Part II, Chapters 16–18
Summary: Chapter 16
The action resumes sixteen years later, as the Raveloe congregation files out of church after a Sunday service. Godfrey has married Nancy, and though they have aged well, they no longer look young. Squire Cass has died, but his inheritance was divided after his death, and Godfrey did not inherit the title of Squire. Silas Marner is also in the departing congregation. His eyes have a more focused look than they did before, but otherwise he looks quite old for a man of fifty-five. Eppie, eighteen and quite pretty, walks beside Silas, while Aaron Winthrop follows them eagerly. Eppie tells Silas that she wants a garden, and Aaron offers to dig it for them. They decide that Aaron should come to their cottage to mark it out that afternoon, and that he should bring his mother, Dolly.
Silas and Eppie return to the cottage, which has changed greatly since we last saw it. There are now pets: a dog, a cat, and a kitten. The cottage now has another room and is decorated with oak furniture, courtesy of Godfrey. We learn that the townspeople always note Godfrey’s kindness toward Silas and Eppie with approval and that they now regard Silas as an “exceptional person.” Mr. Macey even claims that Silas’s good deed of adopting Eppie will bring back the stolen gold someday. Having returned home, Silas and Eppie eat dinner. Silas watches Eppie play with the pets as she eats.
After dinner, Silas and Eppie go outside so that Silas can smoke his pipe. The pipe is a habit that Silas’s neighbors have suggested as a possible remedy for his cataleptic fits. Though Silas finds tobacco disagreeable, he continues with the practice, going along with his neighbors’ advice. Silas’s adoption of Raveloe customs such as smoking, the narrator tells us, is matched by a growing acknowledgement of his own past. Silas has gradually been telling Dolly Winthrop the story of his previous life in Lantern Yard. Dolly is intrigued and puzzled by the customs he describes. They both try to make sense of the practice of drawing lots to mete out justice, and attempt to understand how Silas could have been falsely convicted by this method.
We learn that Silas has also discussed his past with Eppie. He has informed her that he is not her father and has told her how she came to him at her mother’s death. She is not unduly troubled by the story and does not wonder about her father, as she considers Silas a better father than any other in Raveloe. She is, however, eager to know things about her mother, and repeatedly asks Silas to describe what little he knows of her. Silas has given Eppie her mother’s wedding ring, which she often gets out to look at.
As the two come out of the cottage for Silas’s smoke, Silas mentions that the garden will need a wall to keep the animals out. Eppie suggests building a wall out of stones, so she goes to the stone-pit, where she notices that the water level has dropped. Silas tells her that the pit is being drained in order to water neighboring fields. Eppie tries to carry a stone, but it is heavy and she lets it drop. Sitting down with Silas, Eppie tells him that Aaron Winthrop has spoken of marrying her. Silas conceals his sadness at this news. Eppie adds that Aaron has offered Silas a place to live in their household if they are married. Eppie says she is reluctant, as she does not want her life to change at all, but Silas tells her that she will eventually need someone younger than he to take care of her. Silas suggests that they speak to Dolly, who is Eppie’s godmother, about the matter.
Summary: Chapter 17
Meanwhile, the Red House has likewise gained a much more domestic feel than it had during the Squire’s “wifeless reign.” Nancy invites Priscilla and their father to stay at the Red House for tea, but Priscilla declines, saying she has work to do at home. Priscilla has taken over management of the Lammeter farm from her aging father. Before Priscilla leaves, she and Nancy take a walk around the garden. Nancy mentions that Godfrey is not contented with their domestic life. This angers Priscilla, but Nancy rushes to defend Godfrey, saying it is only natural that he should be disappointed at not having any children.
Godfrey goes on his customary Sunday afternoon walk around his grounds and leaves Nancy with her thoughts. Nancy muses, as she often does, on their lack of children and the disappointment it has caused Godfrey. They did have one daughter, but she died at birth. Nancy wonders whether she was right to resist Godfrey’s suggestion that they adopt. She has been adamant in her resistance, insisting that it is not right to seek something that Providence had withheld and predicting that an adopted child would inevitably turn out poorly. Like her insistence years before that she and Priscilla wear the same dress, Nancy’s unyielding opposition to adoption is not based on any particular reasoning, but simply because she feels it important to have “her unalterable little code.” Godfrey’s argument—that the adopted Eppie has turned out well—is of no use. Never considering that Silas might object, Godfrey has all along specified that if he and Nancy were to adopt, they should adopt Eppie. Considering his childless home a retribution for failing to claim Eppie, Godfrey sees adopting her as a way to make up for his earlier fault.
Summary: Chapter 18
I can’t say what I should have done about that, Godfrey. I should never have married anybody else. But I wasn’t worth doing wrong for—nothing is in this world. Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand—not even our marrying wasn’t, you see.
Godfrey returns from his walk, trembling, and tells Nancy to sit down. He tells her that the skeleton of his brother Dunsey has been found in the newly drained stone-pit behind Silas’s cottage. The body has been there for sixteen years, and it is clear that it was Dunsey who robbed Silas. Dunsey fell into the pit as he made his escape, and the money has been found with his remains. Godfrey is greatly shaken by the discovery, and it convinces him that all hidden things eventually come to light. Thus, Godfrey goes on to make his own confession, telling Nancy of his secret marriage to Molly and of Eppie’s true lineage. Nancy responds not angrily but instead with regret, saying that had she known the truth about Eppie, she would have consented to adopt her six years before. Nancy and Godfrey resolve to do their duty now and make plans to visit Silas Marner’s cottage that evening.
Analysis: Part II, Chapters 16–18
Silas’s transition into the community is complete by this point in the novel. Now he is not only a full member of the Raveloe community, but is universally considered its most exemplary citizen. Even the most fractious town gossips look upon Silas with respect. Importantly, much as the town has gotten to know Silas better, so have we. In his interactions with Eppie in this section, Silas speaks more than he has anywhere else in the book and even displays a bit of a sense of humor. Additionally, as he opens up to pipe smoking and other town customs and beliefs, he also begins to explore his past. Silas attempts to attain new self-knowledge and to reconcile his old religious beliefs with his new ones.
The device of the fifteen-year time lapse serves to balance the novel and matches the earlier fifteen-year lapse between Silas’s arrival in Raveloe and the events that form the heart of the novel. The events that follow this second jump in time are thus much like an epilogue. The characters are all older, and times are changing: the profession of the weaver is even becoming obsolete. While these final chapters do contain action and plot development, they represent the logical continuation of events already set in motion and thus, to a certain extent, already determined. Even Godfrey’s confession, which seems a striking departure from his lifetime of prevarication, is drawn out of him by the shock of the discovery of Dunsey’s death, an event that occurred years before. Importantly, because the narrative time lapse implies that we have passed a point of no return, we are left suspicious of Godfrey’s chances of getting Eppie back.
Here, Eppie also emerges for the first time as a real character, and Eliot uses her character to return to the topic of social class. The child of nobility raised in poverty is a staple narrative device in literature, from Elizabethan comedy to Victorian melodrama. Here, Eliot uses Eppie to play with the conventions of this narrative device. With her “touch of refinement and fervour,” Eppie is not quite a “common village maiden.” However, instead of attributing Eppie’s refinement to her genteel lineage, Eliot ascribes it to the “tender and peculiar love” with which Silas has raised her. The implication is that Eppie’s upbringing has been far more important than her heredity, and that she is a better person than she would have been if Silas had not raised her.
The discovery of Dunsey’s remains underlines the small, closed nature of Eliot’s narrative universe. Far from having left the country or joined the army, as the townspeople have speculated, it turns out that Dunsey has been in Raveloe all along. In fact, ironically, Silas is the only major character we have seen enter or leave Raveloe in the entire novel. Eliot emphasizes this hermetic quality of existence in Raveloe partly to portray the inertia of English rural life. However, Eliot also wishes this insularity to evoke a world where one can never escape the repercussions of the past or the effects of one’s actions. In Raveloe, things do not simply go away.
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