Silas Marner Day 36: Trusten, or not trusting?

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Witchhazel in the Old English Garden at Calderstones

Last time I read and wrote about Silas Marner, January 18th, I ended by saying I’ll come back to this tomorrow. Then I wandered off into busy-ness and didn’t write for a couple of weeks. I’ve missed Silas! I was in chapter XVI.  You’ll find a text here. I’d got to about this point, Dolly Winthrop, in her nineteenth century country accent,  struggling to help Silas come to terms with his previous trauma:

And all as we’ve got to do is to trusten, Master Marner–to do the right thing as fur as we know, and to trusten. For if us as knows so little can see a bit o’ good and rights, we may be sure as there’s a good and a rights bigger nor what we can know–I feel it i’ my own inside as it must be so. And if you could but ha’ gone on trustening, Master Marner, you wouldn’t ha’ run away from your fellow-creaturs and been so lone.

Dolly is a believer, thinks she is not clever,  can’t read, and carries bits of bible text round in her head.   Yet her thinking her would do some good for most of us, whatever we believe, two hundred years later.  I’m thinking about positive psychology as a modern version of ‘trusten’. Can you keep ‘good’ foregrounded? Will it change your day if you do? I’m thinking about the many studies (see one reported here)  which show people with a religious faith are happier than those without.

Trust in  as yet unknown, or unimaginable good might not be a religious faith but does change how I respond to situations (when I can trust, which isn’t easy). I’m thinking of Tennyson:

From “In Memoriam,” LIII.

O YET we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivelled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

Tennyson ends where I often find myself, not trusting, but crying ‘I don’t believe that!’ I imagine Silas at the real bad moment, when his close friend betrayed him.  Do you trust that somehow good will come out of it? When  the trauma of betrayal is stinging? What could he, practically, have done? He’d still be cast out. He’s be part of no family, he’s have no community.

I’m thinking of people who commit crimes. is it possible to trust that somehow there is an invisible good and right behind  or alongside terrible human actions?

No, I don’t think so, and  not trusting overall makes me feel like ‘an infant crying in the night’.

But that’s where, for a religious person, habit and form kick in. When I was young I hated habit and form and thought they were old dead things that made people false. Now I think they are useful props which might hold you up and I would like to have some! And for me, reading is the habit and form, or offers the opportunity for such. It’s a good few years since I read Tennyson’s In Memoriam.  Not everyone will want to stand in the place occupied by ‘O yet we trust’, but it is a human place, and sometimes we must stand there. It’s the same place Dolly is occupying and it’s much easier to stand there with Dolly, her sleeves rolled up and some piece of washing or ironing or baking or preserving going on while she talks.

Silas puts the case for the difficulty of trust:

“Ah, but that ‘ud ha’ been hard,” said Silas, in an under-tone; “it ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then.”

“And so it would,” said Dolly, almost with compunction; “them things are easier said nor done; and I’m partly ashamed o’ talking.”

“Nay, nay,” said Silas, “you’re i’ the right, Mrs. Winthrop– you’re i’ the right. There’s good i’ this world–I’ve a feeling o’ that now; and it makes a man feel as there’s a good more nor he can see, i’ spite o’ the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing o’ the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there’s dealings with us–there’s dealings.”

The reality of the traumatic experience must not be denied: that episode did hurt and  when we look back, you can see the Silas we first knew (man with  the life of a spider, knowing no one, connecting to knowing, only spinning, spinning) as  seemingly irreparably damaged.

It is a lovely moment between the two when Silas considers what it might have been like to continue to trusten in the light of the attack on him by people he loved:

“Ah, but that ‘ud ha’ been hard,” said Silas, in an under-tone; “it ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then.”

“And so it would,” said Dolly, almost with compunction; “them things are easier said nor done; and I’m partly ashamed o’ talking.”

Perhaps it is simply not a possibility, as Dolly acknowledges. The damage is too great. Time must pass. Life must reassert itself. ‘It ‘ud ha’ been hard to trusten then” says Silas and I suddenly feel a huge stress on ‘then’.  At that point, you need the habit and form of an outer practice of trust to stand in for the now broken  inner reality.  That can come from other good people, but at that point in his life, Silas did not know any.  Or it might have come from religion, but it was his religious community that had turned on him. He had nothing  except his craft, the spinning, to use as habit and form. Lucky for him he had that. It got him through a long broken piece of time. (Thinking about The Winter’s Tale, where there is another wide gap of time – I’ve said that before, I know).

I’m thinking of  people leaving jail with terrible crimes behind them and no  craft, no habit, no outer form. What is left? To be your  broken, untrusting, bad self over and over?

As for Silas, his work gave him time and money, the cottage in Raveloe, the gold piled up on the hearth, the fire that attracted little Eppie into his home as he stood vacant, entranced. And all that led to some good:

“Nay, nay,” said Silas, “you’re i’ the right, Mrs. Winthrop– you’re i’ the right. There’s good i’ this world–I’ve a feeling o’ that now; and it makes a man feel as there’s a good more nor he can see, i’ spite o’ the trouble and the wickedness. That drawing o’ the lots is dark; but the child was sent to me: there’s dealings with us–there’s dealings.”

You’ve got to stay alive and have time, you’ve got to be safe and contained while you let life assert itself. How are we going to do that for our criminals leaving jail?

I’m thinking of Dickens, in the Autobiographical fragment, reflecting on the terrors of his childhood, writing,

I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am

‘These things’  – parental abandonment, child labour, abject loneliness – made Charles Dickens the writer he became. Much good came to him in later life. Did it change the horror of his childhood? Of course not.  As in yesterday’s Denise Riley poem, ‘there’s no beauty out of loss, can’t do it’.  Read that chapter of  John Forster’s ‘The Life of Charles Dickens.’

Yet it remains true that you see what you look for: so it is worth letting Dolly ask you, what are you looking for? Can you see any good?

Next time I’ll go further in Chapter XVI, and we’ll read this terrific paragraph:

This dialogue took place in Eppie’s earlier years, when Silas had to part with her for two hours every day, that she might learn to read at the dame school, after he had vainly tried himself to guide her in that first step to learning. Now that she was grown up, Silas had often been led, in those moments of quiet outpouring which come to people who live together in perfect love, to talk with _her_ too of the past, and how and why he had lived a lonely man until she had been sent to him. For it would have been impossible for him to hide from Eppie that she was not his own child: even if the most delicate reticence on the point could have been expected from Raveloe gossips in her presence, her own questions about her mother could not have been parried, as she grew up, without that complete shrouding of the past which would have made a painful barrier between their minds. So Eppie had long known how her mother had died on the snowy ground, and how she herself had been found on the hearth by father Silas, who had taken her golden curls for his lost guineas brought back to him. The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her in almost inseparable companionship with himself, aided by the seclusion of their dwelling, had preserved her from the lowering influences of the village talk and habits, and had kept her mind in that freshness which is sometimes falsely supposed to be an invariable attribute of rusticity. Perfect love has a breath of poetry which can exalt the relations of the least-instructed human beings; and this breath of poetry had surrounded Eppie from the time when she had followed the bright gleam that beckoned her to Silas’s hearth; so that it is not surprising if, in other things besides her delicate prettiness, she was not quite a common village maiden, but had a touch of refinement and fervour which came from no other teaching than that of tenderly-nurtured unvitiated feeling. She was too childish and simple for her imagination to rove into questions about her unknown father; for a long while it did not even occur to her that she must have had a father; and the first time that the idea of her mother having had a husband presented itself to her, was when Silas showed her the wedding-ring which had been taken from the wasted finger, and had been carefully preserved by him in a little lackered box shaped like a shoe. He delivered this box into Eppie’s charge when she had grown up, and she often opened it to look at the ring: but still she thought hardly at all about the father of whom it was the symbol. Had she not a father very close to her, who loved her better than any real fathers in the village seemed to love their daughters? On the contrary, who her mother was, and how she came to die in that forlornness, were questions that often pressed on Eppie’s mind. Her knowledge of Mrs. Winthrop, who was her nearest friend next to Silas, made her feel that a mother must be very precious; and she had again and again asked Silas to tell her how her mother looked, whom she was like, and how he had found her against the furze bush, led towards it by the little footsteps and the outstretched arms. The furze bush was there still; and this afternoon, when Eppie came out with Silas into the sunshine, it was the first object that arrested her eyes and thoughts.

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