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

[+] | [-] | reset
 

"Brother," said William, "how do I know what you may have done in the secret chambers of your heart, to give Satan an advantage over you?"

Silas was still looking at his friend. Suddenly a deep flush came over his face, and he was about to speak impetuously, when he seemed checked again by some inward shock, that sent the flush back and made him tremble. But at last he spoke feebly, looking at William.

"I remember now—the knife wasn't in my pocket."

William said, "I know nothing of what you mean." The other persons present, however, began to inquire where Silas meant to say that the knife was, but he would give no further explanation: he only said, "I am sore stricken; I can say nothing. God will clear me."

On their return to the vestry there was further deliberation. Any resort to legal measures for ascertaining the culprit was contrary to the principles of the church in Lantern Yard, according to which prosecution was forbidden to Christians, even had the case held less scandal to the community. But the members were bound to take other measures for finding out the truth, and they resolved on praying and drawing lots. This resolution can be a ground of surprise only to those who are unacquainted with that obscure religious life which has gone on in the alleys of our towns. Silas knelt with his brethren, relying on his own innocence being certified by immediate divine interference, but feeling that there was sorrow and mourning behind for him even then—that his trust in man had been cruelly bruised. The lotsd declared that Silas Marner was guilty. He was solemnly suspended from church-membership, and called upon to render up the stolen money: only on confession, as the sign of repentance, could he be received once more within the folds of the church. Marner listened in silence.d At last, when everyone rose to depart, he went towards William Dane and said, in a voice shaken by agitation—

"The last time I remember using my knife, was when I took it out to cut a strap for you. I don't remember putting it in my pocket again. You stole the money, and you have woven a plot to lay the sin at my door. But you may prosper, for all that: there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent."d

There was a general shudder at this blasphemy.

William said meekly, "I leave our brethren to judge whether this is the voice of Satan or not. I can do nothing but pray for you, Silas."

Poor Marnerd went out with that despair in his soul—that shaken trust in God and man, which is little short of madness to a loving nature. In the bitterness of his wounded spirit, he said to himself, "She will cast me off too." And he reflected that, if she did not believe the testimony against him, her whole faith must be upset as his was. To people accustomed to reason about the forms in which their religious feeling has incorporated itself, it is difficult to enter into that simple, untaught state of mind in which the form and the feeling have never been severed by an act of reflection.d We are apt to think it inevitable that a man in Marner's position should have begun to question the validity of an appeal to the divine judgment by drawing lots; but to him this would have been an effort of independent thought such as he had never known; and he must have made the effort at a moment when all his energies were turned into the anguish of disappointed faith. If there is an angel who records the sorrows of men as well as their sins, he knows how many and deep are the sorrows that spring from false ideas for which no man is culpable.d

Marner went home, and for a whole day sat alone, stunned by despair, without any impulse to go to Sarah and attempt to win her belief in his innocence. The second day he took refuge from benumbing unbelief, by getting into his loom and working away as usual; and before many hours were past, the minister and one of the deacons came to him with the message from Sarah, that she held her engagement to him at an end. Silas received the message mutely, and then turned away from the messengers to work at his loom again. In little more than a month from that time, Sarah was married to William Dane; and not long afterwards it was known to the brethren in Lantern Yard that Silas Marner had departed from the town.

X [d] The lots

Religion

To the fundamentalist Christian God ordained every event. But how to interpret what was ambiguous or contested. The drawing of lots, the outcome also ordained, resolved into a "Yes" or "No." The lots might be made of paper or wood and drawn or cast.

The casting of lots has an extensive pedigree in the Hebrew Testament and appears also in the Greek, as when arises the question of who will replace Judas: "And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles." …

(read more)

X [d] Marner listened in silence.

Writing & Reading

The congregation's unanimity—not a single demurrer—renders Silas mute.

X [d] there is no just God that governs the earth r…

Religion

Silas has been betrayed by his friend and his community but most terrible to him is what he perceives as God's betrayal. He might have concluded that there is no God at all yet to believe that would be less terrible to him than to believe God is omnipotent, omniscient, and unjust. 

X [d] Poor Marner

Writing & Reading

The epithet "Poor ——" occurs often in Eliot's fiction and is her gentle sigh reminding the reader of the need for sympathy.

X [d] that simple, untaught state of mind in which …

Mind

Marner is not stupid, just simple in the sense of unsophisticated in his belief and untaught in theology, leaving Eliot in her anthropological way to maintain that his reaction—not to question the lots and Lantern Yard's beliefs—was consistent with his education and experience. 

X [d] the sorrows that spring from false ideas for …

Writing & Reading

Eliot is the most compassionate of historians. No epoch is without its ardent belief "false ideas," which are often nothing other than an incomplete understanding of phenomena. How are to know? Believing in 1400 that the earth was the center of the solar system and the solar system of the universe or that disease is a result of an imbalance of the four humors or, as Eliot did, in p…

(read more)