Silas Marner

by: George Eliot

Important Quotations Explained

1. To have sought a medical explanation for this phenomenon would have been held by Silas himself, as well as by his minister and fellow-members, a willful self-exclusion from the spiritual significance that might lie therein.

This passage, from Chapter 1, describes the reaction of Silas’s religious sect in Lantern Yard to one of his cataleptic fits. The worshippers in his chapel interpret Silas’s fit as divinely inspired, a sort of holy trance, and their respect for him grows as a result. The passage addresses the issue of faith, one of the central themes of the novel. The description suggests that the sect members’ faith in the “spiritual significance” of Silas’s fit requires a denial of any factors that might complicate it. In other words, the beliefs predominant in Lantern Yard do not allow for complexity or ambiguity and require that one develop intellectual blinders.

Eliot does not hesitate, in this chapter and elsewhere, to label this sort of belief primitive. There is a note of condescension in Eliot’s description, a wink, shared with her contemporary readers, at these simple folk from the past who ascribe supernatural causes to anything the least bit unusual. The humor lies in the phrase “willful self-exclusion,” which, Eliot implies, is exactly what Silas and his fellow worshippers depend upon to maintain their belief. It is important to keep in mind that Eliot writes as someone who had once believed quite passionately in similar teachings but had since broken from them. Thus, her view of the sect is that of someone who has both experienced and rejected similar comforts and tenets.