Silas Marner Day 32

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Begonia in the rain

Silas Marner today because don’t have time to choose a poem.

I’m struggling to change my morning routine, wanting to get exercise in before I read and write. Why? Because my resistance is lower earlier. Routines, habits, are things I have scorned for most of my life but now I increasingly wish I could have them. I’ve got (most days) the reading and writing daily practice going, and now I want to add in exercise. It has to come first and it is a palaver, what with getting dressed to do it and then taking a shower…so, dear regular readers, bear with me while I try to establish this new routine, and if there is a knock-on effect here of not having quite enough time.

But to Silas.

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly  (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently here for a few months. We’v just finished Chapter 14. you can find the whole text  here. For previous posts, search ‘Silas Marner’. There was a bit of a ix up in that I  missed out half  of chapter 14 the first time round,  so you’ll find my reading of  the incredibly short chapter 15 back a ways – under the title  ‘I Want More Dolly!’ But now I really have finished chapter 14 and 15 and now we are in chapter 16,  and the story skips 16 years and Eppie is grown.

Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale,  tells the story of a King, Leontes, who wrecks his own life and  who rejects and banishes his baby daughter, Perdita. Perdita spends sixteen years being brought up by the shepherd who finds her.  It is a story that is broken in half by what Shakespeare calls ‘this wide gap of time’, the sixteen year period in which time passes, a child may grow up, and an adult may learn a long hard slow lesson.

I’m sure George Eliot is thinking of The Winter’s Tale as she writes. ‘Time’ she tells us, ‘ has laid his hand on them all.’ Perdita, I have to tell you, discovers  her real father and  becomes a princess again…

It was a bright autumn Sunday, sixteen years after Silas Marner had found his new treasure on the hearth. The bells of the old Raveloe church were ringing the cheerful peal which told that the morning service was ended; and out of the arched doorway in the tower came slowly, retarded by friendly greetings and questions, the richer parishioners who had chosen this bright Sunday morning as eligible for church-going. It was the rural fashion of that time for the more important members of the congregation to depart first, while their humbler neighbours waited and looked on, stroking their bent heads or dropping their curtsies to any large ratepayer who turned to notice them.

Foremost among these advancing groups of well-clad people, there are some whom we shall recognize, in spite of Time, who has laid his hand on them all.

George Eliot looks at  Godfrey and sees little change. But  Nancy, now his wife, does look different:

But the years have not been so cruel to Nancy. The firm yet placid mouth, the clear veracious glance of the brown eyes, speak now of a nature that has been tested and has kept its highest qualities;

We don’t yet know what the testing of her nature  has been, only that  she has been tested and has survived – more than survived, she has retained her ‘highest qualities’.

I’m reading on fast now, reading about Eppie’s garden and Aaron’s willingness to dig it, and  not wanting to stop and think too much, it’s story, I’m pressing on ,enjoying it but not  needing to think it out until I come to this part: 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.

run out of time now,  oh dear, will try harder to get my timings right tomorrow

Silas Marner Day 31: Everyday Miracles

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Crab Apples, back garden, 12 September

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly  (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently here for a few months. We’re at the end of chapter 14. you can find the whole text  here. For previous posts, search ‘Silas Marner’.

Silas has  been brought back into the life of the Raveloe village community by the presence of Eppie:

Silas began now to think of Raveloe life entirely in relation to Eppie: she must have everything that was a good in Raveloe; and he listened docilely, that he might come to understand better what this life was, from which, for fifteen years, he had stood aloof as from a strange thing, with which he could have no communion: as some man who has a precious plant to which he would give a nurturing home in a new soil, thinks of the rain, and the sunshine, and all influences, in relation to his nursling, and asks industriously for all knowledge that will help him to satisfy the wants of the searching roots, or to guard leaf and bud from invading harm. The disposition to hoard had been utterly crushed at the very first by the loss of his long-stored gold: the coins he earned afterwards seemed as irrelevant as stones brought to complete a house suddenly buried by an earthquake; the sense of bereavement was too heavy upon him for the old thrill of satisfaction to arise again at the touch of the newly-earned coin. And now something had come to replace his hoard which gave a growing purpose to the earnings, drawing his hope and joy continually onward beyond the money. In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.

I’m most interested in the angels here at the end of the chapter, angels which  are no longer seen but which are to be found ‘in old days.’

George Eliot is remembering a specific story from the Bible (the rescue of Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah:  Genesis 15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, “Arise, take thy wife and thy two daughters who are here, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.)

Literature performs the act of translation – from one person to another, from one time and place to another, from one way of thinking to another. I look up translation in the Etymological dictionary:

translate (v.) early 14c., “to remove from one place to another,” also “to turn from one language to another,” from Old French translater and directly from Latin translatus “carried over,” serving as past participle of transferre “to bring over, carry over” (see transfer), from trans “across, beyond” (see trans-) + latus “borne, carried”)

Translation carries meaning from one language to another, and language can mean ‘way of understanding’ as much as  vocabulary, syntax and grammar. This is George Eliot translating from the Christian to the human, with no loss  of power.

She writes:

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now.

In 1861, when the novel was published, the idea of angels was a strong one – it was a strong one in my childhood in the 1960s! Go to any Victorian cemetery and you will see plenty of  statues of angels, white-winged,   – they were a live idea, which had  come – I imagine –  from widespread reading of the Bible.  When George Eliot writes that sentence is there a sort of sorrow in it? A sense of loss? We are living, she seems to intimate, in a world which has lost something powerful and saving. There is no  manifestation, now, of those great powers which shaped the Bible stories. that diminishes us, and leaves us  alone and vulnerable.

Does anything carry over, is there any translation of human experience from ‘old days’ when there  were angels, and God,  to ‘now’ , when we don’t see such things?

But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.

George Eliot was writing from real  life. In her private life, under her real name, Marian Evans had no children. But she had become the stepmother of George Henry Lewes’ boys in 1855 and so had five years of  unexpected and close relationship with those children by the time she wrote that sentence. She knew from inside her own experience that children, a child, might make a future or heal a traumatic past for an adult.

Isn’t that the work of an angel?  The action – the function – is angelic: leading forth to a future. It wasn’t just  those stepchildren for George Eliot, though she id love them. It was the writing. It was the books that also gave her a loving, purposive life. that too is mirrored in what she has written here.

Silas doesn’t just receive this  angelic function – he partly creates it by his love for Eppie. I look back at the rest of the paragraph and see him  becoming something very like a mother, a gardener, a writer. Motherhood too is a function – not tied here to gender – but to action. He is now living with a purpose and that purpose is about creative growth:

as some man who has a precious plant to which he would give a nurturing home in a new soil, thinks of the rain, and the sunshine, and all influences, in relation to his nursling, and asks industriously for all knowledge that will help him to satisfy the wants of the searching roots, or to guard leaf and bud from invading harm.

I compare the smallness of the ‘little hand’ against the hugeness of a life saved from destruction. George Eliot, knowing the language of Christianity, having been a devout Christian as a young woman, but having now rejected the  basic premise of religion, yet carries something with her of that  way of thinking. At the ege of thirty-nine,  before she began to write fiction, with a damaged and scarred emotional life behind her and in love now with the man she would call husband for the rest of her life, she wrote in a letter to an old friend;

I feel, too, that all the terrible pain I have gone through in past years, partly from the defects of my own nature, partly from outward things, has probably been a preparation for some special work that I may do before I die.

Who could have said what that ‘special work’ was?

Are there miracles ‘now’ ? Yes, every day.

Silas Marner Day 30: Taming Your Toddler: Take Off Your Mob-Cap and Let Her Be !

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Dahlia still glowing on the back step despite the cold and  rain, 6 September

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly  (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently here for a few months. We’re in chapter 14, which you can find here. For previous posts, search ‘Silas Marner’.

Here is Silas unable to accept that he has to learn to discipline the toddler Eppie. Dolly Winthrop has suggested, if he can’t bear to smack her, he might think, more mildly,  of locking her in the coal hole as a punishment – perhaps our equivalent would be the naughty step, or ‘stay in your room’. Today, Eppie, aged about three, has been tied to his loom with a length of cloth, found the scissors, cut herself free and escaped  the cottage while he was concentrating on his work. Poor Silas has been frantic with worry and  has  now found her:

Silas, overcome with convulsive joy at finding his treasure again, could do nothing but snatch her up, and cover her with half-sobbing kisses. It was not until he had carried her home, and had begun to think of the necessary washing, that he recollected the need that he should punish Eppie, and “make her remember”. The idea that she might run away again and come to harm, gave him unusual resolution, and for the first time he determined to try the coal-hole–a small closet near the hearth.

“Naughty, naughty Eppie,” he suddenly began, holding her on his knee, and pointing to her muddy feet and clothes–“naughty to cut with the scissors and run away. Eppie must go into the coal-hole for being naughty. Daddy must put her in the coal-hole.”

He half-expected that this would be shock enough, and that Eppie would begin to cry. But instead of that, she began to shake herself on his knee, as if the proposition opened a pleasing novelty. Seeing that he must proceed to extremities, he put her into the coal-hole, and held the door closed, with a trembling sense that he was using a strong measure. For a moment there was silence, but then came a little cry, “Opy, opy!” and Silas let her out again, saying, “Now Eppie ‘ull never be naughty again, else she must go in the coal-hole–a black naughty place.”

The weaving must stand still a long while this morning, for now Eppie must be washed, and have clean clothes on; but it was to be hoped that this punishment would have a lasting effect, and save time in future–though, perhaps, it would have been better if Eppie had cried more.

I’d want to think first about how  we react when someone, especially a child, has done something dangerous.  A child runs into the road after a ball, narrowly avoiding being run over by a car. Your first instinct is gratefulness that they are not dead. For me, as I imagine that, gratefulness is immediately followed by a frightened anger that they nearly got themselves killed.  I can imagine shouting  screaming or slapping at that point (sorry, my children). But Silas is more gentle, more careful perhaps. It’s more than that, though – it is the amount of joy he feels on finding her. ‘Convulsive’ suggests deeply out of his control. And he has carried her home before ‘punishment’, ‘a lesson’ comes into his mind, miles and miles behind his  natural response.

I notice how  George Eliot calls Eppie ‘his treasure’ – we know from our previous readings how deep this sense of her as a golden boon, a lifesaver, a bringer-back-to-life runs for Silas. The entire weight of his life’s meaning and purpose now rests on the child.  He has lost his treasure once (Lantern Yard); he has lost his treasure twice (the stolen gold) and now he has nearly lost his treasure (Eppie) a third time. It’s not surprising that the thought of punishment lags long behind his love. He needs  ‘unusual resolution’ to even contemplate  bringing a punishment about.  And then, his  imagined fear of the pain of the punishment (and he has suffered terrible punishments himself, which must  be partly why?)  means he cannot bring it about.

He’s scared of frightening her, and yet he has thought (Dolly has told him) that sometimes he must frighten the child to make her remember. Why is it possibly for Dolly Winthrop, decent woman, loves her children, to discipline a child, but not Silas? This is something to do with Silas’ own fears, the power of his imagination. Eppie isn’t afraid as Silas is:

“Naughty, naughty Eppie,” he suddenly began, holding her on his knee, and pointing to her muddy feet and clothes–“naughty to cut with the scissors and run away. Eppie must go into the coal-hole for being naughty. Daddy must put her in the coal-hole.”

He half-expected that this would be shock enough, and that Eppie would begin to cry. But instead of that, she began to shake herself on his knee, as if the proposition opened a pleasing novelty.

Silas is afraid of the act of disciplining Eppie, but  what is it  he fears?

Seeing that he must proceed to extremities, he put her into the coal-hole, and held the door closed, with a trembling sense that he was using a strong measure.

Fears using a ‘strong measure’? Strong measures were certainly once used, to life-devastating effect, on him, in Lantern Yard.

It’s an interesting and ongoing problem for anyone  looking after  a child. We learn by experience and sometimes experience must hurt. But can you as a caring adult deliberately hurt the child – hurt even by  shouting, or by the modern-day equivalent of the  coal hole?  By disapproval?  By threatening isolation? Silas thinks the threat itself is bad enough to have effect (it’s not).

Thinking of Freud (poor out-moded fellow, nobody seems interested in his thoughts any more)  and the Reality Principle. What helps a toddler understand the reality of possible danger in the external world? We can’t leave them to find out by falling into the Stone Pits, we cannot  always let them learn by actual experience.  Eppie is moved by the pleasure principle – she wanted to wander in the meadow and play in the mud and luckily for her and for Silas, she didn’t hurt herself. How is he to teach her if not by bringing to some  approximation of the reality principle – don’t do that! it hurts! – into her mind?

He tried the punishment, very slowly after the event,  without wanting it to hurt her: it doesn’t hurt her. Next minute she’s putting herself back in the  coal hole for fun.

In half an hour she was clean again, and Silas having turned his back to see what he could do with the linen band, threw it down again, with the reflection that Eppie would be good without fastening for the rest of the morning. He turned round again, and was going to place her in her little chair near the loom, when she peeped out at him with black face and hands again, and said, “Eppie in de toal-hole!”

This total failure of the coal-hole discipline shook Silas’s belief in the efficacy of punishment. “She’d take it all for fun,” he observed to Dolly, “if I didn’t hurt her, and that I can’t do, Mrs. Winthrop. If she makes me a bit o’ trouble, I can bear it. And she’s got no tricks but what she’ll grow out of.”

“Well, that’s partly true, Master Marner,” said Dolly, sympathetically; “and if you can’t bring your mind to frighten her off touching things, you must do what you can to keep ’em out of her way. That’s what I do wi’ the pups as the lads are allays a-rearing. They _will_ worry and gnaw–worry and gnaw they will, if it was one’s Sunday cap as hung anywhere so as they could drag it. They know no difference, God help ’em: it’s the pushing o’ the teeth as sets ’em on, that’s what it is.”

Silas must find his own way as a loving parent, and  his way is the way of love; ‘this total failure of the coal-hole discipline shook Silas’s belief in the efficacy of punishment’. It might work for Dolly, who could probably carry it off  with straightforward and still loving confidence, but for Silas? No.  Instead, as Dolly instructs, he must now take the responsibility of thinking ahead of the child, ‘if you can’t bring your mind to frighten her off touching things, you must do what you can to keep ’em out of her way.’ That’s a lot more work, but Silas prefers to stick to the natural shape of his own ‘mind’  that to the alternative of causing pain:

“She’d take it all for fun,” he observed to Dolly, “if I didn’t hurt her, and that I can’t do, Mrs. Winthrop. If she makes me a bit o’ trouble, I can bear it. And she’s got no tricks but what she’ll grow out of.”

The pain of the reality principle shifts: he’ll bear it, by keeping things out of her way. He trusts this will work and she’ll grow out of her naughtiness. No Victorian stereotype, Silas. No, nor Dolly, neither. They both seem real, live people, thinking in real time.  Hurray for no cardboard cut-outs in mob caps.

So Eppie was reared without punishment, the burden of her misdeeds being borne vicariously by father Silas. The stone hut was made a soft nest for her, lined with downy patience: and also in the world that lay beyond the stone hut she knew nothing of frowns and denials.

Here the key work is ‘vicariously’. Silas bears the pain, the burden, and keeps it from her. Eppie engages with the world as freely as he can let her, he suffers the problems of  making that not painful.  Very responsible parenting, I’d say. And even Dolly seems almost to approve.

 

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

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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?

 

 

Silas Marner Day 28: I want more Dolly

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Agapanthus and Red Hot Pokers at Kew. 

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:

                                                             for now
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!

 

Silas Marner Day 27 : A Quickening and a Growth Mindset and then Dress That Baby!

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Some growth mind set yellow flowers at Kew – at least tewn feet tall – what are they?

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly here (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently for a few months. I’m in Chapter 14, at the point where Dolly Winthrop is offering to  help Silas in looking after the child. I want to read this chapter very slowly, stopping to think a lot about Dolly, and why she matters as a human model. Why do I love Dolly Winthrop so much? She’s astute and quick, which is deeply attractive, but it’s her loving kindness, too, that pulls me towards her. Here is Silas, not just a bachelor, but an oddball, who has been called a witch and probably worse, in the village and is known to have fits; what does Dolly see? A human creature vulnerably roused to life by caring for a baby;

 “Eh, to be sure,” said Dolly, gently. “I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children. The men are awk’ard and contrairy mostly, God help ’em–but when the drink’s out of ’em, they aren’t unsensible, though they’re bad for leeching and bandaging–so fiery and unpatient. You see this goes first, next the skin,” proceeded Dolly, taking up the little shirt, and putting it on.

“Yes,” said Marner, docilely, bringing his eyes very close, that they might be initiated in the mysteries; whereupon Baby seized his head with both her small arms, and put her lips against his face with purring noises.

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

Dolly’s general observations about men are undercut by specifics she has observed and noted, (‘I’ve seen men as are wonderful handy wi’ children’). There’s also the loving ,uncritical ‘god help ’em’ which seems to forgive or at least generously accept the general ways of things. But what I really love here is the inconsequential conversational meander from men being bad at leeching and bandaging ‘so fiery and unpatient’ with barely a full stop between her kind instruction to Silas, ‘You see this goes first, next the skin.’

She’s teaching and talking, talking partly almost to herself. Silas  has so much to learn – not just about the baby, but about being in a room with another creature, about conversation. Everything in this scene feels to me tender, almost raw, there’s something almost baby-like about Silas himself, he is a creature just born into this new part of life.  How lovely to have Dolly alongside. When the baby grabs him, she takes it as a clue:

“See there,” said Dolly, with a woman’s tender tact, “she’s fondest o’ you. She wants to go o’ your lap, I’ll be bound. Go, then: take her, Master Marner; you can put the things on, and then you can say as you’ve done for her from the first of her coming to you.”

Is Dolly imagining here, with an instinctive growth mindset, what will happen to Silas as the years of raising this child unfold? She is a parent herself. It’s the thought – that Silas might want, need, to say he has done for the baby from the first, that I find so moving. Dolly imagining the pride and sense of achievement Silas will build. I know right now that she is going to be a good friend, a guide, to him through whatever lies ahead. This generous – you take it – act is an act of belief. A less tactful, or a less sensitive, or a less feeling intelligence, would simply have dressed the child, instructing Silas verbally.  But Dolly trusts him and hands over.

Marner took her on his lap, trembling with an emotion mysterious to himself, at something unknown dawning on his life. Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child. He took the garments from Dolly, and put them on under her teaching; interrupted, of course, by Baby’s gymnastics.

I’d want to reread Silas’ trembling  ‘something unknown dawning on his life’  and ask my group have you ever had that feeling of something irrevocably serious in your life? Can we imagine how that feels?

My group will say things like:

I felt like  when I made my wedding vows.

I felt like it when I got my divorce papers someone else will laugh.

I felt it  when I got my diagnosis, though it wasn’t a happy feeling like this is, it was like, oh, this is my life now.

I felt it when my first child was born.

I’d want to think about how those feelings felt and whether or not we can think when we are feeling so much. I’d want to look again at the words in the paragraph;

Thought and feeling were so confused within him, that if he had tried to give them utterance, he could only have said that the child was come instead of the gold–that the gold had turned into the child.

Silas is thinking  (gold/child/child/gold)  and feeling (gold/child/child/gold) at the same time. We know he loved the gold, felt warm companionship  when he gazed on the faces of the coins. But the word ‘love’ isn’t here, we only know, and he only knows, it is ‘an emotion mysterious to himself’. It is deeper than language or thought, this exchange of one love object for another. And dressing the child, taking parental responsibility for her, soon elbows complicated  language-less feeling aside.  In the next sentence he is dealing with baby’s gymnastics. So life pushes us on.

 

‘All things are moral’: looking at Godfrey Cass through Emerson’s lens

 

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Palm being its self, Bay of  Kotor, 25 July

Yesterday I ended by starting to read a bit of  Silas Marner and thinking I wanted to read it alongside ‘something’ from Emerson. The bit from Silas Marner was  this:

He walked up and down, unconscious that he was plunging ankle-deep in snow, unconscious of everything but trembling suspense about what was going on in the cottage, and the effect of each alternative on his future lot. No, not quite unconscious of everything else. Deeper down, and half-smothered by passionate desire and dread, there was the sense that he ought not to be waiting on these alternatives; that he ought to accept the consequences of his deeds, own the miserable wife, and fulfil the claims of the helpless child. But he had not moral courage enough to contemplate that active renunciation of Nancy as possible for him: he had only conscience and heart enough to make him for ever uneasy under the weakness that forbade the renunciation. And at this moment his mind leaped away from all restraint toward the sudden prospect of deliverance from his long bondage.

And the bit  I was remembering from Emerson was from the essay on ‘Discipline’, in Nature. As usual, with something  profoundly Christian, as a non-Christian, I have to  lend myself to possible meaning and translate what a Christian might mean into something I might mean.

All things with which we deal preach to us. What is a farm but a mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight, rain, insects, sun—it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of spring to the last stack which the snow of winter overtakes in the fields. But the sailor, the shepherd, the miner, the merchant, in their several resorts, have each an experience precisely parallel and leading to the same conclusion, because all organizations are radically alike. Nor can it be doubted that this moral sentiment which thus scents the air, grows in the grain, and impregnates the waters of the world is caught by man and sinks into his soul. The moral influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it illustrates to him. Who can estimate this? Who can guess how much firmness the sea-beaten rock has taught the fisherman? How much tranquility has been reflected to man from the azure sky, over whose unspotted deeps the winds forevermore drive flocks of stormy clouds and leave no wrinkle or stain? How much industry and providence and affection we have caught from the pantomime of brutes? What a searching preacher of self-command is the varying phenomenon of health!

 

Looking at them together now, rereading both, I’m not sure what originally  connected them in my mind. I think perhaps the sense in both pieces of thought there is the  belief that  morality is innate. This is  massively contentious I know – ask Nietzsche – but I don’t want to think about contending it for  now. I want to see if  I feel any truth in what these two quoted above both say.

‘All things with which we deal preach to us,’ writes Emerson. I think about Godfrey Cass  outside Marner’s cottage, waiting to find out whether his life will go  one way or another, depending on whether Molly lives or dies. He longs for her death.

Emerson’s argument  is that everything contains the ideal, teaches us, what is. The snow Godfrey treads though in  thin dancing shoes is cold. It teaches its coldness by its coldness though Godfrey can’t hear the lesson – his consciousness is too taken up with his own concerns. The lesson of snow is irrelevant to him.

But what does the natural phenomenon called ‘Godfrey Cass’ teach? If ‘a farm is a mute gospel’, what is a man?

He walked up and down, unconscious that he was plunging ankle-deep in snow, unconscious of everything but trembling suspense about what was going on in the cottage, and the effect of each alternative on his future lot.

This mute gospel that is a human being teaches danger and anxiety, fear, suspense and  the terror or the ‘lot’. Suddenly I’m thinking of Silas Marner and the  moment in Lantern Yard when the drawing of lots condemns him to become the outcast. It’s not the same use of the word, but  thought – that something random, unthinking , out of your control,  will decide your future – is the same.

What else does the ‘mute gospel’ that is this man teach us (and I have to ask myself, does it teach him too, even though it is so deep down as to be almost out of consciousness?)

No, not quite unconscious of everything else. Deeper down, and half-smothered by passionate desire and dread, there was the sense that he ought not to be waiting on these alternatives; that he ought to accept the consequences of his deeds, own the miserable wife, and fulfil the claims of the helpless child.

There is else something to  learn here in the ‘mute gospel’ that is  simply what is. it comes in the form of a feeling – a sense – ‘that he ought not to be waiting on these alternatives.’

that he ought to accept the consequences of his deeds, own the miserable wife, and fulfil the claims of the helpless child.

So he knows – even though his knowing  is ‘half-smothered’ and barely alive. That’s a reality in him.  It is there to be felt, understood. If a man wanted to know. But this man is not brave, and that’s what we (and he?) learn from this moment of his life:

But he had not moral courage enough to contemplate that active renunciation of Nancy as possible for him: he had only conscience and heart enough to make him for ever uneasy under the weakness that forbade the renunciation.

Is it only George Eliot (and us, reading along as she writes) who knows that this is about shaping character as well as simply being it. she writes ‘for ever’  but does Godfrey Cass know it is ‘for ever uneasy’ – I don’t think  he does – yet.  Time must be added to the mix.

So a man’s life might show – mute gospel –  to himself, if not to anyone else, what  he really is, has been, was, might have been. Who, in the absence of God, would see such a whole life?  The man himself? But we will build up  shells around ourselves (as per Bion) to prevent such knowledge.

Want to turn quickly to  Emerson. I was struck on first reading by the idea that a ‘farm is a mute gospel’ – struck by  the thought that every thing is, every thing we make or do, a ‘mute gospel’ – that’s to say  an unwritten demonstration of what you believe, what you are.  As someone engaged in the building of a community of Shared Reading at Calderstones  that  struck me very forcibly.  ‘All organizations are radically alike,’ says Emerson, while Iam still reeling from what seems to me the truth of the farm.

But the sailor, the shepherd, the miner, the merchant, in their several resorts, have each an experience precisely parallel and leading to the same conclusion, because all organizations are radically alike. Nor can it be doubted that this moral sentiment which thus scents the air, grows in the grain, and impregnates the waters of the world is caught by man and sinks into his soul. The moral influence of nature upon every individual is that amount of truth which it illustrates to him.

Agh, out of time. Will return to this tomorrow.