Fiction has a way of enfleshing fact and enlivening truth. I delight to see glimpses of Biblical and eternal truths show up in the lives of fictional characters. Of late, Silas Marner, George Eliot’s short but powerful novel, has been dramatizing eternal truths on the stage of the page.
Silas Marner, one of the first English novels to present an honest depiction of the rural poor, revolves largely around two main characters: a wealthy man named Godfrey Cass and a poor weaver, Silas Marner, an outsider to the small town they both inhabited. Godfrey, who made a hasty decision to sleep with a shady lady, ended up in an unfortunate secret marriage that produced an unwanted child. When the mother of his child died in the cold, he found himself at a crossroads. Rather than claim the child, he hid in anonymity, seeing this as his chance to marry the woman he truly loved, Nancy.
Silas Marner, a solitary, sad weaver who found solace in his weaving and the treasury he was slowly accumulating over the years, found himself empty when his treasury was stolen. Then, he found himself at his own crossroads when the tiny toddler (secretly Godfrey’s son) crawled into Marner’s cottage out of the cold after her mother died suddenly.
Marner chooses to raise the toddler who has strangely chosen him. The toddler, whom he names Eppie, slowly melts Marner’s people-hardened heart.
The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection
Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister of the 1800’s, aptly described the way the gospel works in the lives of believers. In a day and age when the focus was on getting rid of ungodly passions and desires, Chalmers explained that the best way to oust a poor or lesser desire was by replacing it with a greater desire. While I know this conceptually and have heard it expounded upon theologically, I was able to see it brought to life through Silas.
A growing love for Eppie fills the gaping hole in his heart and life that he had been attempting to fill with his earnings. Where his life had taken on the calculated rhythm of the loom over which he labored, Eppie brought life to his home and a peopled purpose to his soul.
Eliot beautifully captures the expulsive power of a greater affection.
“Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring human kindness in all eyes that looked on her. The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit.”
Once his heart was filled with Eppie, he no longer brooded over his stolen wages. In fact, when it is found many years later, when Eppie is a teenager, the money is of little consequence to him.
The Mercy of a Full Confession
I love the prayer, “Lord, give us the mercy of a full confession.” In our world and in the flesh’s shadowed thinking, confession is something to be avoided at all costs. However, the Christian knows what the Psalmist so clearly explains in Psalm 32: when we keep quiet about our sins, body, mind and soul waste away. Freedom and forgiveness are the gifts that come on the other side of confession.
Eliot’s character Godfrey Cass illustrates both the heaviness of hidden sin and the freedom that comes from being seen and known. After his bratty, black-mailing brother (who stole Marner’s money, by the way) dies, his secret is technically safe. But the weight of his past weighs down heavily upon him. Even though he “got away” with no one knowing about his ill-chosen first marriage and his child and he was able to marry the true love of his life, Godfrey walks with lead feet through life.
The irony is that now that he longs to have a child of his own, his wife cannot seem to bear a child. She feels the weight of disappointing her husband, and he carries his own hidden heaviness, both of which end up eclipsing what could be a happy marriage…until the brother’s body is discovered with the stolen gold.
At that moment, Godfrey decides to come clean to his wife.
“Everything comes to the light sooner or later, Nancy. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out. I’ve lived with a secret on my mind, but I’ll keep it from you no longer…that woman Marner found dead in the snow – Eppie’s mother – that wretched woman – was my wife; Eppie is my child.”
When Godfrey fully expected to be shamed and shunned, his wife showed him forgiveness and love. Suddenly, the wall that had been growing between them collapsed. While they remained childless, they had the joy of being fully known and loved.
There are buckets of other treasures in this small gem of a classic. But I shall leave some of them for your own finding!
Love this novel!
I love this novel too. And I love your phrase here, “a people purpose”.