Silas Marner Day 13: an intense stream of complex information

red geranium.JPG
Delightful dark red Geranium in the old bath 29 May

Continuing my slow reading of George Eliot’s Silas Marner. You’ll find a whole e-text here and previous posts can be found by typing ‘Silas Marner’ into the search box. We’re in chapter three, and I’m picking up where I left off yesterday, in a paragraph beginning ‘With that, Dunstan slammed the door behind him.’

We’d been talking about the interesting matter of different types of human difficulty: is a wealthy, educated person better off than a poor uneducated person when tragedy of pain strikes? And I suppose behind that, there are other questions: What is human culture for? What really would make us ‘better off’? Why learn to read?

After I had finished daily practice yesterday I looked up a post I wrote a  month or so ago about meeting with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, founder of Parkrun. I googled running and reading and found my post  listed below one featuring actor Will Smith speaking on that same subject. What’s reading for, according to Smith? Solving your problems he tells the kids. I completely agree!

Reading does lots of things but its key function – from Will and my points of view – is the transmission of  complex information. If you are interested in this idea read Joseph Gold’s book, The Story Species.  One day when I have more  time for writing than just this daily practice hour, I will write about this great book here. (Have I already done so? I find a few references to the book but no extended writing…)

One of the reasons that reading George Eliot is like a  marathon, difficult but great to do, is that she is par excellence the novelist transmitting the most intense stream of complex information.

This is not ‘entertainment’, not ‘escapism’. It’s not fun and it’s hard to even use the word ‘pleasure’. But it is – for me – enthralling, absorbing, rewarding.

This is ideas, it is thinking, based on observation of real life. If it came in a different format it would be called ‘science’. But it comes in ‘story’ format, which is not routinely understood to be a way of transmitting complex information.

Literature is really a tool for making more of  life, and that ‘more’ is to do with extending consciousness.  Watch her do it here. She’s talking about  well-to-do men, like Squire Cass and his  sons, men for whom you might not easily immediately feel pity.  Translate to modern day ? These guys live in a  big house somewhere in Hampshire or outside Clitheroe and may have made their money in the money industries. Perhaps have a small yacht somewhere on the south coast, maybe a cottage at Dartmouth or in Norfolk. They were dark pink trousers and  striped shirts and straw hats in summer, attend Chelsea Flower Show and go to Glyndebourne.  You (by which I mean I) don’t find it easy to imagine their sorrows.

Read aloud, slowly, maybe one clause at a time:

The lives of those rural forefathers, whom we are apt to think very prosaic figures–men whose only work was to ride round their land, getting heavier and heavier in their saddles, and who passed the rest of their days in the half-listless gratification of senses dulled by monotony–had a certain pathos in them nevertheless. Calamities came to them too, and their early errors carried hard consequences: perhaps the love of some sweet maiden, the image of purity, order, and calm, had opened their eyes to the vision of a life in which the days would not seem too long, even without rioting; but the maiden was lost, and the vision passed away, and then what was left to them, especially when they had become too heavy for the hunt, or for carrying a gun over the furrows, but to drink and get merry, or to drink and get angry, so that they might be independent of variety, and say over again with eager emphasis the things they had said already any time that twelvemonth? Assuredly, among these flushed and dull-eyed men there were some whom–thanks to their native human-kindness–even riot could never drive into brutality; men who, when their cheeks were fresh, had felt the keen point of sorrow or remorse, had been pierced by the reeds they leaned on, or had lightly put their limbs in fetters from which no struggle could loose them; and under these sad circumstances, common to us all, their thoughts could find no resting-place outside the ever-trodden round of their own petty history.

I start paying full attention at ‘calamities came to them too, and their early errors carried hard consequences’.  It is too easy to see the red trousers and the striped shirt and not see the human inside them. For everyone ‘early errors’ carry ‘hard consequences’ I don’t tend to remember that when looking st someone who seems successful in worldly terms and has a bit of a braying voice. It’s interesting too to see the ‘calamities’ might be very ordinary – missed the right girl.

perhaps the love of some sweet maiden, the image of purity, order, and calm, had opened their eyes to the vision of a life in which the days would not seem too long, even without rioting; but the maiden was lost, and the vision passed away

I’m remembering that this happened to Silas, and that it was painful when I experienced it as part of his story: why should it be any less so here? What is lost is not just the maiden, but the kind of life she might have helped the man achieve. and without such a life, somehow made good by love, and woman, by domesticity… what life for a single man with money in his pocket?

and then what was left to them, especially when they had become too heavy for the hunt, or for carrying a gun over the furrows, but to drink and get merry, or to drink and get angry, so that they might be independent of variety, and say over again with eager emphasis the things they had said already any time that twelvemonth?

Drink. Routine, Habit. These men are in the same pattern as Silas – except he is not a drinker, and he is not rich – oh, but he is! He is a miser, he hoards his money and  enjoys nightly ‘revelry’ with it, in the same way  Squire Cass might enjoy nights in the pub, plenty of wine. Like Silas, such beings are trapped in a mechanical life, where they ‘say over again with eager emphasis the things they had said already any time that twelvemonth’.

Assuredly, among these flushed and dull-eyed men there were some whom–thanks to their native human-kindness–even riot could never drive into brutality; men who, when their cheeks were fresh, had felt the keen point of sorrow or remorse, had been pierced by the reeds they leaned on, or had lightly put their limbs in fetters from which no struggle could loose them; and under these sad circumstances, common to us all, their thoughts could find no resting-place outside the ever-trodden round of their own petty history.

Like Silas, some of these men could never be brutal, they have ‘native human-kindness’. These were men who when young

had felt the keen point of sorrow or remorse, had been pierced by the reeds they leaned on, or had lightly put their limbs in fetters from which no struggle could loose them;

Not sure what this means. Have to stop and read and reread. I understand that  such men might have ‘felt the keen point of sorrow or remorse’ but I am not certain as the the next two clauses: are they elaborations of that first clause or are they additional  examples of how a life is shaped? when I look at the clause, ‘had been pierced by the reeds they leaned on’, I think of Silas Marner in Lantern Yard. He had leaned on the church community , he had leaned on its elders and his friend and fiance: they all proved to be ‘reeds’ – that’s to say thin stalks incapable of providing support. The reeds broke and pierced him. People he had relied on and built his life around finally hurt and  perhaps mortally injured him.

But what about the next bit?

or had lightly put their limbs in fetters from which no struggle could loose them

I wonder if this is about things like addictions, bad marriages, debt? When we are young we undertake acts willingly which may become habits – ‘fetters from which no struggle could loose them.’

This is a great stopping place for a Shared Reading group, where we could all contribute some worked example from our life. George Eliot is strict in her analysis – these are common human problems. The very nature of them may  mean we don’t want to acknowledge them. But she insists ‘common to us all’.

under these sad circumstances, common to us all, their thoughts could find no resting-place outside the ever-trodden round of their own petty history.

I’m interested in the facts that like Silas, such people are trapped in a kind of loom – we enter it, it is around us, we work at it, weaving the cloth of  our life with these repetitive, mechanical thought habits: Never works out for me, he/she/it is no good, life’s unfair, people don’t like me, I always have bad luck, odds are stacked, I’m no good, they are out to stop me.

I think literature exists to help us get out of the self-created-machine-brain. As one of our group members said  long ago, ‘I read about others but I learn about myself.’

Way over time again, and too long. Lack of discipline. Will attempt to correct tomorrow. Poem tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Silas Marner Day 13: an intense stream of complex information

  1. Jamie May 28, 2017 / 4:58 pm

    It’s great how Eliot slowing strips away the external stuff so that by the end we’re no longer looking at ‘rural forefathers’, ‘them’ but ‘native human’ ,’men’, ‘circumstances common to us all’ – we are in the internal world, the emotional world… It reminds me of how support groups can be made up of people from a variety of backgrounds but when they all come together to support one another in a common problem all the background stuff, the job roles, etc slip away and what is left is the human connection.

    • drjanedavis May 28, 2017 / 6:31 pm

      What a great bit of noticing and tjought! Thank you

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