I am recapping George Eliot's 1861 novel, Silas Marner. The first entry was on Monday, and I'm finishing up the short novel today. If you'd like to read it yourself, the full text can be found here.
Brace yourself for a lot of swearing. In addition, I wrote down this recap as I was reading it, so I occasionally make predictions about the text. These are not spoilers, just merely the direction I thought the text was headed.
Where we left off, Silas Marner, a local weirdo weaver, has had bad luck happen to him not once, but TWICE, involving improperly secured gold, and it's broken his spirit. Godfrey Cass, the heir of a wealthy man, has a secret drunken wife, which is really hurting his chances of getting with the reprehensibly virtous Nancy, mostly because Godfrey is being blackmailed by his evil debauched brother, Dunsey, imapler of horses and burglar of the poor.
Godfrey and his family are still having their big New Year's Eve party, where he can perv on Nancy, who is all, 'NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN, BUDDY'. Little does Godfrey know that there is a plan afoot . . . a plan designed to seriously harsh his buzz . . .
Silas Marner: Part Two
Godfrey's secret wife, Molly, has planned her vengeance on Godfrey for abandoning her. She will walk to his family's New Year's Eve party and announce their marriage. And she is bringing with her . . . THEIR CHILD!!!! 1.) That was a nice surprise, Eliot. I actually wasn't expecting that. 2.) Does Godfrey even know he has a child? Or has it been that long since he's seen his wife? 3.) Godfrey is having a rough night in terms of the ladies. He should just pack up his stuff and start a new life in Nashville, where no one knows him.
It is also revealed that Molly is not just a drunk, but an opium fiend, as well. The novel doesn't express much sympathy for Molly, saying she basically brought this all on herself, and keeps turning her more and more into some angry, skanky white trash deserving of her own reality TV show. I don't really agree with Eliot and her portrayal of people suffering from addiction, but she's determined to make this all Intervention meets The Real Housewives of Raveloe, so I guess I'll just fetch my popcorn. This is going to get gooooood.
The night is really miserable and Molly gets bogged down in the snow, not knowing how close she is to the Cass mansion, and looks for some comfort in her opium. She takes some, decides to have a nap in the snow, and . . . ah. Well, that's probably Molly written out of the story, isn't it? Sigh. I guess I'll put my popcorn away, then.
Their child, who I assume is 2 or 3 years old, sees her passed-out mother and is like, "This shit again? Well, I'm used to it. Let's go exploring. Because this snow is fucking cold." So she toddles her way right into Silas Mariner's house, where he has gone into one of his weird trances and doesn't hear her come in (seriously, buddy, buy a lock), and she falls asleep by his fire. Silas's house is like a black hole for unexpected visitors. No matter where you are in Raveloe, if you get lost, you will definitely end up there.
Silas wakes up from his trance and sees this giant pile of gold hair in front of his fire, mistakes it for his stolen coins, and thinks, "MA MONEY! IT CAME HOME!" He man-handles the gold, only to realize that he's basically scalping a sleeping blonde toddler. Now, I was expecting this to be all Up in nature, and he'd be all cranky and hate kids, and she'd gradually win him over with her incessant love, but actually he takes to her pretty much immediately and feeds her and cuddles her and thinks she's adorable.
THINLY VEILED METAPHORS ABOUT THE CHILD'S GOLDEN HAIR BEING LIKE THE GOLD HE LOST, RECLAIMED. THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN GOLD, RUMPLESILAS!
And the best part about THIS tale of Rumplestiltskin is that no women had to be locked in a tower, forced to perform miracles under threat of death, and then asked to give up their unborn children under duress. At least not yet, anyway.
After he puts the baby to bed, Silas thinks, "Hmm. It's kind of a rough night out. Maybe I should investigate where she came from."
SHO NUFF, he goes about 2 feet outside and sees a corpse under some snow in the lane. RIP Molly. We barely new ye.
At the Cass party, which is raging into the early morning hours, Godfrey is still perving on Nancy. He loooooves him some voyeurism. After one particularly intense perving session while people are dancing, Godfrey looks up to see HOLY SHIT, WHY IS SILAS MARNER IN MY HOUSE, CARRYING MY BABY?
Okay, Godfrey has lost any and all sympathy I ever had for him. He KNEW he had a child. It's one thing to marry a woman, discover she's not who you thought she was, and let her destroy herself. It's another thing if you have a child together and you leave a 2-year old in abject squalor, probably starving, with an addict. Jesus Christ, Godfrey. That's when you need to step in and say, "I am married, I have a child. I will do the right thing and at least take the baby away from her, even if I don't wish to live with my wife."
I miss Dunsey.
Everyone's like, "Silas, what are you doing here? Was he on the guest list?" and he's like, "There's a woman dead on my doorstep! I need the doctor!" So Godfrey is feeling like he just won the lottery, and the doctor is fetched, and we all must be very careful not to mention death around the ladies. They might be SHOCKED.
The guests say, "Silas, leave the little girl here while you go about corpse-collecting. We'll take care of it." And he goes, "No! It's mine! She came to me! I have every right to keep her! PRECIOUS!" The doctor goes out and confirms that the woman is, in fact, dead ("Woop woop!" thinks Godfrey) and the little girl doesn't seem to recognize Godfrey as her father ("Double woop!") and Silas tucks the child into bed at the Cass house, while Godfrey looks on and contemplates his life. He thinks, "This is my lucky break. I'll take care of the child somehow, and I'll go on the straight and narrow and marry Nancy tomorrow, and all will be right in the world."
Wow. How very fucking magnanimous of you to start taking care of your kid now that she's in a hugely better situation with Silas. Also, he seems to have forgotten the conversation he had about 2 hours ago with St. Nancy, our Lady of NEVA GONNA HAPPEN.
Silas takes care of the baby for a bit, and Dolly (she who I have inexplicably made to speak like an internet meme) helps out, because she is maternal and full of common sense. Unfortunately, Silas starts acting like a crazy person, getting all jealous that the baby might start to like someone better than him, and refusing to let anyone else watch the baby for any length of time.
Dolly goes, "Such 2-years old, much toddle, very mischief."
Silas says, "NO, I DON'T NEED HELP
although I have zero experience with children."
Dolly says, "MUCH TODDLE, VERY MISCHIEF, WOW."
So Silas goes, "FINE, I'll tie the toddler to my loom while I work all day long. Because toddlers loooove being strapped to things. That's how they learn. And get exercise. I'm a great father already."
Dolly says, "Okay, but she can haz baptizm nao?"
Silas says, "No, I'm not religious."
Dolly says, "SHE CAN HAZ BAPTIZM NAO."
"Okay, Jesus, fine, I'll baptize her. I guess I have to think of a name. How about I call her Hephzibah?"
Fucking. Hephzibah. Like this poor kid hasn't had a rough enough start to life. Dolly gives Silas the eye-roll to end all eye-rolls and he decides to call the baby 'Eppie' for short. Thank god for small miracles.
He gets Eppie baptized and decides he might as well get re-baptized himself, and they start going to church, and the baby warms his heart-cockles and turns him into a real person, and the community starts to love him, and he is no longer isolated, and they have these delightful long afternoons playing in meadows, dancing in the sunlight, and it's all perfectly revolting.
Despite Silas's GENIUS plan to strap a toddler to a loom until she is old enough to be reasoned with, Eppie acts like the toddler she is, and gets into mischief. He is so heartbroken and doesn't understand why this is happening to him, because he LOVES Eppie, so is her mischievousness a way of her telling him that she doesn't love him or something?
Dolly says, "She can haz spanking now?", letting him know that it's better to give children a mild shock or a tiny amount of pain in order to teach them not to play with dangerous things. But this is a concept far beyond Silas's capacity, who is going to let Eppie grow up getting away with murder, and this will in NO WAY end well. So Dolly advises Silas to shut Eppie up in the dark coal hole when she's naughty.
When Eppie steals some scissors, and cuts her tether to the loom, and runs away, Silas decides enough is enough. He shuts her in the coal hole. But the joke's on you, Silas, because Eppie LIKES the coal hole, and also she's is filthy now and you will have to clean her. A perfect punishment . . . except for everything about it. So he decides that it was just not worth it, and he'll just keep an eye on Eppie and let her do what she will.
Wow. Did you just forget the part where she stole scissors, Houdini-ed her way out of your house, and was caught wandering by the stone pit where she almost fell to her death? HMMMMM? Father of the Year? So I guess Eppie's going to make an ugly end.
This can hardly be surprising. Look at the cover of the edition I read:
SHE'S GOT PRISON IN HER EYES.
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER
Eppie has managed, miraculously, not to die or end up in jail. Squire Cass is dead, Dunsey never came back home, Godfrey ended up marrying St. Nancy, our Lady of Backpedaling on Oaths, and she knows nothing about his first wife, or Eppie. However, Godfrey has given a great deal of money to Eppie over the years and keeps an eye on her, and everyone thinks he's just doing his Christian duty to a poor orphan and the old bachelor who raised her.
Eppie, we are told, is very pretty, with untameable ringlets. If Victorian literature has taught me anything, women with uncontrollable hair WILL be sexually promiscuous and WILL die horrid deaths. Which is supported by the fact that Silas is the WORST, if most doting, father ever. Some guy in church is perving on Eppie's hair, and it turns out to be Dolly's son, Aaron.
He proposees to Eppie, she accepts, and is loving and dutiful and meek and requests only that Silas be able to live with them, because she could not bear for them to be separated.
GEORGE ELIOT, YOU ARE GIVING VERY MISLEADING PARENTAL ADVICE. Children allowed to do any old damn thing with zero threat of punishment do NOT turn out this well. They turn out like . . . well . . . Dunsey.
Silas and Dolly have a brief pow-wow about the wedding, and they decide they're okay about it. Silas finally confesses, after 30 years of living in Raveloe, what happened to him in Lantern Yard with his old fiancee, his best friend, and the money. Dolly goes, "Much fuckface, very injustice, wow," and says he should go back there at some point and see what happened to everyone and if any new evidence ever came to light about his innocence. This is obviously distasteful to him.
St. Nancy, our Lady of Domestic Bliss, keeps the household perfect, because of course she does. But why does Nancy look so harsh? Why have the years not treated her kindly? It's because she CANNOT HAVE CHILDREN!!!! And she feels as though she has failed her husband, and is trying to make up for it by dusting every 30 seconds and polishing the chamber pots and lint-rollering the ceiling and re-calibrating the chandeliers, or whatever other busywork she can make for herself.
Honest to god, the book says that her hobbies are not leaving the house, and reading the Bible.
I can't even think up a punishment bad enough for her. Mostly because I know whatever horrible, painful thing happened to her, she'd probably like it in her weird, obediant, self-denying way. DAMMIT, NANCY. Stop being so 'It Hurts So Good'.
She's so concerned with making everything as cozy and delightful as possible that when her elderly father comes to visit, she feels the need to micromanage his naps, and Priscilla is all like, "For fuck's sake, can we just go home? Dad can nap in the carraige – I'm driving!' and then Nancy blathers on about Godfrey and Priscilla's all, "*yawn* Men are so boring!" and Nancy's all, "We can't have children!" and Priscilla–who has clearly been putting up with Nancy's moroseness for a long time–is all, "PITY PARTY'S OVER" and leaves.
But the Pity Party is NOT over. Nancy's internal monologue treats us to some deeply selfish, horrible backstory. For the last several years, when it became clear that they weren't going to be able to have children, Godfrey wanted to adopt. He specifically wanted to adopt that lovely orphan in the village being raised by that weaver. But St. Nancy, our Lady of Self-Flaggelation, decided that adopting a child would bring them joy, and that is SINFUL. It would be sinful to go against Providence, which clearly does not want them to have children.
After pages of her nonsense, Godfrey rushes in and says that someone has found DUNSEY'S SKELETON, which has been rotting in the stone pit near Silas Marner's house for 16 years.
Awww, Dunsey, noooo! I was really hoping he'd make a dramatic comeback. I will pour one out for you.
He had clearly fallen into the stone pit after robbing Silas, and they know this because they found all of Silas's gold still on the corpse. Godfrey thinks that God always brings secrets to light and the time has come to tell Nancy his secret. He explains about his wife and Eppie, and Nancy is understandably furious and says that if he had just told her about Eppie years ago, she would have let him adopt her.
So they do the ONLY logical thing, which is to rush immediately down to Silas's house and attempt to adopt a GROWN-ASS WOMAN.
Okay, Silas just found out his daughter is engaged, he's discovered who stole his money and had it returned, and then some people bust into his house and try to adopt his adult daughter. It's a big day for him.
Godfrey and Nancy are like, "This is coming totally out of the blue, but Eppie, we'd like to adopt you." And Eppie is like, "Dafuq? Thanks, but no thanks. I'm happy where I am and I don't need your high-falutin' ways." And Godfrey goes, "You don't understand–I AM YOUR REAL FATHER!" Everyone in the room goes, "Wow, well, you're an asshole, then." But Godfrey doesn't get whyyyyyyyyy, because he's doing the right thing nowwwwwww, and he's like, "Rejoice! I bring the gift of status really late in the game! I insist on adopting you!"
And Eppie goes, "Did I fucking stutter? No, old man." Godfrey, who has had every goddamned thing in his life always work out for him, doesn't understand 'no'. My god, even St. Nancy broke down after awhile. So he gets all pompous and goes, "This is a duty you owe to your lawful father".
Eppie goes, "You're not my father. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. *mic drop*"
Godfrey and Nancy go home to wallow and wring their hands, which is what they do best, and they finally get it through their thick skulls that they should probably just leave her alone and maybe leave her some money after they die.
Silas, with his money recovered, decides that there IS divine justice after all and decides to take Eppie on a glamorous vacation to Lantern Yard, so God can pay him back for that one, too. They go back to Lantern Yard, only–it's gone! A factory has been built up over the old community, and everyone has scattered, no on knows where. Ah. So I guess William and Sarah got away with it, as far as we know. I wish them many unpleasant children.
They go back home and Eppie gets married. Godfrey has graciously paid for the wedding and allowed her to get married at his mansion, but has learned that everyone is sick of his unctuous nonsense, so peaces the fuck out of town for the wedding so Silas can give Eppie away, and NO ONE MISSES GODFREY.
Everyone is happy except for Godfrey, Nancy, and presumably Dunsey. And the horse.
Wait, whatever happened to the subplot with the tin box and the suspicious foreign peddler? What was up with Silas's weird trances? Why have so many early parallels to Rumplestiltskin if it wasn't going to go anywhere? Why set up Eppie as a sexual free-spirit if you weren't going to do anything with it? Why have Priscilla in this story at all? I love her, but she doesn't get to do anything. Zero impact on the plot. Priscilla is too GOOD for this story. I demand a spin-off.
Contradictory moral time! 1.) Let your children do whatever the hell they want. They will grow up to be inexplicably perfect angels. 2.) Let your children do whatever the hell they want.They will grow up to be horse-impalers. 3.) There is no real justice in the world and a denial of religion will ultimately lead you to happiness. 4.) There is divine justice in the world and an adherence to religion will ultimately lead you to happiness.