George Eliot, Silas Marner: Vol. 1, Ch. 1

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And Raveloe was a village where many of the old echoes lingered, undrowned by new voices. Not that it was one of those barren parishes lying on the outskirts of civilization—inhabited by meagre sheep and thinly-scattered shepherds: on the contrary, it lay in the rich central plain of what we are pleased to call Merry England, and held farms which, speaking from a spiritual point of view, paid highly-desirable tithes.d But it was nestled in a snug well-wooded hollow, quite an hour's journey on horseback from any turnpike, where it was never reached by the vibrations of the coach-horn, or of public opinion.h It was an important-looking village, with a fine old church and large churchyard in the heart of it, and two or three large brick-and-stone homesteads, with well-walled orchards and ornamental weathercocks, standing close upon the road, and lifting more imposing fronts than the rectory, which peeped from among the trees on the other side of the churchyard:—a village which showed at once the summits of its social life, and told the practised eye that there was no great park and manor-house in the vicinity, but that there were several chiefs in Raveloe who could farm badly quite at their ease, drawing enough money from their bad farming, in those war times, to live in a rollicking fashion, and keep a jolly Christmas, Whitsun, and Easter tide.h

It was fifteen years since Silas Marner had first come to Raveloe; he was then simply a pallid young man, with prominent short-sighted brown eyes, whose appearance would have had nothing strange for people of average culture and experience, but for the villagers near whom he had come to settle it had mysterious peculiarities which corresponded with the exceptional nature of his occupation, and his advent from an unknown region called "North'ard". So had his way of life:—he invited no comer to step across his door-sill, and he never strolled into the village to drink a pint at the Rainbow, or to gossip at the wheelwright's:w he sought no man or woman, save for the purposes of his calling, or in order to supply himself with necessaries; and it was soon clear to the Raveloe lasses that he would never urge one of them to accept him against her will—quite as if he had heard them declare that they would never marry a dead man come to life again. This view of Marner's personality was not without another ground than his pale face and unexampled eyes; for Jem Rodney, the mole-catcher, averred that one evening as he was returning homeward, he saw Silas Marner leaning against a stile with a heavy bag on his back, instead of resting the bag on the stile as a man in his senses would have done; and that, on coming up to him, he saw that Marner's eyes were set like a dead man's, and he spoke to him, and shook him, and his limbs were stiff, and his hands clutched the bag as if they'd been made of iron; but just as he had made up his mind that the weaver was dead, he came all right again, like, as you might say, in the winking of an eye, and said "Good-night", and walked off. All this Jem swore he had seen, more by token that it was the very day he had been mole-catching on Squire Cass's land, down by the old saw-pit. Some said Marner must have been in a "fit",h a word which seemed to explain things otherwise incredible; but the argumentative Mr. Macey, clerk of the parish, shook his head, and asked if anybody was ever known to go off in a fit and not fall down. A fit was a stroke, wasn't it? and it was in the nature of a stroke to partly take away the use of a man's limbs and throw him on the parish, if he'd got no children to look to.h No, no; it was no stroke that would let a man stand on his legs, like a horse between the shafts, and then walk off as soon as you can say "Gee!" But there might be such a thing as a man's soul being loose from his body, and going out and in, like a bird out of its nest and back; and that was how folks got over-wise, for they went to school in this shell-less state to those who could teach them more than their neighbours could learn with their five senses and the parson.d And where did Master Marner get his knowledge of herbs from—and charms too, if he liked to give them away? Jem Rodney's story was no more than what might have been expected by anybody who had seen how Marner had cured Sally Oates, and made her sleep like a baby, when her heart had been beating enough to burst her body, for two months and more, while she had been under the doctor's care. He might cure more folks if he would; but he was worth speaking fair, if it was only to keep him from doing you a mischief.

X [d] it lay in the rich central plain of what we a…

Writing & Reading

Raveloe is not an impoverished village on the fringe of civilized life but a time bubble in the midst of central England, somewhere around Eliot's birthplace, Coventry. Untouched by industrialism and demographic changes (it appears that no one leaves and Marner alone has arrived recently), Raveloe is stable and relatively prosperous.  …

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X [h] quite an hour's journey on horseback from any…

Writing & Reading

A turnpike is a toll road. An hour's journey by horseback would cover 6-8 miles. 

The sentence's noteworthy element is the litotes (see ReSearch), "or of public opinion."

X [h] in those war times, to live in a rollicking f…

The Napoleonic Wars, which began in 1803 and ended in 1815.

Whitsunday is the seventh Sunday after Easter and marks the Holy Spirit's appearance on Pentecost.

X [w] wheelwright's:

The wheelwright made and repaired wheels.

X [h] Some said Marner must have been in a "fit",

Body

Marner suffers from what Eliot will call "catalepsy," which results in a trance that may last in his case for hours. His eyes remain open, but he lacks sensation and consciousness and so has no recellction of the fit or its duration. 

X [h] and throw him on the parish, if he'd got no c…

Daily Life

Make him a charitable expense the parish had to support.

X [d] and that was how folks got over-wise, for the…

Religion

"Over-wise" is a vestige of the idea of the Great Chain of Being (ReSearch), which survived into the early 19th century.  Every thing in the Creation had its ordained place in a hierarchy, from types of rocks (shale to quartz and up to diamonds) to species of animals (the lion was the king of beasts, the female the lesser, etc.) to society, from peasants to aristocracy (the class s…

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