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 X, where Dolly Winthrop has just been to visit Silas, urging him to attend church, and offering to look after him if he gets sick.
Silas said “Good-bye, and thank you kindly,” as he opened the door for Dolly, but he couldn’t help feeling relieved when she was gone– relieved that he might weave again and moan at his ease. Her simple view of life and its comforts, by which she had tried to cheer him, was only like a report of unknown objects, which his imagination could not fashion. The fountains of human love and of faith in a divine love had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little groove of sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly against dark obstruction.
Yesterday I met a man who told me he loved reading but only read business or psychology books – like lots of people, I imagine, he might believe that you get reality or truth in non-fiction, and that fiction doesn’t contain the kind of human info you get in a psychology book. You need to read Dombey and Son, I told him. That’s business and psychology in one! I was struck by that thought when reading this little paragraph. The idea that we can only understand things we already in some sense know is an important one for anyone trying to chance behaviour in a business – or any other – setting.
Dolly’s well-meant suggestions, indeed her whole way of approaching Silas, ‘was only like a report of unknown objects, which his imagination could not fashion’. He is not ready or able to hear the message. What would need to be in place for the message to get through?
The fountains of human love and of faith in a divine love had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little groove of sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly against dark obstruction.
Silas needs to feel something – love and faith – he is blocked up. He can’t grow or learn.
Is there a piece of psychology here, could you use this information in a business context? I think so, though it is expensive advice. It means you have to treat people as people not as ‘resources’. it means you have to find ways to unlock trust and to assist the conditions for growth. If Dolly was Silas’ manager…
But for the time being, she is not… and Silas keeps Christmas alone and does not join the village at church. He remains alone, shrunken, frozen.
Nobody in this world but himself knew that he was the same Silas Marner who had once loved his fellow with tender love, and trusted in an unseen goodness. Even to himself that past experience had become dim.
Sad and interesting how different bits of yourself might come and go over the course of a life. Silas ‘s loving, connected human self is now forgotten ‘even to himself.’
Chapter 11 picks up with Nancy Lammeter at the Cass New Year Christmas party. I’m going to rush through some of these pages where the Miss Lammeters arrive, and get their party dresses on and do their hair…and Godfrey Cass dances with Nancy and tries to forget his worries… I’m just rushing through this chapter – though I am sure if I was reading it in a group we’d stop and talk about parties and dancing and getting ready and being Godfrey and trying to forget what you are worried about… but even so, this needs to be a fast chapter, and I’d have a good strong poem with me this week to give us some meat in case not much of interest came up in the story… and where I am heading is the next chapter, chapter 12. Suddenly the story turns a terrifying corner:
While Godfrey Cass was taking draughts of forgetfulness from the sweet presence of Nancy, willingly losing all sense of that hidden bond which at other moments galled and fretted him so as to mingle irritation with the very sunshine, Godfrey’s wife was walking with slow uncertain steps through the snow-covered Raveloe lanes, carrying her child in her arms…
… she would mar his pleasure: she would go in her dingy rags, with her faded face, once as handsome as the best, with her little child that had its father’s hair and eyes, and disclose herself to the Squire as his eldest son’s wife. It is seldom that the miserable can help regarding their misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are less miserable. Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her husband’s neglect, but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved, body and soul, except in the lingering mother’s tenderness that refused to give him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yet, in the moments of wretched unbenumbed consciousness, the sense of her want and degradation transformed itself continually into bitterness towards Godfrey. He was well off; and if she had her rights she would be well off too. Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her husband’s neglect, but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved, body and soul, except in the lingering mother’s tenderness that refused to give him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yet, in the moments of wretched unbenumbed consciousness, the sense of her want and degradation transformed itself continually into bitterness towards Godfrey.
‘It is seldom that the miserable can help regarding their misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are less miserable.’ Here’s an interesting thought, and the place I would want to stop to initiate a conversation with my group. Why do humans tend to do this – can we imagine modern-day examples ,can we translate into things we have seen or experienced ourselves? Reading this novel in a woman’s prison you couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that women will be thinking about their own children, or the children of women they know. Do you keep your child free of the fallout of your addiction? How does a mother’s ‘tenderness’ manifest itself in a life where money must be spent on drugs and the child is hungry?
I notice here that Molly’s bitter hatred of Godfrey is most profound when she is ‘unbenumbed’, this is the point at which she most feels her ‘sense of her want and degradation’ but when she most feels those terrible feelings, she turns her current of feeling into anger towards Cass. It’s quite understandable – you can imagine doing it. Yet in terms of taking responsibility(George Eliot is going to be remorseless with everybody about taking responsibility)…Molly’s only chance is that she stops directing that anger at Godfrey and turns it towards her relation to opium. The twelve step programme requires the taking of responsibility.
I’d want to talk about ways in which many of us have addictive behaviours, and the shifty moral ground that goes with the inability to be straightforward because of the those behaviours. I’d talk about my own love of cake as a way of opening the area without making it too seriously frightening, but knowing too, that anyone in the group who is living with an addiction would recognise the possibility of freely speaking about it. It’s important that we don’t judge Molly anymore than the text does. So go back to the text. We have to stand alongside her sense of ‘want and degradation’ and remember too how degraded it is to be Godfrey Cass. I suddenly think – Molly exists in the same universe as Dolly Winthrop! Could Doly help Molly? If only she was acounsellor in a drug rehab…And I am wondering if molly is not simply a more extreme form of Silas, blocked up, trapped, insectt-like, unable to be or become…
But time is up. More tomorrow.