Picking up where I left off yesterday in Chapter XVI – and not got long today. We move from the conversation with Dolly – trusten, trusten – to fifteen years later, when Eppie, the child he found and learned to connect to human life through, is now nearly grown-up.
When we’re reading prose it’s so easy to rush on and get story… story… story…but there is more to life than narrative unfolding. There’s time travel in us.
Our older and younger selves and the experiences of those younger and older selves mash together, though we hardly know it, but great prose like this shows some of that complexity. It’s worth slowing down to the slowest possible pace to pick up whatever the complex text offers. Here, two periods of time sit side by side, as if related:
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.
‘This dialogue’ refers back to the piece we read yesterday, Silas’ conversation with Dolly, about what went wrong in his early life, how he was traumatised and how he has learned, through Eppie’s presence in his life, to trust. ‘This dialogue’ was more than a decide ago but it connects to the second sentence in this paragraph, which begins ‘now’. Now that she was grown up…the step-father has often reprised this dialogue, gone over his life-story, told Eppie of the change her presence has wrought in him.
Think of your life – think of a fifteen year period and how what happens at one stage sets up or changes what is going to happen in the future. The ‘then’ creating, allowing, bringing into being the ‘now’. Wonderful to see Silas wisely sharing this vital life-information with the child.
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.
Silas had a choice: to trust or not to trust that Eppie could live with the truth of her own story. He might have created a ‘complete shrouding of the past’ – though of course gossips would have whispered it – but he would not contemplate creating ‘a barrier between their minds’. Therefore Eppie knows her own story. I find it very moving that ‘Eppie had long known how her mother had died…’ it’s as if in this second go at having a life, Silas is choosing trust, and trust in love, even more strongly than the did the first time round in his previous life in Lantern Yard. The scar tissue isstrongerthan the unbroken bone. And the child has grown strong in that love and trust.
I’m thinking of the long piece of human learning that is the experience of adult life – fifteen years! Why don’t we think moreabout development in adult life? We’re not finished! But learning hurts as well as bringing joy.
Time to stop now, this morning. But I think I am feeling my way towards are-reading of The Winter’s Tale. The long gap of time.