George Eliot’s people in one of Bion’s groups: Silas Marner Day 23

 

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Pine at water’s edge, Kotor Bay, 22 July

I’ve been reading Silas Marner intermittently here for a couple of months – search ‘Silas Marner’ to get  the posts. Last time, I’d read, in chapter XII, the journey of Molly, the opium-addicted secret wife of Godfrey Cass, towards Raveloe; her collapse, the child’s wandering into Silas’s cottage, Silas’  fit and finding of the child, his feeding of her…

Chapter XIII  begins with Silas carrying the child to Squire Cass’s house. So, here’s Godfrey Cass, a man at a  high-spirited Christmas party:

But now all eyes at that end of the room were bent on Silas Marner; the Squire himself had risen, and asked angrily, “How’s this?– what’s this?–what do you do coming in here in this way?”

“I’m come for the doctor–I want the doctor,” Silas had said, in the first moment, to Mr. Crackenthorp.

“Why, what’s the matter, Marner?” said the rector. “The doctor’s here; but say quietly what you want him for.”

“It’s a woman,” said Silas, speaking low, and half-breathlessly, just as Godfrey came up. “She’s dead, I think–dead in the snow at the Stone-pits–not far from my door.”

Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that moment: it was, that the woman might not be dead. That was an evil terror–an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey’s kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.

Godfrey has recognised the baby as his own child, recognises the woman as his wife and  finds – here at a Christmas social, in his own house, himself  wishing she  is dead. That evil thought seems  out of place  – ‘an ugly inmate to have found a nesting-place in Godfrey’s kindly disposition’ – but is the natural result of his  duplicity: ‘no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity’. I look up ‘duplicity’, a word I suppose to be connected to two-facedness, to doubleness.  Having a ‘kindly’ disposition is no security against  being double, being split. And the secret split part of Godfrey is in terror lest it be exposed and outsiders should see he is  man living two lives.

As we are reading this in a Shared Reading group, I wonder what I would do  with this moment? I want to stay here a while because  there is something about Godfrey’s position that I want to make explicit. This is about not judging him as a  bad ‘un but recognising something of him in myself. It’s all very well having the kindly disposition. But what you going to do about the bits you don’t want anyone to see? The easiest thing to do here is judge him as if he had nothing to do with me. I’d want to open up that area of thinking, and might simply do it by going back over the passage – reading again. Perhaps the comparison between ‘kindly’ and  ‘evil terror’. Interesting that it is terror, presumably the fear of being exposed, that  makes him evil.  He’s not thinking rationally but rather acting naturally and instantly, saving himself, preserving his doubleness.

I try to think of very small faults that I don’t mind talking about, and that anyone will recognise – secretly eating biscuits when I’m supposed to be on a diet is a perennial good one – so that such thoughts  are admissible and do not seem to frightening,  or too exposing. We can then all make private connections that do not have to be spoken out loud.  Using myself as an illustration of the way in which literature serves to make me think, I hope, then serves as model to others. I don’t require anything. I just believe  that what works for me will work for others. Once the pattern  is possibility in your mind, you might  use it.

Then I return to the text: I’ll reread some.

Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that moment: it was, that the woman might not be dead. That was an evil terror–an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey’s kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.

The doubleness began somewhere, once, long ago,  as a piece of armour ( I’m thinking back to Bion – mental debris, stuff we create or bring along that makes the truth of our living difficult to see) perhaps when Godfrey first took up with Molly, perhaps before that. The doubleness isnt just about keeping his secret marriage a secret, but keeping some part of himself a secret…presumably the relationship with Molly came from that secret place.

I’m thinking too of ways in which Silas (or any of us) also has doubleness. Silas has had two or more lives and they have been sundered. He didn’t become two people after being cast out of his  church in Lantern Yard, he became a sort of half-person, or less. When the child wandered into his cottage his first thought was of his own childhood, his baby sister, whom he had carried around and cared  for…as Cass’s fight to preserve his doubleness pushes the two parts of his life further away, Silas is finding that two parts of his life are knitting up:

By this time, however, the ladies had pressed forward, curious to know what could have brought the solitary linen-weaver there under such strange circumstances, and interested in the pretty child, who, half alarmed and half attracted by the brightness and the numerous company, now frowned and hid her face, now lifted up her head again and looked round placably, until a touch or a coaxing word brought back the frown, and made her bury her face with new determination.

“What child is it?” said several ladies at once, and, among the rest, Nancy Lammeter, addressing Godfrey.

“I don’t know–some poor woman’s who has been found in the snow, I believe,” was the answer Godfrey wrung from himself with a terrible effort. (“After all, am I certain?” he hastened to add, silently, in anticipation of his own conscience.)

“Why, you’d better leave the child here, then, Master Marner,” said good-natured Mrs. Kimble, hesitating, however, to take those dingy clothes into contact with her own ornamented satin bodice. “I’ll tell one o’ the girls to fetch it.”

“No–no–I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas, abruptly. “It’s come to me–I’ve a right to keep it.”

The proposition to take the child from him had come to Silas quite unexpectedly, and his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse, was almost like a revelation to himself: a minute before, he had no distinct intention about the child.

In these few lines the men become what they are: Godfrey, denying his own child, against his own better instincts, his words of deceit ‘wrung from himself with a terrible effort’. The doubleness is deeply in him now. ‘After all, am I certain?” he hastened to add, silently, in anticipation of his own conscience.’ Of course he is, but the question let’s him let himself off the hook. Let’s him salve his conscience. He cannot be straight, true.  the doubleness is  overwhelmingly written into him. You wonder – well I do – what might help him change?  Here, now, nothing.

And in the same moment, Silas, changes. A man who had become  almost less than human, a spider weaving , weaving all day, for gold , gold , gold, to  enjoy the brightness of at night, suddenly finds this child which has come in place of the gold makes him claim her:

“No–no–I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas, abruptly. “It’s come to me–I’ve a right to keep it.”…

…his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse, was almost like a revelation to himself: a minute before, he had no distinct intention about the child.

I’m thinking of these characters in a novel as like people in one of Bion’s group – the a-z of human being laid out for us all to read.  Here’s one man, Godfrey Cass, bullied by his father, no love in his family life, finding love of some sort once with Molly,  and since abandoning her… abandoning his child and now denying her, even as the mother is dead or dying. The fibres of good life, of liveliness are wasting, drying up  in him. He’s becoming the insect like creature that we have seen Silas as… And at the same time , the  fibres of life are filling out again for Silas, who has been three times over broken – his mother and little sister dead, his life in Lantern Yard broken up by false accusation,  his gold stolen from  his  own home… and yet this impulse ‘almost like a revelation to him’ comes from his deepest self and is irrefutable, almost a revelation.

As Godfrey  lies even to himself in the deepest parts of his being, Silas’s nature and need is revealed to himself, the single truth emerges. He wants to love something:

“No–no–I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas, abruptly. “It’s come to me–I’ve a right to keep it.”…

I’d like to see someone try to take this child from him.

 

 

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