Silas Marner - George Eliot A strong 3.5 stars

As with Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, the only other Eliot book I’ve read thus far, _Silas Marner_ shows off just how keen an observer of human nature Eliot was both in the adept manner she has at detailing the psychological motivations of her characters’ actions and in the more explicit authorial asides in the narrative in which she details her insights into how the human mind and heart work, and the justifications that we give ourselves for our actions. No one in her stories seems to be either good or bad, though they may fall further on one side of the spectrum than the other, and as is always the case they have justifications for everything they do, even if they are justifications that will satisfy no one but themselves.

Silas Marner himself is an excellent character study of a miser who is more than a caricature. Thrown down by injustice and succumbing to despair the titular Silas exiles himself from his birthplace and becomes an outcast on the periphery of the village of Raveloe where his solitary life as a weaver is consumed by little more than work and the amassing of a small golden treasure upon which all of his love is centred. This state of affairs is not to last and Silas goes through yet another trial, the loss of his small fortune, though this is soon replaced by the person of a small orphaned child. As with the Grinch, Marner’s heart grew three times that day! Still a taciturn and awkward man, Silas’ new charge brings him into the fold of society from which he had been outcast nearly all of his adult life and we see him grow as a person as he learns to care for someone other than himself.

Eliot once again paints a wonderfully vivid picture of provincial English life in her village of Raveloe and we see all of the varied aspects of human nature on display: greed, cowardice, rigid moral inflexibility, filial love, devotion, despair, and hope. Even those characters that take up little of the narrative have a verisimilitude of life to them and we can readily believe that Raveloe is a real, living place filled with the foibles, defeats, and triumphs of real human life. Some might consider the story a bit saccharine, but I think the reality of its characters saves it from that fate.

An enjoyable read, especially good if you’re feeling leery about human nature.