Silas Marner

by: George Eliot

Part II, Chapters 16–18

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.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

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.