A gentle linen weaver named Silas Marner is wrongly accused of theft actually committed by his best friend. Exiling himself to the rustic village of Raveloe, he becomes a lonely recluse. Ultimately, Marner finds spiritual rebirth through his unselfish love of an abandoned child who mysteriously appears one day in his isolated cottage.
Silas Marner, weaver by trade, is living in the community of Lantern Yard when he finds himself wrongly accused of a crime. Prior to the crime, he had a quiet role in the neighborhood. The neighbors might have found him a bit socially repellant, maybe a little unattractive and generally weird, but as a whole most people still found something in him to admire, such as his devout faith and strong work ethic. Many just shrugged and figured he was made a tad quirky for a reason.
Even though he is cleared of any actual charges, he can't escape the still-judging eyes of his neighbors. The relentless gossip eventually ends up ruining his life in Lantern Yard, even causing his fiance to break off their engagement. Fed up with it all, Silas makes the decision to pack up the ol' loom and relocate to the town of Raveloe.
Silas spends the next 15 years in Raveloe dedicating himself to his work. The neighbors see little of him except for when he steps out to gather water each day. Sure, Silas's life develops a sort of monotony to it, pretty much just spending all day at his loom, counting his coins and stashing them away before bed each night, but he finds a certain amount of comfort in the predictability. That predictability is shattered one night when Silas' hidden savings are stolen. The subsequent investigation uncovers ties that lead back to the wealthiest family in Raveloe, some of the members of that family secretly having quite the financial issues.
Silas himself goes years without resolution but makes peace with the loss, in large part due to the arrival of a small child, whose mother died outside one winter night, not far from Silas's residence. The child happened to wander into his home and once he hears the little girl is left without parents to claim her, he takes her in as his own. This unexpected fatherhood gives Silas a daily lesson in what truly matters in a life.
I've seen a number of reviews where people talk about how they were assigned this in school but remembered hating it so in fairness they were compelled to do a re-read in adulthood. As for me, I do remember this one being on assigned reading list for one of my classes in school but *sssh* this Honors kid never read it! I know, I know! And it's one of the shorter classics out there! But, well, I guess I had better things going on at the time. Like naps and TRL marathons. I don't know. But it's all been rectified now and my vote is it's a solid 3 star classic for me. Wasn't gawd-awful, but also not a jaw-dropper.
I liked the themes Eliot brought up in the story -- mainly the idea of valuing people and life experiences over material posessions -- but in the end I was craving a little more conflict to drive those points home. Silas struck me as the kind of guy that was too quick to let life beat him down. Where was his fight, his backbone? He just seemed to be this Eeyore kind of spirit that went about assuming that it was his lot in life for most days to generally suck. I did start to cheer for him though once the story got around to talking about what a dedicated father he became to Eppie. I admit, I am a sucker for stories about great dads :-)
Speaking of Eppie, it was tough to read that whole scene with that guy coming in saying he "had rights to" Eppie, how he "owns her". Talking about the girl like she wasn't even present, right there in front of him. That is one thing about classics that is sometimes tough to bear, those characters trying to keep others in their place -- "I own you" "you owe me" -- makes me so thankful to live in a time when it's ever so much easier to make one's voice heard. There are still limitations, but not nearly to the extent they used to be!
I was also amused at Eliot having the character Godfrey actually converse with his anxiety as if it were another person in the room. Eliot even capitalizes it as Anxiety, and I cracked up at the line, "Anxiety went on... refusing to be silenced even by much drinking." Being a sufferer of anxiety myself, I could appreciate the tinge of dark humor there ;-)
The writing can be a little stiff at times, the plot a bit plodding here and there, and Eliot seems to like to end each chapter on a bit of a moral lesson. Not uncommon for her era. A decent classic but if you're brand spanking new to trying the genre, this one might not be the one to win you over to picking up future oldies. If you're just out to tackle as many classics as possible in your reading life, this is a quick one to get off the TBR that has a sweet (but somewhat sad) story to boot. Also, if you'd like a little extra help understanding the plot, this book was giving a modern (at the time, anyway) retelling in the Steve Martin film A Simple Twist Of Fate.
Note on the author: George Eliot was born Mary Ann (or sometimes listed as Marian) Evans in the winter of 1819. She was the daughter of a respected mill owner / estate manager and spent much of her childhood reading constantly. She taught herself several languages, publishing her first book -- a translation of The Life Of Jesus by German theologian David Friedrich Strauss -- by the age of 22. She didn't begin novel writing until the age of 37. Though women of her era were known to publish under their real names, she chose to publish under the pseudonym George Eliot to escape the stigma that female authors were only capable of writing fluff works.