Silas Marner Day 7: Habit, Loam & the Seeds of What?

large leaves
Large leaves of  unknown plant in Calderstones Park

This morning I’m continuing my slow reading of Silas Marner by George Eliot. You can find the whole text here, and you’ll find my previous readings by searching for ‘Silas Marner’. We are in Chapter Two.

George Eliot is beginning to think about work and money and the relation between the two:

His first movement after the shock had been to work in his loom; and he went on with this unremittingly, never asking himself why, now he was come to Raveloe, he worked far on into the night to finish the tale of Mrs. Osgood’s table-linen sooner than she expected– without contemplating beforehand the money she would put into his hand for the work. He seemed to weave, like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection. Every man’s work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life.

Silas, in his need for routine,  for the click-clack of the loom ,works without thinking of the money. He works ‘like the spider, from pure impulse, without reflection’. I have experienced this kind of work-impulse at home when something difficult is happening – someone in hospital, a crisis, and (though I’m not a house-proud person and rarely clean up when everything is o.k.) I find myself washing the dishes , drying them, putting away, wiping down, cleaning the stove, brushing the floor… and so on, each  act seeming to naturally lead on to the next. All of them are really there to stop thought, or perhaps that’s wrong, perhaps it is more to do with the imposition of a kind of rhythm, the rhythm become something outside the problem on which you can concentrate.

On larger time scale, work is like this for many of us. But George Eliot takes that further and makes it a sort of law: ‘Every man’s work, pursued steadily, tends in this way to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life.’  The implication is that every man has ‘loveless chasms’. True ? I’m reading that as true for some, but also there are great stretches of time which are ordinary, dull, even? Work carries you over. This is hard to understand until you have worked for a long time.  It is why so many people, particularly, I think, men, struggle with retirement, whether they have liked their jobs or not. For some people work becomes routine,and routines carry us over difficulties.

Silas’s hand satisfied itself with throwing the shuttle, and his eye with seeing the little squares in the cloth complete themselves under his effort. Then there were the calls of hunger; and Silas, in his solitude, had to provide his own breakfast, dinner, and supper, to fetch his own water from the well, and put his own kettle on the fire; and all these immediate promptings helped, along with the weaving, to reduce his life to the unquestioning activity of a spinning insect. He hated the thought of the past; there was nothing that called out his love and fellowship toward the strangers he had come amongst; and the future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him. Thought was arrested by utter bewilderment, now its old narrow pathway was closed, and affection seemed to have died under the bruise that had fallen on its keenest nerves.

Silas is trapped in no-time, he has no access to the past, feels nothing in the present and has no sense of a future. He is frozen, stuck.  I keep thinking of Hermione in The Winters Tale and want to do a Spark Series on these two works read together. Let’s read on – don’t forget, keep reading it aloud, you’ll notice more:

But at last Mrs. Osgood’s table-linen was finished, and Silas was paid in gold. His earnings in his native town, where he worked for a wholesale dealer, had been after a lower rate; he had been paid weekly, and of his weekly earnings a large proportion had gone to objects of piety and charity. Now, for the first time in his life, he had five bright guineas put into his hand; no man expected a share of them, and he loved no man that he should offer him a share. But what were the guineas to him who saw no vista beyond countless days of weaving? It was needless for him to ask that, for it was pleasant to him to feel them in his palm, and look at their bright faces, which were all his own: it was another element of life, like the weaving and the satisfaction of hunger, subsisting quite aloof from the life of belief and love from which he had been cut off. The weaver’s hand had known the touch of hard-won money even before the palm had grown to its full breadth; for twenty years, mysterious money had stood to him as the symbol of earthly good, and the immediate object of toil. He had seemed to love it little in the years when every penny had its purpose for him; for he loved the purpose then. But now, when all purpose was gone, that habit of looking towards the money and grasping it with a sense of fulfilled effort made a loam that was deep enough for the seeds of desire; and as Silas walked homeward across the fields in the twilight, he drew out the money and thought it was brighter in the gathering gloom.

This is analysis of the beginnings of  glitch in a personality. We’re pre-psychoanalysis here, and before even the beginnings of psychology as set out by William James. Of course, poets have always been thinking about the human mind, and William Wordsworth (use the search box to find my readings of Intimation of Immortality) had done much work in The Prelude, which George Eliot knew well, on thinking about  how man’s mind grows, and had begun the long task of understanding that process in the poem:

But who shall parcel out
His intellect, by geometric rules,
Split, like a province, into round and square?
Who knows the individual hour in which
His habits were first sown, even as a seed,
Who that shall point, as with a wand, and say,
’This portion of the river of my mind
Came from yon fountain?’

The Prelude, Book Two

Now George Eliot, a huge reader of Wordsworth, picks up the baton. How does a man become himself? Silas is going to become a miser and develop a habit of loving gold for no reason other than that is gold. But why? First, he is in close contact with the coins: ‘it was pleasant to him to feel them in his palm, and look at their bright faces, which were all his own’. That physical connection is primal and about the need to love. Silas has been earning money for labour since he  was a child but, it seems, he never loved it, never before saw coins as having ‘faces’, it was merely a means to an end:

The weaver’s hand had known the touch of hard-won money even before the palm had grown to its full breadth; for twenty years, mysterious money had stood to him as the symbol of earthly good, and the immediate object of toil. He had seemed to love it little in the years when every penny had its purpose for him; for he loved the purpose then.

When he was a member of the Lantern-yard church, money had been about subsistence and doing good, tithes, supporting the church-community. He didn’t care for the money itself.  ‘He had seemed to love it little in the years when every penny had its purpose for him; for he loved the purpose then.’ His purpose,  which was both human and religious, had shaped his life. But now there is no human shape, no purpose, only the three basic elements of his reduced spider-like existence: work, eating and gold.

But now, when all purpose was gone, that habit of looking towards the money and grasping it with a sense of fulfilled effort made a loam that was deep enough for the seeds of desire; and as Silas walked homeward across the fields in the twilight, he drew out the money and thought it was brighter in the gathering gloom.

So habit plays a part.  There are no continuing relationships – all that human feeling has been cut off as if with a knife. The original habit was ‘of looking towards the money and grasping it with a sense of fulfilled effort’. despite the loss of friends, of his Lantern-yard church community, the habit of feeling survives and makes ‘a loam that was deep enough for the seeds of desire’. I notice here the growing metaphor, which we first saw in Chapter One. Even though Silas is closed down, something is at work, something small, something that grows. It’s not going to grow right, because what can grow right in the absence of human relationship? It is about growing towards love, though, isn’t it?

Time’s up. Poem tomorrow.

One thought on “Silas Marner Day 7: Habit, Loam & the Seeds of What?

  1. loubyjo May 14, 2017 / 9:12 pm

    It all becomes very philosophical when money is mentioned ( not going down their ) silas is prob still feeling an alien in Raveloe for ages we were known as the red haired lot when moved althouh i am dark !! It is a dark coud over him what happened in the other place and cant get over that his mate God deserted him in
    hr of need !!!!!!!!!!!!! so he works works and works some more with no play and he becomes rich surprise surprise !!!! think we could learn something here from why people become workaholic although some people do really enjoy job .
    MY dad was a postman but years after retirement still gets up at unearthly hrs why !!! think boredom with loss of his mate just a mad thought !!!! but reminds me of playing monopoly just want more and more i actually just loved pretend ing the money was real and so does all kids !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( sos )

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