enthusiastic religious faith.

Category: Religion | Type: Discussion | Title: Silas Marner (in Context) | Author: George Eliot | Vol: PART ONE | Ch: CHAPTER I

By "enthusiastic" (from the Ancient Greek, meaning "in God" or enraptured) religious faith, Eliot means the appearance in the 18th century of Wesleyanism/Methodism (you will find under ReSearch more on that and on Dissenter and Non-conformist) and other Protestant sects outside of Anglicanism. Many depended on a rapturous relationship with God. The "primitive wants" (primitive in being essential, such as food and shelter, and primitive in extending back to the origins of village life in England) preoccupy the people to the exclusion of almost all else. They are Anglicans and traditionalists, but their understanding of Christianity is rudimentary and tinged with paganism. They refer to Old Harry (the devil) as determining events and some believe in ghosts. 

The village is conservative in the literal sense: the behaviors and values of the deep past persist as a tap root that nourishes their lives. A central feature of all of Eliot's novels, most lovingly depicted in The Mill on the Floss (1860), is the organic evolution of an individual's and a community's life so that there is no rupture between the past and present, only a steadying continuity. The characteristics of childhood (sincerity, imagination, curiosity, deep feeling) have the greatest chance of persisting into adulthood when the connections between one's past and present are unbroken by family disunity or geographical separation. A rupture such as that Marner suffers in fleeing Lantern Yard is traumatic. His settling in a place that is Lantern Yard's antithesis and where he knows no one and has no emotional associations allows him to withdraw from all but perfunctory human contact.

Eliot's mid-Victorian readers would have felt the truth of her observations on a national scale. Let's imagine that they were born in 1819, the year of Eliot's birth: By 1861 England itself has been transformed. Writers such as Carlyle, Dickens, Disraeli, Thackeray, Ruskin, and Eliot invoke the past so as to remind their public of a world in which dignity and connection thrived. 

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