Decorative Initial S/ (1861), always a favourite with readers, was until recently considered too obvious and too lightweight to merit serious critical discussion. In 1949, F. R. Leavis echoed the views of many when he described it as "that charming minor masterpiece", an evident "moral fable". Only in one respect was the work seen as unusual: it appeared to have no direct bearing on its author's life. Ever since the mid-1950s, however, it has gradually gathered advocates who have shown that it is not only as rich in ideas, but also as firmly rooted in George Eliot's personal concerns as any of her other works and, somewhat surprisingly, these two issues have been increasingly seen as one. In 1975, Ruby Redinger explored the theme of hoarding and concluded that "the transformation of gold into Eppie justified George Eliot seeking and accepting money for her writing." Lawrence Jay Dessner looked at a wide range of parallels between the events of the novel and the author's circumstances at the time of writing, and noted that "Fear of being abandoned, fear of having one's secret revealed, antagonism toward a brother, love for a lost sister, concern for moral reputation [are all] common to the fact and the fiction." It was not until 1985, however, when Sandra Gilbert argued that Eppie is the central character and that the novel's principal theme is the riddle of daughterhood, that anyone specifically explored the implications for a woman of the relationship between Eppie and Silas. Through Silas, she affirms, George Eliot was able to examine "the dispossession that she herself had experienced as part of the empty pack of daughterhood". The common element in these otherwise different readings is that they are all, and almost exclusively, concerned with themes. They have established that many of the motifs at the heart of the text are pertinent to the situation in which George Eliot found herself in 1860, but they have not explained the novel's structure as a whole. [26]

From Terence Dawson, "Light Enough to Trusten By': Structure and Experience in Silas Marner" Modern Language Review 88 (1993): 26-45.


Victorian Web Overview George Eliot

Last modified 20 February 2000