Silas Marner

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Silas Marner Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on George Eliot's Silas Marner. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of George Eliot
Mary Anne Evans grew up on Arbury Estate in Warwickshire, England, where she grew up on one of the estate’s farms. Her father was the estate’s land agent, received a good education during her youth. After she finished school at age sixteen, she continued learning by reading: she had access to the library at Arbury Hall, and her knowledge of Classical literature deeply affected her later writing. Her writing was also impacted by the diverse lives and lifestyles she observed on the Arbury Estate, from those of the wealthy landowners to those of the poorer workers farming the land. When Mary Anne moved to Coventry at age twenty-one, she befriended Charles Bray at whose home she was exposed to a circle of intellectuals and freethinkers. She decided to move to London and begin a career as a writer. In London, she started working as an editorial assistant for The Westminster Review. She began publishing essays, writing under the pen name George Eliot in order to escape the stereotype of her day that women wrote romances. Her personal life received attention and gossip due to her relationship with a married man named George Henry Lewes with whom she lived for more than twenty years. She published her major works during Lewes’s lifetime, including Scenes of Clerical Life (1857), Adam Bede (1859), Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1872), and Daniel Deronda (1876). Lewes’s death in 1878 left her devastated, and while she married John Cross in May of 1880, she died later that year after a brief illness.
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Historical Context of Silas Marner
As mentioned above, the Victorian Era, with its emphasis on Christianity, morality, and social values provides a backdrop to Eliot’s novel. The setting of the novel is critical. Silas Marner, as a weaver, lives during the early years of the 19th century when individual weavers made profits in England. By the 1830s and 1840s, the Industrial Revolution and the economic changes it caused were prevalent throughout England. The Industrial Revolution is the time period in which the production of basic goods transitioned from hand production methods to production by new machines. The advancing technology allowed goods, such as woven cotton products, to be produced more quickly and on a larger scale. This transition resulted in the development of mills and manufacturing towns throughout England. At the end of Silas Marner, the Industrial Revolution has transformed the village of Lantern Yard into a fast-paced manufacturing hub. Silas Marner and Eppie are able to retreat from the business of Lantern Yard to the quiet, unchanged world of Raveloe. But the change in Lantern Yard points to coming change all over England, as well as a complete change in weaving and Silas Marner’s own profession.
Other Books Related to Silas Marner
While individual books are not known to have directly inspired or impact George Eliot’s creation of Silas Marner, her academic studies did influence her understanding of literature and writing. In particular, scholars have noted, Greek tragedies directed her literary choices. The novel Silas Marner also clearly responds to George Eliot’s awareness of the religious ideology of her time period. Silas Marner’s early devoted faith and subsequent questioning of this faith, allowed Eliot to explore the role faith played in Victorian Society. In the Victorian Era, many people believed Christian values and morality secured one’s own happiness, a concept Eliot explores throughout the novel.
Key Facts about Silas Marner
  • Full Title: Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe
  • When Written: 1860-1861
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: 1861
  • Literary Period: Victorian Period / Realism
  • Genre: Novel / Realistic fiction
  • Setting: The villages of Lantern Yard and Raveloe in England, early 1800s
  • Climax: Eppie decides to stay with her adoptive father, Silas Marner, despite her biological father, Godfrey Cass, finally revealing his past secret marriage
  • Antagonist: William Dane / Dunstan Cass
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient
Extra Credit for Silas Marner

Biblical Namesake. Eppie’s full name is Hephzibah after Silas Marner’s mother and sister. Marner notes that the name is from the Bible. In the Bible, Hephzibah refers both to the wife of a man named Hezekiah and, in one passage, to God’s chosen people. The name means “my delight is in her.”

Adaptations. Silas Marner has been adapted for radio, stage, and screen, including several movie versions, a Wishbone episode, and a 1961 opera version of the novel.