks of the river Floss near the town of St Oggs. Their father is anxious that Tom should have a good education so that he can go into business – he does not want him to be a miller. But it is Maggie who is the keen reader, enjoying books like The History of the Devil by Daniel Defoe, Aesop’s Fables and the Pilgrim’s Progress.

I enjoyed parts of the book more than other parts. The first part of this book, covering Maggie and Tom’s childhood for example is fascinating and a study of early 19th century rural life and education. Tom goes away from home to study under a tutor, Mr Stelling and meets Philip Wakem, whose father is a lawyer, Mr Tulliver’s opponent in a lawsuit. Maggie and Tom’s relationship is difficult, although she professes she ‘loves him better than anyone else in the world’, even when he rebukes her. Meanwhile Maggie becomes more friendly with Philip than Tom and her family like.

There are some lovely scenes, for example Maggie’s escapade when she leaves home to live with the gypsies. And I liked all the scenes with Mrs Tulliver’s sisters, who look down on her for marrying a miller and criticise Maggie’s appearance and behaviour, for Maggie is full of high spirits and energy. The sisters also provide comic relief, at times being miserly and self-centred, with a strong sense of their own importance. But things go from bad to worse for the Tullivers, when Mr Tulliver loses the lawsuit and eventually loses the mill.

In other places, between scenes there are long, rambling passages, that I found too wordy and philosophical and I waited impatiently to get back to the story. But overall I liked the book, more than I liked Adam Bede, but not as much as I remember liking Middlemarch, which I read long before I began this blog.

The Mill on the Floss is an epic novel encompassing various themes such as love, marriage, family loyalty, the social conventions of the times, and the struggle to survive. Feminism, education, and the role of women in society are to the fore, as Maggie is torn between two men who love her and is judged harshly for her behaviour.

It is a character driven plot; the river Floss plays a major part in the story, running through a wide plain, hurrying on to the sea, laden with ships. It’s a noisy place with Dorlcote Mill is on its banks near a stone bridge and the rush of the water is deafening, along with the ‘thunder of the huge covered wagon coming home with sacks of grain‘.

And it is the Floss that provides the huge climax which took me by surprise. It’s a dramatic ending and yet I found it rather unsatisfactory, not sure that I could believe what I had read, and shocked by such a sad ending. Looking back after I finished the book I realised that it had been foreshadowed almost from the start and I had missed it.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR 2016 and The Classics Club.

My Week in Books: 30 March 2016

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:  I’ve decided to concentrate on books from my to-be-read shelves and picked People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, a book I’ve owned for nearly eight years. I can’t think why I haven’t read it before as so far I’m loving it.

Blurb:

People of the Book takes place in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, as a young book conservator arrives in Sarajevo to restore a lost treasure.

When Hannah Heath gets a call in the middle of the night in her Sydney home about a precious medieval manuscript which has been recovered from the smouldering ruins of wartorn Sarajevo, she knows she is on the brink of the experience of a lifetime. A renowned book conservator, she must now make her way to Bosnia to start work on restoring The Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book ‘“ to discover its secrets and piece together the story of its miraculous survival. But the trip will also set in motion a series of events that threaten to rock Hannah’s orderly life, including her encounter with Ozren Karamen, the young librarian who risked his life to save the book.

Then: I’ve recently finished Wycliffe and the Tangled Web by W J Burley, another book from my to-be-read shelves.

Blurb:

A beautiful schoolgirl goes missing from a Cornish village on the day she has told her boyfriend and sister she is pregnant. The possibility that she has been raped or murdered – or both – grows with every passing hour, and Chief Superintendent Wycliffe is brought in on the case.

The investigation reveals a complex network of family relationships and rivalries centred on the girl; and then Wycliffe finds a body – but not the one he expects. Have there been two murders? And if so, are they connected?

Wycliffe digs deeper, and soon realises that just beneath the normal, day-to-day surface of the community lies a web of hatred and resentment – a web he will have to untangle if he is to find the key to the mystery . . .

My post will follow soon.

Next: I’m reluctant to say what I’ll be reading next because I usually change my mind when the time comes. But, I shall be reading The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot for the Classics Club Spin some time in April – yet another book I’ve owned for years.

Blurb:

George Eliot drew on her own anguished childhood when she depicted the stormy relationship between Maggie and Tom Tulliver. Maggie’s often tormented battle to do her duty and belong on the one hand, and to be  herself, wild and natural, on the other, propels her from one crisis to another. As the Tulliver fortunes decline and fall, the rift between Maggie and her family becomes almost irreconcilable. But Maggie’s biggest mistake of all is to fall in love with Stephen Guest who is engaged to another woman.

Both a sharp and observant picture of English rural life and a profoundly convincing analysis of a woman’s psychology, The Mill on the Floss is a novel that tackles the complexities of morality versus desire.

What about you? What are you reading this week?

Classics Club Spin: Result

The Spin number is 8, which for me is The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot ‘“ to be read by 2 May 2016.

I’ve had this book for years, keen to read it after I’d enjoyed Middlemarch, and it has sat unread ever since. I was hoping for Framley Parsonage and have started to read it, so I probably won’t finish The Mill on the Floss by 2 May especially as it is quite long (535 pages in a small font – I think I’ll get a copy to read on my Kindle).

Choosing a Classic

It’s time I began reading another classic for the Classics Challenge. I thought I’d look at the openings of some to see which takes my fancy.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell:

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room – a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o’clock struck, when she awakened herself ‘as sure as clockwork’, and left the household very little peace afterwards.

It reminds me of the children’s song Old MacDonald had a Farm with its repetitions. The little girl is Molly Gibson and Betty with the unseen powers is the family’s servant. It promises a story of a family and Molly’s place within it and this opening interests me. I don’t know anything about the book and have not seen any of the TV adaptations, so I’m coming to it with a completely open mind – no other interpretations to influence my reading of Elizabeth Gaskell’s words.

Silas Marner by George Eliot:

In the days when the spinning-wheels hummed busily in the farmhouses – and even great ladies, clothed in silk and thread-lace, had their toy spinning-wheels of polished oak – there might be seen, in districts far away from the lanes, or deep in the bosom of the hills, certain pallid undersized men, who, by the side of brawny country-folk, looked like the remnants of a disinherited race.

This one looks good too about village/rural life at the beginning of the 19th century. The only book by George Eliot that I’ve read is Middlemarch, which I loved. You have to have time and patience to read her books. Silas Marner, however, is a much shorter book with less characters than Middlemarch.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome:

There were four of us – George and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were – bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it.

Yet another author I know nothing about and as for the book I only know it’s reckoned to be a comedy. Again I have very few preconceptions about this book and have no ideas about the characters or what happens. I think Montmorency may be a dog as the book’s full title is Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).

Now I just have to decide which one to read.