4. Godfrey was silent. He was not likely to be very penetrating in his judgments, but he had always had a sense that his father’s indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better will.
Here, in Chapter 9, Godfrey is weathering a severe tongue-lashing from his father, Squire Cass, after confessing that he lent Dunsey rent money from one of his father’s tenants. The Squire complains that he has been “too good a father” and has spoiled his sons. In this regard, the Cass household provides a counterpoint to the domestic life Silas and Eppie later create. Both Godfrey and Eppie grow up motherless—the former in circumstances of great plenty, the latter with little. Both fathers indulge their children, but while the Squire does so out of negligence, Silas does so out of love. Eppie never doubts Silas’s love for her, whereas Godfrey, in this passage, has precisely that doubt about his father. Eliot implies that this crucial difference is the reason Godfrey has grown up weak-willed and cowardly, while Eppie possesses a strong sense of values. This contrast is all the more striking since Eppie is in fact Godfrey’s natural daughter.
The passage also highlights the perspective that Eliot’s narrator takes throughout the novel. This omniscient narrator is not constrained simply to report what is seen and heard. Here, we go inside Godfrey’s head and have access to ideas that he thinks but does not express aloud. The narrator takes this even one step further, not only divulging what Godfrey is thinking, but passing judgment on Godfrey’s general intelligence. At the same time, however, judging from the Squire’s behavior, the conclusion at which Godfrey gropingly arrives is correct. This sort of narration—omniscient, judgmental, but ultimately sympathetic toward the characters—is an important characteristic not only of this novel, but of all of Eliot’s works.