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Silas Marner is the weaver in
the English countryside village of Raveloe in the early nineteenth
century. Like many weavers of his time, he is an outsider—the object
of suspicion because of his special skills and the fact that he
has come to Raveloe from elsewhere. The villagers see Silas as especially odd
because of the curious cataleptic fits he occasionally suffers. Silas
has ended up in Raveloe because the members of his religious sect
in Lantern Yard, an insular neighborhood in a larger town, falsely
accused him of theft and excommunicated him.
Much shaken after the accusation, Silas finds nothing
familiar in Raveloe to reawaken his faith and falls into a numbing
routine of solitary work. His one attempt at neighborliness backfires:
when an herbal remedy he suggests for a neighbor’s illness works,
he is rumored to be a sort of witch doctor. With little else to
live for, Silas becomes infatuated with the money he earns for his
work and hoards it, living off as little as possible. Every night
he pulls his gold out from its hiding place beneath his floorboards
to count it. He carries on in this way for fifteen years.
Squire Cass is the wealthiest man in Raveloe, and his
two eldest sons are Godfrey and Dunstan, or Dunsey. Dunsey is greedy
and cruel, and enjoys tormenting Godfrey, the eldest son. Godfrey
is good-natured but weak-willed, and, though secretly married to
the opium addict Molly Farren, he is in love with Nancy Lammeter. Dunsey
talked Godfrey into the marriage and repeatedly blackmails him with
threats to reveal the marriage to their father. Godfrey gives Dunsey 100 pounds
of the rent money paid to him by one of their father’s tenants.
Godfrey then finds himself in a bind when Dunsey insists that Godfrey
repay the sum himself. Dunsey once again threatens to reveal Godfrey’s
marriage but, after some arguing, offers to sell Godfrey’s prize
horse, Wildfire, to repay the loan.
The next day, Dunsey meets with some friends who are
hunting and negotiates the sale of the horse. Dunsey decides to
participate in the hunt before finalizing the sale, and, in doing
so, he has a riding accident that kills the horse. Knowing the rumors
of Silas’s hoard, Dunsey makes plans to intimidate the weaver into
lending him money. His walk home takes him by Silas’s cottage, and,
finding the cottage empty, Dunsey steals the money instead.
Silas returns from an errand to find his money gone.
Overwhelmed by the loss, he runs to the local tavern for help and announces
the theft to a sympathetic audience of tavern regulars. The theft
becomes the talk of the village, and a theory arises that the thief
might have been a peddler who came through the village some time
before. Godfrey, meanwhile, is distracted by thoughts of Dunsey,
who has not returned home. After hearing that Wildfire has been
found dead, Godfrey decides to tell his father about the money, though
not about his marriage. The Squire flies into a rage at the news,
but does not do anything drastic to punish Godfrey.
Silas is utterly disconsolate at the loss of his gold
and numbly continues his weaving. Some of the townspeople stop by
to offer their condolences and advice. Among these visitors, Dolly
Winthrop stands out. Like many of the others, she encourages Silas
to go to church—something he has not done since he was banished
from Lantern Yard—but she is also gentler and more genuinely sympathetic.
Nancy Lammeter arrives at Squire Cass’s famed New Year’s dance
resolved to reject Godfrey’s advances because of his unsound character.
However, Godfrey is more direct and insistent than he has been in
a long time, and Nancy finds herself exhilarated by the evening
in spite of her resolution. Meanwhile, Molly, Godfrey’s secret wife,
is making her way to the Casses’ house to reveal the secret marriage.
She has their daughter, a toddler, in her arms. Tiring after her
long walk, Molly takes a draft of opium and passes out by the road.
Seeing Silas’s cottage and drawn by the light of the fire, Molly’s
little girl wanders through the open door and falls asleep at Silas’s
Silas is having one of his fits at the time and does
not notice the little girl enter his cottage. When he comes to,
he sees her already asleep on his hearth, and is as stunned by her
appearance as he was by the disappearance of his money. A while
later, Silas traces the girl’s footsteps outside and finds Molly’s
body lying in the snow. Silas goes to the Squire’s house to find
the doctor, and causes a stir at the dance when he arrives with
the baby girl in his arms. Godfrey, recognizing his daughter, accompanies
the doctor to Silas’s cottage. When the doctor declares that Molly
is dead, Godfrey realizes that his secret is safe. He does not claim
his daughter, and Silas adopts her.
Silas grows increasingly attached to the child and names
her Eppie, after his mother and sister. With Dolly Winthrop’s help,
Silas raises the child lovingly. Eppie begins to serve as a bridge
between Silas and the rest of the villagers, who offer him help
and advice and have come to think of him as an exemplary person
because of what he has done. Eppie also brings Silas out of the
benumbed state he fell into after the loss of his gold. In his newfound
happiness, Silas begins to explore the memories of his past that
he has long repressed.
The novel jumps ahead sixteen years. Godfrey has married Nancy
and Squire Cass has died. Godfrey has inherited his father’s house,
but he and Nancy have no children. Their one daughter died at birth,
and Nancy has refused to adopt. Eppie has grown into a pretty and
spirited young woman, and Silas a contented father. The stone-pit
behind Silas’s cottage is drained to water neighboring fields, and
Dunsey’s skeleton is found at the bottom, along with Silas’s gold.
The discovery frightens Godfrey, who becomes convinced that his
own secrets are destined to be uncovered as well. He confesses the
truth to Nancy about his marriage to Molly and fathering of Eppie.
Nancy is not angry but regretful, saying that they could have adopted
Eppie legitimately if Godfrey had told her earlier.
That evening, Godfrey and Nancy decide to visit Silas’s
cottage to confess the truth of Eppie’s lineage and claim her as
their daughter. However, after hearing Godfrey and Nancy’s story,
Eppie tells them she would rather stay with Silas than live with
her biological father. Godfrey and Nancy leave, resigning themselves
to helping Eppie from afar. The next day Silas decides to visit
Lantern Yard to see if he was ever cleared of the theft of which
he was accused years before. The town has changed almost beyond
recognition, though, and Silas’s old chapel has been torn down to
make way for a new factory. Silas realizes that his questions will
never be answered, but he is content with the sense of faith he
has regained through his life with Eppie. That summer Eppie is married
to Aaron Winthrop, Dolly’s son. Aaron comes to live in Silas’s cottage,
which has been expanded and refurbished at Godfrey’s expense.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Silas Marner!