Silas Marner Day 16: Forensic Detail

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Artemisia bearing the storms,  11 June

Been reading Silas Marner intermittently here. Read the previous posts by typing Silas Marner into the search box.

I’m picking up in Chapter VIII, where the village of Raveloe, both inside and outside The Rainbow,  is coming to terms with Silas Marner’s robbery.  If we were reading in a Shared Reading group, I’m sure, while I’d be pushing on, pushing on…we’d want to have a laugh about the ear-rings and the tendency to blame a stranger, especially if he looked as though he had ‘a swarthy foreignness of complexion which boded little honesty’.

But we read on to meet with Godfrey Cass, out  chasing his brother Dunstan, and the money he might have made from the sale of wildfire. In this conversation between Cass and fellow horse-enthusiast, Bryce, who  tells Godfrey about the death of the horse during the hunt, I was struck by the little insertion of  a hugely important feeling:

“And so you _did_ give him leave to sell the horse, eh?” said Bryce.
“Yes; I wanted to part with the horse – he was always a little too hard in the mouth for me,” said Godfrey; his pride making him wince under the idea that Bryce guessed the sale to be a matter of necessity. “I was going to see after him–I thought some mischief had happened. I’ll go back now,” he added, turning the horse’s head, and wishing he could get rid of Bryce; for he felt that the long-dreaded crisis in his life was close upon him. “You’re coming on to Raveloe, aren’t you?”

Chatting, holding your end up, keeping a game-face on and all the time feeling ‘that the long-dreaded crisis in his life was close upon him.’ George Eliot carries on with the chat until Bryce turns off on his own road.  That’s a place to stop and consider why a human would squash that terrible feeling into such a small space. And what can happen next?  He’s got to face it.

Godfrey rode along slowly, representing to himself the scene of confession to his father from which he felt that there was now no longer any escape. The revelation about the money must be made the very next morning; and if he withheld the rest, Dunstan would be sure to come back shortly, and, finding that he must bear the brunt of his father’s anger, would tell the whole story out of spite, even though he had nothing to gain by it. There was one step, perhaps, by which he might still win Dunstan’s silence and put off the evil day: he might tell his father that he had himself spent the money paid to him by Fowler; and as he had never been guilty of such an offence before, the affair would blow over after a little storming. But Godfrey could not bend himself to this. He felt that in letting Dunstan have the money, he had already been guilty of a breach of trust hardly less culpable than that of spending the money directly for his own behoof; and yet there was a distinction between the two acts which made him feel that the one was so much more blackening than the other as to be intolerable to him.

“I don’t pretend to be a good fellow,” he said to himself; “but I’m not a scoundrel–at least, I’ll stop short somewhere. I’ll bear the consequences of what I _have_ done sooner than make believe I’ve done what I never would have done. I’d never have spent the money for my own pleasure–I was tortured into it.”

We have got to remember that Godfrey  has been blackmailed by his brother. Yes, as he does, here. Not good but not a scoundrel, he tells himself, and with some self-pity, ‘I was tortured into it.’

Blackmail is a particularly difficult moral knot, isn’t it? In my shared Reading group I’d want to stop here for some time, thinking hard about this bit.

Maybe spelling it out:

  1. Godfrey is secretly married to an addict – an act of ‘compunction’, which he bitterly regrets  -what was behind that, I wonder? If you are ‘not a scoundrel’ but end oup having to marry someone you don’t love… what you been up to?
  2. Dunstan has been blackmailing him about this
  3. Godfrey took rent from one of his father’s tennants and gave it to Dunstan – not good, but not a scoundrel ? – Is this man misjudging himself? is he more  of a scoundrel than he thinks?
  4. Father  now going after the tennant because no rent has come through
  5. Godfrey agrees to sell horse to raise cash
  6. Dunstan kills horse in accident
  7. Dunstan steals Silas Marner’s money and disappears – no one knows he did it
  8. Godfrey has no horse, no money and no idea where his brother is…and still mainly concerned to get off with as little trouble as possible… because he’s not a scoundrel…

What would you do?

Godfrey decides to confess everything. This is what matters most in today’s reading, and I’d  be steering my group to this point – we’ve got to get to this point, today!

Through the remainder of this day Godfrey, with only occasional fluctuations, kept his will bent in the direction of a complete avowal to his father, and he withheld the story of Wildfire’s loss till the next morning, that it might serve him as an introduction to heavier matter. The old Squire was accustomed to his son’s frequent absence from home, and thought neither Dunstan’s nor Wildfire’s non-appearance a matter calling for remark. Godfrey said to himself again and again, that if he let slip this one opportunity of confession, he might never have another; the revelation might be made even in a more odious way than by Dunstan’s malignity: _she_ might come as she had threatened to do. And then he tried to make the scene easier to himself by rehearsal: he made up his mind how he would pass from the admission of his weakness in letting Dunstan have the money to the fact that Dunstan had a hold on him which he had been unable to shake off, and how he would work up his father to expect something very bad before he told him the fact.

I’d want to spread this out, to look in forensic detail at Godfrey Cass’s thinking. So I’d take it one sentence at a time:

Through the remainder of this day Godfrey, with only occasional fluctuations, kept his will bent in the direction of a complete avowal to his father, and he withheld the story of Wildfire’s loss till the next morning, that it might serve him as an introduction to heavier matter.

First, I’d want to imagine those ‘occasional fluctuations’ of the will. What a long day it must have been for Godfrey, waiting to confess.  What is will, I’d want to ask my group members to consider? How do you exert it, or does it control you? Who can resist the prompting for a biscuit/fag/drink/desire to do what you want? Is it will that helps us do this? And how much is will actually habit?

Thinking also of the self-control that is needed not to mention the loss of Wildfire. Godfrey is managing the situation and to a large extent his own feelings in order to produce the outcome he wants – as little trouble from his  father as possible.

Next, I’d want to look at this:

Godfrey said to himself again and again, that if he let slip this one opportunity of confession, he might never have another; the revelation might be made even in a more odious way than by Dunstan’s malignity: she might come as she had threatened to do.

This repetition  – again and again – is clearly connected to the bending of Godfrey’s  will. And the thing of which he is most frightened – that ‘she might come as she had threatened to do.’, is the thing he uses to hold his will to the point. He is scared.

And then he tried to make the scene easier to himself by rehearsal: he made up his mind how he would pass from the admission of his weakness in letting Dunstan have the money to the fact that Dunstan had a hold on him which he had been unable to shake off, and how he would work up his father to expect something very bad before he told him the fact.

Rehearsing is a very  good idea. But the planning of how to  manage his father – ‘he would work up his father to expect something very bad before he told him the fact’ – is manipulative. He’s thinking ahead in order to try to control his father’s emotional response. We have to ask ourselves what kind of man is Squire Cass that he has brought these sons into being? And behind that  there is a question about the validity of class as way of deciding what people are. George Eliot doesn’t believe that class means much. That there is a social hierarchy is a fact, there are higher and lower folks in the village, but  what people really are doesn’t seem closely connected to that hierarchy. But those are thoughts for another day.

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