I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) and intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 15 today. Yesterday’s post was continuing that slow read – in chapter 14 – but today I’m speeding up a little. I’m thinking about how I time things when running a Shared Reading group. Not everything goes at the same speed. sometimes Shared Reading is a slow canal boat, sometimes a walk, but sometimes you get in the car and go fast.
People who have read with me a lot will say, ‘You don’t time things! You always go slowly!’ and I have to admit that’s true in the sense that I’d be happy to spend two hours going deeply into some lines… but then to make up time – and not get bored – I’m going to rush past lots of other stuff. Whole chapters sometimes. Whole books of Paradise Lost – the war in Heaven, pah! But these lines, from Book 4, seem worth staying in for an hour or two:
Satan, now first inflam’d with rage, came down,
The Tempter ere th’ Accuser of man-kind, [ 10 ]
To wreck on innocent frail man his loss
Of that first Battel, and his flight to Hell:
Yet not rejoycing in his speed, though bold,
Far off and fearless, nor with cause to boast,
Begins his dire attempt, which nigh the birth [ 15 ]
Now rowling, boiles in his tumultuous brest,
And like a devellish engine back recoiles
Upon himself; horror and doubt distract
His troubl’d thoughts, and from the bottom stirr
The Hell within him for within him Hell [ 20 ]
He brings, and round about him, nor from Hell
One step no more then from himself can fly
By change of place:
Paradise Lost is in my mind because Megg sent me a notice about @Milton’sCottage ( http://www.miltonscottage.org/) and I’m excited by the idea of their all-day reading aloud of Paradise Lost coming up on Sunday, the 350th anniversary of the poem’s publication. Hurray!
I’m going to read some lines from Paradise Lost here on this blog so I can join in, in spirit. But that’s Sunday! Jane – get back to today’s text.
So deep slow waters, getting to the bottom of things, then the passing over. We left Silas dressing the baby, and now I float through the rest of the chapter – where Silas gives the baby his mother and sister’s name, Eppie (Hepzibah) and we’re into chapter 14.
As Silas becomes Eppie’s parent, we turn back to Godfrey, still trammelled in his inability to be honest:
There was one person, as you will believe, who watched with keener though more hidden interest than any other, the prosperous growth of Eppie under the weaver’s care. He dared not do anything that would imply a stronger interest in a poor man’s adopted child than could be expected from the kindliness of the young Squire, when a chance meeting suggested a little present to a simple old fellow whom others noticed with goodwill; but he told himself that the time would come when he might do something towards furthering the welfare of his daughter without incurring suspicion.
Do you find yourself judging Godfrey? I do. I get angry with him and I dislike his hiddeness ,and yet I can’t help identifying with him, too. He’s here father but the exigency of class and Godfrey’s desire to married to Nancy Lammeter override that. He’s weak! ‘He dared not’… but he comforts himself with the thought that he might ‘do’ something later. And George Eliot pushes it a bit further, go on, ask yourself, those things you’ve left undone, do they bother you?
Was he very uneasy in the meantime at his inability to give his daughter her birthright? I cannot say that he was. The child was being taken care of, and would very likely be happy, as people in humble stations often were– happier, perhaps, than those brought up in luxury.
It is easier for Godfrey to assume all’s well ( and it is, luckily for Eppie). Do you sense an edge of self-pity in his thought that those in humble stations are often happier than those brought up in luxury, such as himself ?
That famous ring that pricked its owner when he forgot duty and followed desire–I wonder if it pricked very hard when he set out on the chase, or whether it pricked but lightly then, and only pierced to the quick when the chase had long been ended, and hope, folding her wings, looked backward and became regret?
I don’t remember the story of this ring – have to look it up in the notes. But I haven’t got any notes here this morning, so I’m guessing – as I would do in a group, if our books had no notes, this is a reference to some myth or fairytale but George Eliot is putting the metaphor of that ring into reality: when do you feel the pain of putting your own desire before a duty? Probably not at the moment of indulging the desire – which she calls here the chase, the hunt – but much, much later, when it is all over when ‘hope’ becomes ‘regret’. Ouch.
George Eliot is going to show us that change from ‘hope’ to ‘regret’ in Godfrey – and as her work as novelist unfolds, in many, many people – but it is going to take some unfolding. It’s going to take time. Meanwhile, with a lucky escape behind him (lucky for him that his wife, the drug-addict Molly, died before she could expose him) and the prospect of marrying Nancy before him, he is feeling pretty good;
He felt a reformed man, delivered from temptation; and the vision of his future life seemed to him as a promised land for which he had no cause to fight. He saw himself with all his happiness centred on his own hearth, while Nancy would smile on him as he played with the children.
And that other child–not on the hearth–he would not forget it; he would see that it was well provided for. That was a father’s duty.
The key word here is ‘felt’. He felt a reformed man but he was not a reformed man, nothing had changed. He is lying to himself, tricking himself, lettinghimself off. He is not ‘delivered from temptation’ – he’s had a narrow escape but he hasn’t resisted or fought temptation in any way. He just got lucky. Now the promised land of Nancy is going to slide towards him with ‘no cause to fight’. He’s not going to win a life, he’s going to get it, but with very little effort. Easy living. And as for Eppie – not recognised as one of his own children, not playing on his own hearth – he’ll salve his conscience. He won’t feel bad. He will let himself off the hook. He’ll be at ease.
Next chapter takes us forward 16 years, so we’ll stop here for now.
Phew, that Godfrey Cass has got me into a pretty bad temper. I need more Dolly Winthrop!