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Back at the Red House, the men dance and Godfrey stands
to the side of the parlor to admire Nancy. Godfrey suddenly notices
Silas Marner enter carrying Godfrey’s child, and, shocked, he walks
over with Mr. Lammeter and Mr. Crackenthorp to discover what has brought
Silas here. The Squire angrily questions Silas, asking him why he
has intruded. Silas says he is looking for the doctor because he
has found a woman, apparently dead, lying near his door. Knowing
that it is Molly, Godfrey is terrified that perhaps she is not in
fact dead. Silas’s appearance causes a stir, and the guests are
told simply that a woman has been found ill. When Mrs. Kimble suggests
that Silas leave the girl at the Red House, Silas refuses, claiming
that she came to him and is his to keep.
Godfrey insists on accompanying the doctor, Mr. Kimble,
to Silas’s cottage, and they pick up Dolly along the way to serve
as a nurse. Kimble’s title is “Mr.” rather than “Dr.” because he
has no medical degree and inherited his position as village doctor.
Godfrey waits outside the cottage in agony, realizing that if Molly
is dead he is free to marry Nancy, but that if Molly lives he has
to confess everything. When Kimble comes out, he declares that the
woman has been dead for hours. Godfrey insists on seeing her, claiming
to Kimble that he had seen a woman of a similar description the
day before. As he verifies that the woman is in fact Molly, Godfrey
sees Silas holding the child and asks him if he intends to take
the child to the parish. Silas replies that he wants to keep her,
since both he and she are alone, and without his gold he has nothing
else to live for. He implies a connection between his lost money,
“gone, I don’t know where,” and the baby, “come from I don’t know
where.” Godfrey gives Silas money to buy clothes for the little
girl, and then hurries to catch up with Mr. Kimble.
Godfrey tells Kimble that the dead woman is not the woman
he saw before. The two talk about the oddness of Silas wanting to
keep the child, and Kimble says that if he were younger he might
want the child for himself. Godfrey’s thoughts turn to Nancy, and
how he can now court her without dread of the consequences. He sees
no reason to confess his previous marriage to her, and vows that
he will see to it that his daughter is well cared for. Godfrey tells
himself that the girl might be just as happy without knowing him
as her father.
Molly is given an anonymous pauper’s burial, but her death,
the narrator notes, will have great consequences for the inhabitants
of Raveloe. The villagers are surprised by Silas’s desire to keep
the child, and once again they become more sympathetic toward him. Dolly
is particularly helpful, offering advice, giving him clothing outgrown
by her own children, and helping to bathe and care for the girl.
Silas is grateful but makes clear that he wishes to learn to do everything
himself, so that the little girl will be attached to him from the
start. Silas remains amazed by the girl’s arrival and continues
to think that in some way his gold has turned into the child.
Dolly persuades Silas to have the child baptized, though
at first Silas does not really know what the ceremony means. Dolly
tells him to come up with a name for her and he suggests Hephzibah,
the name of his mother and sister. Dolly is skeptical, saying that
it doesn’t sound like a “christened name” and is a little long.
Silas surprises her by responding that it is in fact a name from
the Bible. He adds that his little sister was called Eppie for short.
Eppie and Silas are baptized together, and Silas finds
that the child brings him closer to the other villagers. Unlike
his gold, which exacerbated his isolation and did not respond to
his attentions, young Eppie is endlessly curious and demanding.
Her desires are infectious, and as she hungrily explores the world
around her, so does Silas. Whereas his gold had driven him to stay
indoors and work endlessly, Eppie tempts Silas away from his work
to play outside. In the spring and summer, when it is sunny, Silas
takes Eppie to the fields of flowers beyond the stone-pit and sits
and watches her play. Silas’s growth mirrors Eppie’s, and he begins
to explore memories and thoughts he has kept locked away for many
By the time Eppie is three, she shows signs of mischievousness, and
Dolly insists that Silas not spoil her: he should punish her either by
spanking her or by putting her in the coal-hole to frighten her. Shortly
after this conversation, Eppie escapes from the cottage and goes
missing for a while, though she is soon found. Despite his relief at
finding her, Silas decides that he must be stern with Eppie. His
use of the coal-hole is ineffective, however, as Eppie takes a liking
to the place.
Thus, Eppie is reared without punishment. Silas is even
reluctant to leave her with anyone else and so takes her with him
on his rounds to gather yarn. Eppie becomes an object of fascination
and affection, and, as a result, so does Silas. Instead of looking
at him with repulsion, the townspeople now offer advice and encouragement.
Even children who had formerly found Silas frightening take a liking
to him. Silas, in turn, takes an active interest in the town, wanting
to give Eppie all that is good in the village. Moreover, Silas no
longer hoards his money. Since his gold was stolen, he has lost
the sense of pleasure he once felt at counting and touching his
savings. Now, with Eppie, he realizes he has found something greater.
Godfrey keeps a distant eye on Eppie. He gives her the
occasional present but is careful not to betray too strong an interest.
He does not feel particularly guilty about failing to claim her
because he is confident that she is being taken care of well. Dunsey
still has not returned, and Godfrey, released from his marriage
and doubtful that he will ever hear from his brother again, can
devote himself to freely wooing Nancy. He begins to spend more time
at Nancy’s home, and people say that he has changed for the better.
Godfrey promises himself that his daughter will always be well cared
for, even though she is in the hands of the poor weaver.
The parallels between the novel’s two pivotal events are
further developed in this section. Like the theft, Eppie’s arrival
again drives Silas to interrupt a public gathering in a dramatic
fashion, this time at the Red House rather than the Rainbow. Both
appearances cause quite a commotion, and both times Silas arrives
with an otherworldly aura. At the Rainbow, the assembled men all
take Silas for a ghost. Similarly, when Silas appears with Eppie
at the dance, Godfrey is as shocked as if he is seeing an “apparition
from the dead.” Both scenes emphasize Silas’s outsider status. Both
the tavern and the Squire’s dance are governed by rules of hierarchy
and habit in which everyone relies on “safe, well-tested personalities.”
In these comfortable, ritualized spaces, Silas’s entrances are as
disruptive and disorienting as visits from a ghost.
Silas, too, is understandably disoriented by the appearance
of Eppie. He continues to associate her with his gold and believes,
in a vague way, that his gold has somehow turned into her. In a
way, of course, Silas’s connection is correct, as both the gold’s
disappearance and Eppie’s appearance can be indirectly traced to
Godfrey and his secret marriage. More important, the fact that Silas
equates Eppie with the gold indicates that she has effectively replaced
his gold as the object of his affections.
However, whereas the gold isolated Silas, Eppie becomes
a bridge between him and the rest of the world. Not only does she return
his affection in a way that his guineas never could, but her desire
and curiosity about the world ignite similar feelings in Silas. Eliot
uses the weather as a signal of this change. Whereas Dunsey stole
the gold on a rainy night and Eppie appeared in a blizzard, the afternoons
that Silas and Eppie spend together at play are sunny and warm.
Also, Eliot once again uses a metaphor from the natural world to
describe Silas’s growth. As he begins to come out of his -isolation
and self-denial, Silas’s soul is likened to a metamorphosing butterfly
or budding flower, unfolding and “trembling gradually into full
Godfrey is at his worst in these chapters. While it is
clear that he is not directly responsible for Molly’s death, Godfrey’s
desperate desire that Molly not survive is horrifyingly cruel and
selfish. Eliot, always uncompromising in her moral judgments, presents
Godfrey’s cruelty as the natural result of his dishonesty and cowardice. This
selfishness is simply the result of Godfrey being “a man whose happiness
hangs on duplicity,” who repeatedly shirks the demands of his conscience.
Strangely enough, however, Godfrey seems to be rewarded for his
duplicity, as he receives exactly the miracle for which he has hoped.
It is not difficult for us to surmise, though, that Godfrey will
not get off quite so easily.
As mentioned earlier, both of the novel’s main characters,
Silas and Godfrey, are remarkable for their passivity. Neither man
acts—instead, both are by and large acted upon. However, Silas is
acted upon primarily because of bad luck, whereas Godfrey is acted
upon because of his own naïveté and cowardice. Here, both characters
are presented with an opportunity for action. Silas takes action,
while Godfrey does not. Silas’s decision to keep Eppie has great
positive consequences for him, bringing him companionship and redemption.
Godfrey could have made the same decision—as Eppie’s natural father,
with greater justification—but he does not. As we will see, when
Godfrey eventually tries to make up for this inaction, it will be too
Ace your assignments with our guide to Silas Marner!