Silas Marner Day 26: Dolly Winthrop and Shakespeare’s Paulina, my top women

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Mature Beauties in the Long Border at Calderstones 11 August

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 14, at the point where Dolly Winthrop is offering to  help Silas in looking after the child.

Long quotations this morning, but I want to emphasis how important it is to read slowly and to notice things. People may  initially struggle with the way in which George Eliot writes dialect. No need to over-worry about that. Just read slowly and stop whenever  anyone is troubled. I don’t think it matters what kind  of accent you land on for reading – mine veers around from county to county!

Here’s Silas and Dolly as Dolly brings him clothes for the child. Let’s read  this aloud before we go on:

“Yes,” said Silas, meditatively. “Yes–the door was open. The money’s gone I don’t know where, and this is come from I don’t know where.”

He had not mentioned to any one his unconsciousness of the child’s entrance, shrinking from questions which might lead to the fact he himself suspected–namely, that he had been in one of his trances.

“Ah,” said Dolly, with soothing gravity, “it’s like the night and the morning, and the sleeping and the waking, and the rain and the harvest–one goes and the other comes, and we know nothing how nor where. We may strive and scrat and fend, but it’s little we can do arter all–the big things come and go wi’ no striving o’ our’n– they do, that they do; and I think you’re in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it’s been sent to you, though there’s folks as thinks different. You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little; but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual. So, as I say, I’ll come and see to the child for you, and welcome.”

“Thank you… kindly,” said Silas, hesitating a little. “I’ll be glad if you’ll tell me things. But,” he added, uneasily, leaning forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance–“But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me. I’ve been used to fending for myself in the house–I can learn, I can learn.”

Dolly is one of my favourite women in literature. If she was to be in a Shakespeare play, she’d be Paulina, in The Winter’s Tale. I might want to stop here, after only a few lines and get my group thinking about her and her womanly wisdom. So I’d pick out this philosophical sentence which would give us all a chance to think about big things that had come, or gone, in our own lives:

We may strive and scrat and fend, but it’s little we can do arter all–the big things come and go wi’ no striving o’ our’n– they do, that they do;

A lot of the conversation which is typical of a Shared Re ading group would arise out of this – what can you control and what can’t you control – and we might be talking to each other for some time about our real experiences. But before we read on, I’d want to stop again to see some of the busy practicality of Dolly:

and I think you’re in the right on it to keep the little un, Master Marner, seeing as it’s been sent to you, though there’s folks as thinks different. You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little; but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual.

In the first sentence, she’s providing moral support in a world of village gossip where the possibility of a man taking care of a child is unlikely and odd –  as we saw from the Cass party, people would prefer if  the child went  to the workhouse, just as these days , the proper channels of Local Authority Care might be seen as the right  course of action. Dolly wants to make it clear she supports Silas, ‘seeing as its been sent to you.’ But after this she’s on to what the actual experience of taking in a toddler will be like – ‘You’ll happen be a bit moithered with it while it’s so little’. And from there to practical help: ‘but I’ll come, and welcome, and see to it for you: I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, ‘. And finally, we see something of her character.  she’s a busy intelligence, and not enough demands on made on her, ‘I’ve a bit o’ time to spare most days, for when one gets up betimes i’ the morning, the clock seems to stan’ still tow’rt ten, afore it’s time to go about the victual.’

Interesting that the power of Silas’ feeling for the child (or for his own needs) allows him the courage to argue with Dolly:

“Thank you… kindly,” said Silas, hesitating a little. “I’ll be glad if you’ll tell me things. But,” he added, uneasily, leaning forward to look at Baby with some jealousy, as she was resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance–“But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me. I’ve been used to fending for myself in the house–I can learn, I can learn.”

I love the observation here in the body language of the child – it’s like a lovely quick sketch by a very confident artist; the child is ‘resting her head backward against Dolly’s arm, and eyeing him contentedly from a distance’.

Silas understands his own motives very clearly – so powerful and straightforward are they, ‘But I want to do things for it myself, else it may get fond o’ somebody else, and not fond o’ me.’

This self-interest leads to a key change. Where  before Silas has been stuck in his long years of spider-like repetitive behaviour, he now has motivation to change. It’s a great moment when he tells Dolly, ‘I can learn, I can learn.’

The next section is astonishingly tender, and seems built from the feelings new parents might have as they struggle to dress a brand new baby – but time’s up. I’ll paste it here in case you want to read it now. More tomorrow – no, not tomorrow as busy  early London day and won’t have time to write. See you Wednesday.

“Eh, to be sure,” said Dolly, gently. “I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children. The men are awk’ard and contrairy mostly, God help ’em–but when the drink’s out of ’em, they aren’t unsensible, though they’re bad for leeching and bandaging–so fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,” proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.

“Yes,” said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with purring noises.

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

 

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