Silas Marner Day 29: What does it take to make me change? Some force is required…

roses on desk.JPG
Roses on Desk,  30 August

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly  (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently here for a few months. We’re just at the point where the story jumps 16 years. But are we?  What happened to the ‘tole hole’? have I missed some of it out? Need to check.

Yes, missed a chunk of chapter XIV, from here, so that’s what I’ll read today.  Silas takes Dolly’s advice and has the child (and himself) christened.  Now we come to some thoughts about how what we love shapes us. I’m slightly thinking of the line from yesterday’s poem.

                            ‘Are we
what we think we are or are we
what befalls us?’

Surely, Silas is what befalls him? What befell him in Lantern Yard was one part of what became his life, and now what has befallen him in the form of Eppie, is something else. He becomes himself  now in a way that he couldn’t when he only had his gold to love. Now the accident of the child in his life brings growth  where before, under the sway of the gold, he had only stagnation:

He had no distinct idea about the baptism and the church-going, except that Dolly had said it was for the good of the child; and in this way, as the weeks grew to months, the child created fresh and fresh links between his life and the lives from which he had hitherto shrunk continually into narrower isolation. Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude–which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones–Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her. The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit–carried them away to the new things that would come with the coming years, when Eppie would have learned to understand how her father Silas cared for her; and made him look for images of that time in the ties and charities that bound together the families of his neighbours.

Often in the practice of  a Shared Reading group we need to go deeper into the text. If I was seeking to do that now, I’d be looking in this telling paragraph for a telling sentence. Here it is:

Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude–which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones–Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.

Why stay here for a while?

Because it is easy to pass over, and there’s a lot here and if we slow down we will see more of it.  I look at the language – the gold ‘needed nothing’ but Eppie was ‘a creature of endless claims’. I’d want to  ask my group to think about what claims on our attention do for us, why they might not be simply an exhausting nuisance (though they can be that!). And how the presence of a small child might indirectly teach an adult something about life.

‘Making a trial of everything’ means testing things, doesn’t it? If everything is to be tested, the child as a scientist of life, then the watcher, carer, adult must also become a scientist, a predictor, a noticer of life.  You’ve got to be one step ahead, thinking. And if the child constantly displays trust? You’d see trust was sometimes, perhaps often for a child, rewarded.

I would want to get my group talking about trust – after all that was what Silas lost in Lantern Yard, and what turned him into a mechanical insect-like being – whereas with Eppie it is all ‘fresh and fresh’ all living, living.  Why, I@d want to ask, is George Eliot giving us those repetitions?

The next sentence continues the change thought:

The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit–carried them away to the new things that would come with the coming years, when Eppie would have learned to understand how her father Silas cared for her; and made him look for images of that time in the ties and charities that bound together the families of his neighbours.

Adults often get trapped in ever-repeated circles.  To escape them we need things to break the circle, but those new experiences are hard to generate from within ourselves. I imagine that is some of the thinking behind the Recovery College movement in Mental Health. We all need  new stimulus to start processes of change or learning.  For Silas,  the child is the means  by which his thoughts are ‘forced forward’. I notice that word ‘forced’. It signifies the difficulty of changing established adult thought patterns and behaviour.  Silas is forced into change by a possible future: Silas is carried  in thought to  ‘the new things that would come with the coming years, when Eppie would have learned to understand how her father Silas cared for her’.  But would he have moved in that direction without beoing forced?

If I’m learning from this – and I want to – I’ll have to translate Silas’ experience into my own.  I would often do this in my Shared Reading group – I want to model  using the text to learn things about myself.  So I’d want to think about work, or my reading group, as an example of being pushed beyond my  easy norm. I’d beasking people to think about things that had foreced them beyond themselves.  I might go back again to the question in the Levertov poem;

                            ‘Are we
what we think we are or are we
what befalls us?’

 

And now, pressing on,  I’m really interested in the fact that this  force of Eppie makes Silas look outwards, to his neighbours, seeking models. His sense of a future with her,

‘made him look for images of that time in the ties and charities that bound together the families of his neighbours.’

This is  like a virtuous circle of change, isn’t it?  The child  quickens him to the present and to love, the present and the love create a future, the future makes him look for role models and thus he  begins to make social connections with his neighbours.  The child has connected him to others.  A modern day equivalent is the experience of a child starting primary school and the gradual making of friendship  and a new peer group among parents, who as working childless people might not have known anyone nearby.

But I’m also thinking of someone leaving prison, for Silas, though he has done nothing wrong, has been a kind of prisoner. Or like a person leaving  a world of addiction or homelessness. How do you make human connections with your own future, with a possibly different world, with others? What could a Silas with no Eppie do for that forcedness?

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory: as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.

Claims on us, George Eliot will go onto write over and over again in the novels that lie ahead in her writing career, are what  bring us to the fullest life.  Eppie is a claim on him  (yet he claimed her, didn’t her when he cried out that the child ‘came to me’ ?) a claim, which starts him into growth, bringing him, as it were, back to life.  The language here sounds as if it is referring to a man in a grave, ‘his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison’.

I’m thinking of Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale, which like this novel, contains a sixteen year time gap where the lost child grows up, and ruined adults are brought back to life. Perhaps read a bit of that alongside Silas, another time?

 

 

One thought on “Silas Marner Day 29: What does it take to make me change? Some force is required…

  1. Heather August 30, 2017 / 8:52 am

    Still thinking about yesterday’s Levertov poem…..we may think we know what we are but we are changed by what befalls us. Does knowing this help us? Possibly.
    The lonesome man who invented the train whistle…..yes, it is a lonely sounding noise. This idea makes me feel sad…..and yet he reached out from his loneliness.

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