This is one of a few books my mom sent me last year and I had not yet read (Sorry, mom!), but it was a quick read during my trip to Budapest this past weekend (more on that later). From the beginning, I had issues. I never knew what to make of George Eliot, otherwise known as Mary Anne Evans. She was in the literature book I taught out of last year, though I didn’t teach her because I found her blank stare in the bio page portrait creepy; I also wasn’t sure what to make of someone who is better known by a masculine pen name. While a lot of other 17th-19th century female writers had pen names, most of them are now known by their real names on their books…I don’t know. I just have a personal problem with the name/face contrast, I suppose.
Although it may also have to do with the fact that the piece in the lit book, an excerpt from one of her other novels, was really boring. I don’t know. I’m picky and I can’t always explain myself.
That’s actually the best way to describe how I felt about this book. Silas is a simple man of a simple community in the 19th century. He’s framed by his best friend, his girlfriend is taken by said friend, and he leaves his small religious village and goes elsewhere. Then he spends a lot of time being a lonely weaver, possibly with a hunchback (I at least was envisioning a hunched back on him during the book), living alone in his cottage and not going to church- which is a different type from his former church- or socializing, or spending money.
Well, as often comes to pass, Silas has been saving money for years when he is robbed. At the same time, the squire’s son in this village is trying to cover up his own indiscretions, and there are wronged young women poor and rich trying to get what they feel they deserve. After a few years without ever getting his money back, Silas finds an orphan child inside of, and her recently deceased mother outside of, his cottage. What follows is what I guess has become the common 19th century redemption story. He learns love from the child he feels he ought to take care of; the community learns from him; the squire’s son learns from his mistakes,; his wife learns from them too; and the local mother-ish-ly character doesn’t really learn much of anything, although she does spend an inordinate amount of time, for such a small book, making people cakes and pies. And while the ending is predictable once you get there, it did fall into place nicely. However, I wanted more.
I wanted Silas to go home to his old village and really have closure, which he doesn’t get, even though he goes there. I wanted Eliot/Evans to really explain what Silas’s religion is, which she doesn’t; the internet tells me it’s Calvinism, but she only ever refers to it as “the small community of Lantern Yard” or “the local village” or “the parish” or other vague terms. I think she does it so that it feels creepier, which I guess it does, I just thought it was really obvious and deliberate. I also wanted a better idea of things. The village is not described much, which means I spent most of the time I was reading imagining this really barren place, like the moors with less grass and more clouds, befitting the hunchback I saw as the main character. It wasn’t until the end of the book, when they’re talking about gardens and flowers and vegetables, that I realized it wasn’t supposed to look like The Wasteland, the world as pictured by that other Eliot. In other words, it seemed too depressing to me, which is the way I often feel about 19th century novels.
Either way, it’s not a book I probably would have chosen to read. Which sometimes is a good thing, and sometimes is a bad. Who knows, maybe I learned something from it after all…at the very least, not to hide all my life’s savings under some dirt next to my fireplace.