I’m late this morning – I’m writing on the train to Bristol, where I’m going to visit The Reader’s South West colleagues. This little Midland train is a commuter train, full of people heading into work at Birmingham. We’re in George Eliot country.
Been reading Silas Marner intermittently here on the blog. Read the previous posts by typing Silas Marner into the search box.
I’m picking up in Chapter VIII, where Godfrey Cass has been skirting around the idea of telling his father all his troubles, his will holding fast to the idea of a confession…more or less. But Godfrey is scared of his father, and I’m interested in the sentences George Eliot gives us to sketch in their relationship – perhaps a clue as to the way our Godfrey grew up (and to brother Dunstan, too). No free-standing adult wants to blame their parents for who or what they are, and yet, every child owes much to its parenting.
The old Squire was an implacable man: he made resolutions in violent anger, and he was not to be moved from them after his anger had subsided– as fiery volcanic matters cool and harden into rock.
I want to look up t he word ‘implacable’ here. I know it means something like ‘ not to be moved.’ (looked it up here – much more to do with lack of peaceableness). You can’t easily make peace with him. That strength which he has – his violent anger, his rock-hard resolution – is not at all the strength of peace or secure self. Is this a model for boys to grow up with?
Like many violent and implacable men, he allowed evils to grow under favour of his own heedlessness, till they pressed upon him with exasperating force, and then he turned round with fierce severity and became unrelentingly hard. This was his system with his tenants: he allowed them to get into arrears, neglect their fences, reduce their stock, sell their straw, and otherwise go the wrong way,–and then, when he became short of money in consequence of this indulgence, he took the hardest measures and would listen to no appeal.
George Eliot is describing a class of humans, like a biologist identifying traits in a type of fish: these are the recognisable, classifiable, behaviours of a certain type of man. ‘He allowed evils to grow under favour of his own heedlessness,’ shows us a relationship between perhaps deliberate – certainly agreeable, chosen – lack of care and attention, which seems rather mild and perhaps no more than morally lazy, but results in ‘evils.’ I can’t help but see this applying to his sons, Godfrey and Dunstan, who have grown – perhaps not evil, but in Godfrey’s case not good, and in Dunstan’s case bad – under their father’s care: was he heedless? Godfrey certainly knows his father’s character, though that does not make him sympathetic to his father’s flaws;
Godfrey knew all this, and felt it with the greater force because he had constantly suffered annoyance from witnessing his father’s sudden fits of unrelentingness, for which his own habitual irresolution deprived him of all sympathy. (He was not critical of the faulty indulgence which preceded these fits; that seemed to him natural enough.)
The father’s ‘unrelentingness’ is contrasted with Godfrey’s ‘irresolution’. These are opposites which seems to drive each other further apart. You might think they might mutually correcting – that someone who was irresolute might learn from who had something like the opposite – but isn’t ‘unrelenting’ going too far in the other direction to help? On the other hand, ‘he was not critical of the faulty indulgence which preceded these fits; that seemed to him natural enough’ – Godfrey only sees part of his father’s behaviour, and it suits him to do so, because the ‘faulty indulgence’ must sometimes throw some good in Godfrey’s own direction – and as he is irresolute so me must be temporarily glad of that indulgence, despite knowing that the angry unrelentingness will come.
Thinking about the kind of discussion that might happen at this point, I’d want to ask questions about how we make these choices to put up with (a) because we sometimes get (b). What wanting (b) very badly might do to our ability to judge the morality of (a). Good to think of some examples of this from our own real lives.
But then, press on with Godfrey.
Still there was just the chance, Godfrey thought, that his father’s pride might see this marriage in a light that would induce him to hush it up, rather than turn his son out and make the family the talk of the country for ten miles round.
Godfrey has to reckon up his father’s likely behaviour – will his anger come, or will he be more worried about family shame? So his thoughts go round;
This was the view of the case that Godfrey managed to keep before him pretty closely till midnight, and he went to sleep thinking that he had done with inward debating. But when he awoke in the still morning darkness he found it impossible to reawaken his evening thoughts; it was as if they had been tired out and were not to be roused to further work.
I laughed i recognition at this. You spend all evening going over it. you manage to get to sleep thinking it is settled, then you wake to a kind of deadness – that’s not it, you’re thinking and last night’s resolutions seem to have disappeared. I liked the sleeping metaphor – Godfrey can’t reawaken his thoughts – ‘as if they had been tired out’. I wonder if this edging towards the making of language about personal morality and choice. I ask myself -is that what it feels like when my will goes absent? not dead – just sleeping, but not to be roused? a kind of exhaustion, or a kind of laziness?
Instead of arguments for confession, he could now feel the presence of nothing but its evil consequences: the old dread of disgrace came back–the old shrinking from the thought of raising a hopeless barrier between himself and Nancy– the old disposition to rely on chances which might be favourable to him, and save him from betrayal. Why, after all, should he cut off the hope of them by his own act? He had seen the matter in a wrong light yesterday.
Resolution – thought, rationality, determination – choice – ? – is asleep , and what Godfrey is aware of is a kind of gut feeling: ‘he could now feel the presence of nothing but its evil consequences: the old dread of disgrace came back.’ This is a feeling of fear. The grown up child of the father with the implacable anger is afraid. The implacability seems written into the nature of the universe. Mostly, it comes between Godfrey and the possibility of love – Nancy. As the universe is implacable, you can only rely on luck, whim, chance: there’s no arguing your case, no sense that you could affect the course of things. thus ‘ the old disposition to rely on chances which might be favourable to him, and save him.’
He had been in a rage with Dunstan, and had thought of nothing but a thorough break-up of their mutual understanding; but what it would be really wisest for him to do, was to try and soften his father’s anger against Dunsey, and keep things as nearly as possible in their old condition. If Dunsey did not come back for a few days (and Godfrey did not know but that the rascal had enough money in his pocket to enable him to keep away still longer), everything might blow over.
Let’s work round the old man, the child thinks. Poor Godfrey. It doesn’t bode well.