Silas Marner Day 33: Psychotherapy before Freud

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A modern library that still believes in huge columns  – this only the top half 

 

This post didn’t make it to publication on Friday for some uploading reason.

 

Turning back to reading Silas Marner this morning.

Search Silas Marner for previous posts. And look here for the whole text.

Story so far: Silas had one life in the town, where as a member of  a little sect up Lantern Yard he had a place in  the human world. Then he was betrayed and cast out, and  became a solitary,  ending in the village of Raveloe as an odd-bod kids made fun of and everyone slightly feared, partly because he suffers cataleptic fits. He had no human relationships, and only loved his gold coins, which seemed to him to have loving faces.  One night these were stolen, and the toddler child of a drug user  came into his cottage and Silas thought the  child had someone  come to replace the gold. He loves her and is allowed by the village authorities to keep her. He brings her up and makes friends with Dolly Winthrop, a village matron who takes him under her wing.  Sixteen years go happily by. That’s where we are when I pick here in chapter 16.  This is a good chance to practise our deep slow reading in prose, which can sometimes be harder than poetry -why?

When reading poetry we all know we are doing something strange and often times difficult. Prose is more normal, so it is easy to simply read fast, as if all that mattered is ‘what happens next’.  That  desire to know what happens next is  quite understandable, but I don’t think we should let it dominate our reading. As the tempo and insistence of  real life,  prose has rhythms and within those rhythms, stopping places, resting and watch places, places for thought or abstraction. It seems important to find those places and give them time.  That’s why it’s not a good idea to have in mind a certain number of pages, or chapters, to get through in a Shared Reading prose  session.  It’s important to follow the  rhythms of the text and to slow down or stop when the text asks you – places where it is not narrative pull that grips us, but reflective absorption.

I think the  paragraph that follows is one such place.

Silas has developed, we learn,

a humble sort of acquiescence in what was held to be good, had become a strong habit of that new self which had been developed in him since he had found Eppie on his hearth: it had been the only clew his bewildered mind could hold by in cherishing this young life that had been sent to him out of the darkness into which his gold had departed. By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present. The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust which come with all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression that there had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that dark shadow over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and more easy to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually communicated to her all he could describe of his early life. The communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas’s meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative. It was only by fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what she had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas at last arrived at the climax of the sad story–the drawing of lots, and its false testimony concerning him; and this had to be repeated in several interviews, under new questions on her part as to the nature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the innocent.

Important in the reading aloud to go slowly, perhaps even to take it something like a sentence at a time, otherwise – like reading the Denise Levertov poem I’ve been reading here for four or five days, you’re going to miss most of it. Actually- there seems to be a real connection here now between Silas and the Levertov Map, which is to do with knitting  together splits in a life.

I’m going to pick up one specific sentence here:

By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present.

This ‘consciousness of unity between his past and his present’ seems to me a sign of true healing. During Silas’ time of what I’m going to call self-absence – that time between arriving in Raveloe and the coming of Eppie  – and how long was that? I need to look back to remember, but it seems years and years.  (It tells us  in chapter one that the story begins fifteen years after Silas has come to Raveloe. That is a goodly portion of any adult’s life.) During that long period of hardly being alive but  for the joy in the gold, Silas didnt seem connected to either present, future or past, he was in state of something like living suspended animation. Now, joy in, and the demands of, the child have pulled him back to life and to future and past.  This joining up, this knitting together of the scar of his life indicates his growing ability to contemplate  what has happened to him. He no longer needs to live in not-life, the trauma recedes and the human stands back and looks at the pieces. (I’m thinking of the end of the Levertov poem, all the Ivans and Marias trying to make sense of their fragments and their new lives in New York.)

The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust which come with all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression that there had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that dark shadow over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and more easy to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually communicated to her all he could describe of his early life. The communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas’s meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative.

This is like a comic Shakespearian form of psychotherapy,  where both parties lack the complex language needed to describe and understand complex human  being. Silas struggling to put anything into words and when he does Dolly overcome by wonder at the smallest details of  life in another country. I can smile at this picture  of the two of them, but I also need to  notice what is probably the most important word in the paragraph. Dolly’s

narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative

It is the word ‘outward’ that matters here. Dolly is not experienced in the  world, she’s never been anywhere and she is not educated. But the inference the text asks us to make is that she has something else, something  the opposite of outward. For Dolly, though we can find her funny, is wise. She has inward experience. That’s going to be helpful, because that’s what anyone needs from their counsellor.

Let’s read another chunk:

 It was only by fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what she had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas at last arrived at the climax of the sad story–the drawing of lots, and its false testimony concerning him; and this had to be repeated in several interviews, under new questions on her part as to the nature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the innocent.

“And yourn’s the same Bible, you’re sure o’ that, Master Marner– the Bible as you brought wi’ you from that country–it’s the same as what they’ve got at church, and what Eppie’s a-learning to read in?”

“Yes,” said Silas, “every bit the same; and there’s drawing o’ lots in the Bible, mind you,” he added in a lower tone.

“Oh, dear, dear,” said Dolly in a grieved voice, as if she were hearing an unfavourable report of a sick man’s case. She was silent for some minutes; at last she said–

“There’s wise folks, happen, as know how it all is; the parson knows, I’ll be bound; but it takes big words to tell them things, and such as poor folks can’t make much out on. I can never rightly know the meaning o’ what I hear at church, only a bit here and there, but I know it’s good words–I do. But what lies upo’ your mind–it’s this, Master Marner: as, if Them above had done the right thing by you, They’d never ha’ let you be turned out for a wicked thief when you was innicent.”

“Ah!” said Silas, who had now come to understand Dolly’s phraseology, “that was what fell on me like as if it had been red-hot iron; because, you see, there was nobody as cared for me or clave to me above nor below. And him as I’d gone out and in wi’ for ten year and more, since when we was lads and went halves–mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted, had lifted up his heel again’ me, and worked to ruin me.”

“Eh, but he was a bad un–I can’t think as there’s another such,” said Dolly. “But I’m o’ercome, Master Marner; I’m like as if I’d waked and didn’t know whether it was night or morning. I feel somehow as sure as I do when I’ve laid something up though I can’t justly put my hand on it, as there was a rights in what happened to you, if one could but make it out; and you’d no call to lose heart as you did. But we’ll talk on it again; for sometimes things come into my head when I’m leeching or poulticing, or such, as I could never think on when I was sitting still.”

Dolly was too useful a woman not to have many opportunities of illumination of the kind she alluded to, and she was not long before she recurred to the subject.

“Master Marner,” she said, one day that she came to bring home Eppie’s washing, “I’ve been sore puzzled for a good bit wi’ that trouble o’ yourn and the drawing o’ lots; and it got twisted back’ards and for’ards, as I didn’t know which end to lay hold on. But it come to me all clear like, that night when I was sitting up wi’ poor Bessy Fawkes, as is dead and left her children behind, God help ’em–it come to me as clear as daylight; but whether I’ve got hold on it now, or can anyways bring it to my tongue’s end, that I don’t know. For I’ve often a deal inside me as’ll never come out; and for what you talk o’ your folks in your old country niver saying prayers by heart nor saying ’em out of a book, they must be wonderful cliver; for if I didn’t know “Our Father”, and little bits o’ good words as I can carry out o’ church wi’ me, I might down o’ my knees every night, but nothing could I say.”

The bit in the centre of this that I’d want to concentrate on picks the idea of Dolly as a counsellor or psychotherapist. She says,

But what lies upo’ your mind–it’s this, Master Marner: as, if Them above had done the right thing by you, They’d never ha’ let you be turned out for a wicked thief when you was innicent.”

It’s the phrase ‘what lies upon your mind’ that I find moving here. Dolly, this practical, wise woman is trying to get at the root of the problem, despite all the superficial complications of it having taken place in what seems to her foreign country, among people whose habits she can barely imagine. She rightly diagnoses that Silas human experience had made him lose his faith in God,  in ‘them above’.

But that’s all I have time for today. I’ve a meeting  in Vilnus and it’s getting late.

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