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.

George Eliot’s people in one of Bion’s groups: Silas Marner Day 23

 

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Pine at water’s edge, Kotor Bay, 22 July

I’ve been reading Silas Marner intermittently here for a couple of months – search ‘Silas Marner’ to get  the posts. Last time, I’d read, in chapter XII, the journey of Molly, the opium-addicted secret wife of Godfrey Cass, towards Raveloe; her collapse, the child’s wandering into Silas’s cottage, Silas’  fit and finding of the child, his feeding of her…

Chapter XIII  begins with Silas carrying the child to Squire Cass’s house. So, here’s Godfrey Cass, a man at a  high-spirited Christmas party:

But now all eyes at that end of the room were bent on Silas Marner; the Squire himself had risen, and asked angrily, “How’s this?– what’s this?–what do you do coming in here in this way?”

“I’m come for the doctor–I want the doctor,” Silas had said, in the first moment, to Mr. Crackenthorp.

“Why, what’s the matter, Marner?” said the rector. “The doctor’s here; but say quietly what you want him for.”

“It’s a woman,” said Silas, speaking low, and half-breathlessly, just as Godfrey came up. “She’s dead, I think–dead in the snow at the Stone-pits–not far from my door.”

Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that moment: it was, that the woman might not be dead. That was an evil terror–an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey’s kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.

Godfrey has recognised the baby as his own child, recognises the woman as his wife and  finds – here at a Christmas social, in his own house, himself  wishing she  is dead. That evil thought seems  out of place  – ‘an ugly inmate to have found a nesting-place in Godfrey’s kindly disposition’ – but is the natural result of his  duplicity: ‘no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity’. I look up ‘duplicity’, a word I suppose to be connected to two-facedness, to doubleness.  Having a ‘kindly’ disposition is no security against  being double, being split. And the secret split part of Godfrey is in terror lest it be exposed and outsiders should see he is  man living two lives.

As we are reading this in a Shared Reading group, I wonder what I would do  with this moment? I want to stay here a while because  there is something about Godfrey’s position that I want to make explicit. This is about not judging him as a  bad ‘un but recognising something of him in myself. It’s all very well having the kindly disposition. But what you going to do about the bits you don’t want anyone to see? The easiest thing to do here is judge him as if he had nothing to do with me. I’d want to open up that area of thinking, and might simply do it by going back over the passage – reading again. Perhaps the comparison between ‘kindly’ and  ‘evil terror’. Interesting that it is terror, presumably the fear of being exposed, that  makes him evil.  He’s not thinking rationally but rather acting naturally and instantly, saving himself, preserving his doubleness.

I try to think of very small faults that I don’t mind talking about, and that anyone will recognise – secretly eating biscuits when I’m supposed to be on a diet is a perennial good one – so that such thoughts  are admissible and do not seem to frightening,  or too exposing. We can then all make private connections that do not have to be spoken out loud.  Using myself as an illustration of the way in which literature serves to make me think, I hope, then serves as model to others. I don’t require anything. I just believe  that what works for me will work for others. Once the pattern  is possibility in your mind, you might  use it.

Then I return to the text: I’ll reread some.

Godfrey felt a great throb: there was one terror in his mind at that moment: it was, that the woman might not be dead. That was an evil terror–an ugly inmate to have found a nestling-place in Godfrey’s kindly disposition; but no disposition is a security from evil wishes to a man whose happiness hangs on duplicity.

The doubleness began somewhere, once, long ago,  as a piece of armour ( I’m thinking back to Bion – mental debris, stuff we create or bring along that makes the truth of our living difficult to see) perhaps when Godfrey first took up with Molly, perhaps before that. The doubleness isnt just about keeping his secret marriage a secret, but keeping some part of himself a secret…presumably the relationship with Molly came from that secret place.

I’m thinking too of ways in which Silas (or any of us) also has doubleness. Silas has had two or more lives and they have been sundered. He didn’t become two people after being cast out of his  church in Lantern Yard, he became a sort of half-person, or less. When the child wandered into his cottage his first thought was of his own childhood, his baby sister, whom he had carried around and cared  for…as Cass’s fight to preserve his doubleness pushes the two parts of his life further away, Silas is finding that two parts of his life are knitting up:

By this time, however, the ladies had pressed forward, curious to know what could have brought the solitary linen-weaver there under such strange circumstances, and interested in the pretty child, who, half alarmed and half attracted by the brightness and the numerous company, now frowned and hid her face, now lifted up her head again and looked round placably, until a touch or a coaxing word brought back the frown, and made her bury her face with new determination.

“What child is it?” said several ladies at once, and, among the rest, Nancy Lammeter, addressing Godfrey.

“I don’t know–some poor woman’s who has been found in the snow, I believe,” was the answer Godfrey wrung from himself with a terrible effort. (“After all, am I certain?” he hastened to add, silently, in anticipation of his own conscience.)

“Why, you’d better leave the child here, then, Master Marner,” said good-natured Mrs. Kimble, hesitating, however, to take those dingy clothes into contact with her own ornamented satin bodice. “I’ll tell one o’ the girls to fetch it.”

“No–no–I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas, abruptly. “It’s come to me–I’ve a right to keep it.”

The proposition to take the child from him had come to Silas quite unexpectedly, and his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse, was almost like a revelation to himself: a minute before, he had no distinct intention about the child.

In these few lines the men become what they are: Godfrey, denying his own child, against his own better instincts, his words of deceit ‘wrung from himself with a terrible effort’. The doubleness is deeply in him now. ‘After all, am I certain?” he hastened to add, silently, in anticipation of his own conscience.’ Of course he is, but the question let’s him let himself off the hook. Let’s him salve his conscience. He cannot be straight, true.  the doubleness is  overwhelmingly written into him. You wonder – well I do – what might help him change?  Here, now, nothing.

And in the same moment, Silas, changes. A man who had become  almost less than human, a spider weaving , weaving all day, for gold , gold , gold, to  enjoy the brightness of at night, suddenly finds this child which has come in place of the gold makes him claim her:

“No–no–I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas, abruptly. “It’s come to me–I’ve a right to keep it.”…

…his speech, uttered under a strong sudden impulse, was almost like a revelation to himself: a minute before, he had no distinct intention about the child.

I’m thinking of these characters in a novel as like people in one of Bion’s group – the a-z of human being laid out for us all to read.  Here’s one man, Godfrey Cass, bullied by his father, no love in his family life, finding love of some sort once with Molly,  and since abandoning her… abandoning his child and now denying her, even as the mother is dead or dying. The fibres of good life, of liveliness are wasting, drying up  in him. He’s becoming the insect like creature that we have seen Silas as… And at the same time , the  fibres of life are filling out again for Silas, who has been three times over broken – his mother and little sister dead, his life in Lantern Yard broken up by false accusation,  his gold stolen from  his  own home… and yet this impulse ‘almost like a revelation to him’ comes from his deepest self and is irrefutable, almost a revelation.

As Godfrey  lies even to himself in the deepest parts of his being, Silas’s nature and need is revealed to himself, the single truth emerges. He wants to love something:

“No–no–I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,” said Silas, abruptly. “It’s come to me–I’ve a right to keep it.”…

I’d like to see someone try to take this child from him.

 

 

‘First chill – then stupour – then the letting go’ Silas Marner Day 22:

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White scabious growing at the roadside, Bay of Kotor, 14 July

I’ve been reading Silas Marner  intermittently here on the blog and am picking up today where I left off last time, in chapter XII, where Molly has just drunk the last of her opium and is about to fall into a stupour in the snow:

…complete torpor came at last: the fingers lost their tension, the arms unbent; then the little head fell away from the bosom, and the blue eyes opened wide on the cold starlight. At first there was a little peevish cry of “mammy”, and an effort to regain the pillowing arm and bosom; but mammy’s ear was deaf, and the pillow seemed to be slipping away backward. Suddenly, as the child rolled downward on its mother’s knees, all wet with snow, its eyes were caught by a bright glancing light on the white ground, and, with the ready transition of infancy, it was immediately absorbed in watching the bright living thing running towards it, yet never arriving. That bright living thing must be caught; and in an instant the child had slipped on all-fours, and held out one little hand to catch the gleam. But the gleam would not be caught in that way, and now the head was held up to see where the cunning gleam came from. It came from a very bright place; and the little one, rising on its legs, toddled through the snow, the old grimy shawl in which it was wrapped trailing behind it, and the queer little bonnet dangling at its back–toddled on to the open door of Silas Marner’s cottage, and right up to the warm hearth, where there was a bright fire of logs and sticks, which had thoroughly warmed the old sack (Silas’s greatcoat) spread out on the bricks to dry. The little one, accustomed to be left to itself for long hours without notice from its mother, squatted down on the sack, and spread its tiny hands towards the blaze, in perfect contentment, gurgling and making many inarticulate communications to the cheerful fire, like a new-hatched gosling beginning to find itself comfortable. But presently the warmth had a lulling effect, and the little golden head sank down on the old sack, and the blue eyes were veiled by their delicate half-transparent lids.

The movement from Molly to the child is  like the panning of camera as it moves from concentration on the mother to the child sleeping – and soon waking – in her arms. We see close-up Molly’s fingers unbending and then her arms falling open, and the child, ‘accustomed to be left to itself for long hours without notice from its mother’  getting up and  toddling off towards the light  it sees in what we discover is Silas’ cottage. And  where is Silas? He has been getting up to open his door all evening and is standing there now in a cataleptic trance, the child was wandered in while he has been ‘away’:

Turning towards the hearth, where the two logs had fallen apart, and sent forth only a red uncertain glimmer, he seated himself on his fireside chair, and was stooping to push his logs together, when, to his blurred vision, it seemed as if there were gold on the floor in front of the hearth. Gold!–his own gold–brought back to him as mysteriously as it had been taken away! He felt his heart begin to beat violently, and for a few moments he was unable to stretch out his hand and grasp the restored treasure. The heap of gold seemed to glow and get larger beneath his agitated gaze. He leaned forward at last, and stretched forth his hand; but instead of the hard coin with the familiar resisting outline, his fingers encountered soft warm curls. In utter amazement, Silas fell on his knees and bent his head low to examine the marvel: it was a sleeping child–a round, fair thing, with soft yellow rings all over its head. Could this be his little sister come back to him in a dream– his little sister whom he had carried about in his arms for a year before she died, when he was a small boy without shoes or stockings? That was the first thought that darted across Silas’s blank wonderment. Was it a dream? He rose to his feet again, pushed his logs together, and, throwing on some dried leaves and sticks, raised a flame; but the flame did not disperse the vision– it only lit up more distinctly the little round form of the child, and its shabby clothing. It was very much like his little sister. Silas sank into his chair powerless, under the double presence of an inexplicable surprise and a hurrying influx of memories. How and when had the child come in without his knowledge? He had never been beyond the door. But along with that question, and almost thrusting it away, there was a vision of the old home and the old streets leading to Lantern Yard–and within that vision another, of the thoughts which had been present with him in those far-off scenes. The thoughts were strange to him now, like old friendships impossible to revive; and yet he had a dreamy feeling that this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life: it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe–old quiverings of tenderness–old impressions of awe at the presentiment of some Power presiding over his life; for his imagination had not yet extricated itself from the sense of mystery in the child’s sudden presence, and had formed no conjectures of ordinary natural means by which the event could have been brought about.

Silas can’t see properly – so the child’s hair  looks at first like  gold, there on the hearth where it used to be. when he realises it is a child his first thought is of his baby sister, a child he has loved and cared for in his boyhood. The psychological reality of Silas’s response here is tremendous –  both shock and surprise, feelings of love, glad ness of the gold and then the memories of his childhood, his baby sister, his own poverty:

It was very much like his little sister. Silas sank into his chair powerless, under the double presence of an inexplicable surprise and a hurrying influx of memories.

The memories are of love, something Silas has not felt all the time he has been in Raveloe. He is thrust back to old feelings he had in his old life in  and before Lantern Yard, feelings almost bordering on belief:

within that vision another, of the thoughts which had been present with him in those far-off scenes. The thoughts were strange to him now, like old friendships impossible to revive; and yet he had a dreamy feeling that this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life: it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloe–old quiverings of tenderness–old impressions of awe at the presentiment of some Power presiding over his life;

There are elements of Silas Marner that seem like fairy-tale. This  transition from Molly, to child to Silas is one of those moments.  But it’s also powerful realism – the child, waking up, begins to move about in what we’d all recognise as real life in a real toddler: she moves

with a pretty stagger that made Silas jump up and follow her lest she should fall against anything that would hurt her. But she only fell in a sitting posture on the ground, and began to pull at her boots, looking up at him with a crying face as if the boots hurt her.

Similarly, when we reach the end of the chapter, and find, with Silas, the mother, Molly, dead, in the snow, we are thrust back into an awful reality.  Yet even as Molly dies of her addiction, Silas seems to be coming back to life through the presence of her child…

 

 

Silas Marner Day 20: Dolly Winthrop working in a drug rehab…

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Delphinium in The Old English Garden at Calderstones

Been reading Silas Marner intermittently here on the blog. Read the previous posts by typing Silas Marner into the search box. I’m picking up in Chapter X, where Dolly Winthrop has just been to visit Silas, urging him to attend church, and offering to look after him if he gets sick.

Silas said “Good-bye, and thank you kindly,” as he opened the door for Dolly, but he couldn’t help feeling relieved when she was gone– relieved that he might weave again and moan at his ease. Her simple view of life and its comforts, by which she had tried to cheer him, was only like a report of unknown objects, which his imagination could not fashion. The fountains of human love and of faith in a divine love had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little groove of sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly against dark obstruction.

Yesterday I met a man who told me he loved reading but only read business or psychology books – like  lots of people, I imagine, he  might believe that you get reality or truth in non-fiction, and that fiction doesn’t contain the  kind of human info you get in a psychology book.  You need to read Dombey and Son, I told him. That’s business and psychology in one! I was struck by that thought when reading this little paragraph. The idea that we can only understand things we already in some sense know is an important one for anyone trying to chance behaviour in a business – or any other – setting.

Dolly’s well-meant suggestions, indeed her whole way of approaching Silas, ‘was only like a report of unknown objects, which his imagination could not fashion’. He is not ready or able to hear the message.  What would need to be in place for the message to get through?

The fountains of human love and of faith in a divine love had not yet been unlocked, and his soul was still the shrunken rivulet, with only this difference, that its little groove of sand was blocked up, and it wandered confusedly against dark obstruction.

Silas needs to feel something  – love and faith – he is blocked up. He can’t grow or learn.

Is there a piece of psychology here, could you use this information in a business context? I think so, though it is expensive advice. It means you have to treat people as people not as ‘resources’. it means you have to find ways to unlock trust and to assist the conditions for growth. If Dolly was Silas’ manager…

But for the time being, she is not… and Silas  keeps Christmas alone and does not join the village at church. He remains alone, shrunken, frozen.

Nobody in this world but himself knew that he was the same Silas Marner who had once loved his fellow with tender love, and trusted in an unseen goodness. Even to himself that past experience had become dim.

Sad and interesting how different bits of yourself might come and go over the course of a life. Silas ‘s loving, connected human self is now forgotten ‘even to himself.’

Chapter 11  picks up with Nancy Lammeter at the Cass New Year Christmas party. I’m going to rush through some of these pages where the Miss Lammeters arrive, and  get their party dresses on and  do their hair…and Godfrey Cass dances with Nancy and tries to forget his worries… I’m just rushing through this chapter – though I am sure if I was reading it in a group we’d stop and talk about parties and dancing and getting ready and being Godfrey and trying to forget what you are worried about… but even so, this needs to be a fast chapter, and I’d have a good strong poem  with me this week to give us some meat in case not much of interest came up in the story… and where I am heading is the next chapter, chapter 12. Suddenly the story turns a terrifying corner:

While Godfrey Cass was taking draughts of forgetfulness from the sweet presence of Nancy, willingly losing all sense of that hidden bond which at other moments galled and fretted him so as to mingle irritation with the very sunshine, Godfrey’s wife was walking with slow uncertain steps through the snow-covered Raveloe lanes, carrying her child in her arms…

… she would mar his pleasure: she would go in her dingy rags, with her faded face, once as handsome as the best, with her little child that had its father’s hair and eyes, and disclose herself to the Squire as his eldest son’s wife. It is seldom that the miserable can help regarding their misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are less miserable. Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her husband’s neglect, but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved, body and soul, except in the lingering mother’s tenderness that refused to give him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yet, in the moments of wretched unbenumbed consciousness, the sense of her want and degradation transformed itself continually into bitterness towards Godfrey. He was well off; and if she had her rights she would be well off too. Molly knew that the cause of her dingy rags was not her husband’s neglect, but the demon Opium to whom she was enslaved, body and soul, except in the lingering mother’s tenderness that refused to give him her hungry child. She knew this well; and yet, in the moments of wretched unbenumbed consciousness, the sense of her want and degradation transformed itself continually into bitterness towards Godfrey.

‘It is seldom that the miserable can help regarding their misery as a wrong inflicted by those who are less miserable.’  Here’s an interesting thought, and the place I would want to stop to initiate a conversation with my group. Why do humans  tend to do this – can we imagine modern-day examples ,can we translate into things we have seen or experienced ourselves? Reading this novel in a woman’s prison you couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that women will be thinking about their own children, or the children of women they know. Do you keep your child free of  the fallout of your addiction? How  does a  mother’s ‘tenderness’ manifest itself in a life where money must be spent on drugs and the child is hungry?

I notice here that Molly’s bitter hatred of Godfrey is most profound when she is ‘unbenumbed’, this is the point at  which she most feels her ‘sense of her want and degradation’ but when she most feels those terrible feelings, she turns her  current of feeling into anger towards Cass. It’s quite understandable – you can  imagine doing it. Yet in terms of taking responsibility(George Eliot is going to be remorseless with everybody about  taking responsibility)…Molly’s  only chance is that she stops  directing that anger at Godfrey and turns it towards her relation to opium.  The twelve step programme requires the taking of responsibility.

I’d want to talk about ways in which  many of us have addictive behaviours, and  the shifty moral ground that goes with the inability to be straightforward because  of the those behaviours. I’d talk about my own love of cake as a way of opening the area without making it too seriously frightening, but knowing too, that anyone in the group who is living with an addiction would recognise the possibility of freely speaking about  it. It’s important that we don’t judge Molly anymore than the text does. So go back to the text. We have to stand alongside her sense of ‘want and  degradation’ and remember too how degraded it is to be Godfrey Cass.  I suddenly think – Molly exists in the same universe as Dolly Winthrop!  Could Doly help Molly? If only she was acounsellor in a drug rehab…And I am wondering if molly is not simply a more extreme form of Silas, blocked up, trapped, insectt-like, unable to be or become…

But time is up. More tomorrow.

Silas Marner Day 19: Let Us Now Praise Powerful Women*

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Hydrangea and Madonna  lilies doing a good domestic job in the drain corner

Been reading Silas Marner intermittently here on the blog. Read the previous posts by typing Silas Marner into the search box. I’m picking up in Chapter X, where we learn how what was, to everyone else in the village, the subject of interesting, idle gossip (the robbery of Silas’s gold) is, to Silas himself, a possibly life-threatening trauma:

To any one who had observed him before he lost his gold, it might have seemed that so withered and shrunken a life as his could hardly be susceptible of a bruise, could hardly endure any subtraction but such as would put an end to it altogether. But in reality it had been an eager life, filled with immediate purpose which fenced him in from the wide, cheerless unknown. It had been a clinging life; and though the object round which its fibres had clung was a dead disrupted thing, it satisfied the need for clinging. But now the fence was broken down–the support was snatched away. Marner’s thoughts could no longer move in their old round, and were baffled by a blank like that which meets a plodding ant when the earth has broken away on its homeward path.

There is no getting over this.

I’d noticed before that Silas, locked into his loom, had been likened to a spider. Now he’s suffering like an ant. That ‘blank’ that meets the ant ‘when the earth has broken away on its homeward path’ is memorable: there’s something so pathetic about the inability of the creature to  get over, get round, see beyond the breakage which has  stopped it. I always feel a bit scared when I see that – and  that feeling of fear must be because its only a step away from imagining what I might look like to someone much, much bigger, when I am butting up against my insurmountable problems. The  clash of those two perspectives – the stuck and the  bigger picture – is painful. But here we are  – as a not-Silas, imagining perhaps  ‘you could get over it’, but as Silas, just feeling ‘never get over it’. As Emily Dickinson says, ‘the feet,mechanical, go round.’

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

However, Marner does  gain something from his terrible loss, and that is the  kindness of his village neighbours.  It would be difficult to find a modern equivalent to this – maybe workmates’ kindness? For those of us in work, possibly, there can community at work. Maybe in a  street where people are largely unemployed and are also a relativity static population, so have the chance of knowing each other? But for many of us  – no. This wouldn’t happen. We’re not connected enough. Hence the growing UK epidemic of loneliness.

But for Silas, the feel of the village changes: people stop thinking him a witch and start thinking of him as ‘a poor mushed creatur’: and thus along with gifts of black pudding and pigs pettitoes,

Neighbours … showed a disposition not only to greet Silas and discuss his misfortune at some length when they encountered him in the village, but also to take the trouble of calling at his cottage and getting him to repeat all the details on the very spot; and then they would try to cheer him by saying, “Well, Master Marner, you’re no worse off nor other poor folks, after all; and if you was to be crippled, the parish ‘ud give you a ‘lowance.”

One of the neighbours we meet now is Mrs Dolly Winthrop – one of the greatest women in literature, and on a par for me with Paulina, the  powerful matriarchal force at the centre of The Winter’s Tale. Dolly is a do-er,  full of energy and  kindness:

..in all respects a woman of scrupulous conscience, so eager for duties that life seemed to offer them too scantily unless she rose at half-past four, though this threw a scarcity of work over the more advanced hours of the morning, which it was a constant problem with her to remove. Yet she had not the vixenish temper which is sometimes supposed to be a necessary condition of such habits: she was a very mild, patient woman, whose nature it was to seek out all the sadder and more serious elements of life, and pasture her mind upon them.

Dolly is ‘eager for duties’, ( this is like Paulina,  faced with a mad and dangerous King, deciding he must be spoken to and resolving ‘He must be told on’t, and he shall. The office becomes a woman best: I’ll take it upon me.’) In the days when most women had no access to careers, women like Paulina and Dolly, who might be running NHS Trusts or Government Departments now, had to use their considerable energy in private life, in relationship management. George Eliot (like Shakespeare?) adores such women.

Before we go back to Silas  I want to notice the use of the verb ‘pasture’ at the end of the section above. We’ve already noticed natural-process metaphors of the seed/harvest type, but  ‘pasture’ is a strange one, isn’t it? It makes Dolly’s mind like a farm animal (for these are the animals that are put to pasture), and that makes Dolly like a workhorse, cow, beast of burden? Patient, mild, but working. Strong. And her mind, when her nature makes her ‘seek out all the sadder and more serious elements of life’, gets to work on those sad and serious things, which is a great place for human mind to be.  It doesn’t feel a quick mind, it feels slow and steady, even ruminant. But strong and present. It will do a good job.

There’s a thought here, which I really don’t have time to write out carefully today, about this kind of ‘work’, a kind of work George Eliot herself was particularly good at: the application of intellect and heart to profound human problems.

Yesterday I spent several hours in a Design Team meeting at Calderstones, with a gender balance of three women and eleven men.  The men were architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, health and safety men, quantity surveyors… they were practical men who know about electrical cables and trenches,  bat droppings in roof spaces, loads on beams and lengths of ducting. I was suddenly aware that they were men operating, as it were,  a piece of machinery (the machine: the design/build meeting) which men have been operating for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Groups of men like this designed the pyramids and put up stonehenge as well as most of the houses we’ve ever had, and I was aware of a culture of men, and the long history of that culture: men in their  structures and specific and hierarchical roles, they all knew where they were and what their bit of the job was, and they got a lot of stuff built. The women in the room were two of us Reader people, ‘the client’, and  the architectural assistant, and that made me think…

What were the women doing all those thousands of years while the men were holding design-build meetings and digging  trenches and  felling oak trees?  They were having babies and  hoeing turnips, looking after toddlers and making clay pots, running dairies and being prostitutes, nursing the sick, laying out the dead, picking  barley. But the boys are having design-build meetings and thinking about smoke escape routes, and drainage and value-engineering.  As Talking Heads sing,

The girls don’t want to play like that,
They just want to talk to the boys.
They just want to do what is in their hearts,
And the girls want to be with the girls.

And very powerful and naturally intelligent women, like George Eliot (aka Marian Evans) and Dolly Winthrop… what did they do with their brains back in the day  when women could not become structural engineers? Marian Evans  could cook a Harvest Home supper for 60 and bottle preserves with the best of them, and by night she used her brain, teaching herself,  as a  young woman, German, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian and complex mathematics at home from books. She was of a class that could buy books, and her father (a design-build man if ever there was one) recognised the brightness of his daughter, and gave her an account at the local bookshop and got her access to the library of his employer at Arbury Hall. But a Dolly Winthrop, with a such a brain, growing up in the peasant class in a rural village? Well, let us see what George Eliot makes of her.

But first, going back to the book, we turn again  to Silas, and see how he will take to Dolly, with her nature and her mind, coming into his life:

Formerly, his heart had been as a locked casket with its treasure inside; but now the casket was empty, and the lock was broken. Left groping in darkness, with his prop utterly gone, Silas had inevitably a sense, though a dull and half-despairing one, that if any help came to him it must come from without; and there was a slight stirring of expectation at the sight of his fellow-men, a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill. He opened the door wide to admit Dolly, but without otherwise returning her greeting than by moving the armchair a few inches as a sign that she was to sit down in it.

Interesting that before his loss Silas didn’t have any sense of dependence on the goodwill of fellow-men, but now  with nothing else to turn to, he has ‘a faint consciousness of dependence on their goodwill’.

Excellent. Silas is partially set up for some sort of help, and Dolly is primed to give it.

*My title today calls on James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Silas Marner Day 18 : Acting on the Better Will

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Lilies golden light 19 June

Been reading Silas Marner intermittently here on the blog. Read the previous posts by typing Silas Marner into the search box.

I’m picking up in Chapter IX, and first notice how carefully I need to read this account of Squire Cass. It would be easy to read what you think is there rather than what George Eliot really wants us to see. The Squire is

a tall, stout man of sixty, with a face in which the knit brow and rather hard glance seemed contradicted by the slack and feeble mouth. His person showed marks of habitual neglect, his dress was slovenly; and yet there was something in the presence of the old Squire distinguishable from that of the ordinary farmers in the parish, who were perhaps every whit as refined as he, but, having slouched their way through life with a consciousness of being in the vicinity of their “betters”, wanted that self-possession and authoritativeness of voice and carriage which belonged to a man who thought of superiors as remote existences with whom he had personally little more to do than with America or the stars. The Squire had been used to parish homage all his life, used to the presupposition that his family, his tankards, and everything that was his, were the oldest and best; and as he never associated with any gentry higher than himself, his opinion was not disturbed by comparison.

My first glance reading seemed to say – ‘there was something about him’ despite his slovenly dress etc. But when I reread I saw that really there was nothing about him except ‘self-possession and authoritativeness of voice and carriage’. I stopped for a while to think about this. The ordinary farmers were just as ‘good’ as Cass – ‘every whit as refined as he’, which is a joke because he is not  very refined at all, and neither are the other farmers… it’s just that Cass comes with a self-belief grown by  generations of  entitlement –  ‘the presupposition that his family, his tankards, and everything that was his, were the oldest and best’. And it’s a hierarchy that stops at himself, too, because Cass never meets anyone above him … so he is always top dog in his own world. That’s what’s coming in the room with him, despite his slovenly clothes and ‘slack and feeble mouth’.

On I read…Squire Cass gets annoyed about the loss of the horse, loss of the money, and berates himself for being ‘too good a  father.’

Godfrey was silent. He was not likely to be very penetrating in his judgments, but he had always had a sense that his father’s indulgence had not been kindness, and had had a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better will.

I wonder where the thought ‘he was not likely to be very penetrating in his judgments’ comes from? Not from Godfrey Cass himself,  from George Eliot then, from the narrator of this story. The George Eliot voice is also inside Godfrey, knowing his thoughts, as well as judging him from a more external point of view. So the sentence continues  ‘but he had always had a sense that his father’s indulgence had not been kindness’. Not only that, he had ‘a vague longing for some discipline that would have checked his own errant weakness and helped his better will’. This is really interesting to me because I am interested in learning how people change. The language here, of not knowing, but somehow sensing or feeling or knowing vaguely, points to a  kind of unknown knowledge that might be in a person – a clue to being happier?  Because the morality here – ‘errant weakness/better will’ – is not morality for its own sake. Godfrey Cass is not a happy man. Being good might be good for him.

Godfrey left the room, hardly knowing whether he were more relieved by the sense that the interview was ended without having made any change in his position, or more uneasy that he had entangled himself still further in prevarication and deceit. What had passed about his proposing to Nancy had raised a new alarm, lest by some after-dinner words of his father’s to Mr. Lammeter he should be thrown into the embarrassment of being obliged absolutely to decline her when she seemed to be within his reach. He fled to his usual refuge, that of hoping for some unforeseen turn of fortune, some favourable chance which would save him from unpleasant consequences– perhaps even justify his insincerity by manifesting its prudence. And in this point of trusting to some throw of fortune’s dice, Godfrey can hardly be called specially old-fashioned. Favourable Chance, I fancy, is the god of all men who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe in. Let even a polished man of these days get into a position he is ashamed to avow, and his mind will be bent on all the possible issues that may deliver him from the calculable results of that position. Let him live outside his income, or shirk the resolute honest work that brings wages, and he will presently find himself dreaming of a possible benefactor, a possible simpleton who may be cajoled into using his interest, a possible state of mind in some possible person not yet forthcoming. Let him neglect the responsibilities of his office, and he will inevitably anchor himself on the chance that the thing left undone may turn out not to be of the supposed importance. Let him betray his friend’s confidence, and he will adore that same cunning complexity called Chance, which gives him the hope that his friend will never know. Let him forsake a decent craft that he may pursue the gentilities of a profession to which nature never called him, and his religion will infallibly be the worship of blessed Chance, which he will believe in as the mighty creator of success. The evil principle deprecated in that religion is the orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind.

Interesting that chance is so set up against law – any law? ‘Favourable Chance, I fancy, is the god of all men who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe in.’ is the difference about sticking true to some belief, not so much what the belief is? But the ultimate law for George Eliot here, is the law of consequences in human action,’the orderly sequence by which the seed brings forth a crop after its kind.’

In the religion of chance there is no such law – one hopes for a lucky break. But in the religion of consequences, you know that if you do x, then y will follow.  The sense of the  consequence following – pursuing  – Godfrey is getting a bit frightening. Is his sense of self-worth strong enough to make him take action?

Thinking of the way Godfrey has been brought up by Squire Cass, partly bullied, partly over-indulged. Thinking of the potential good that there might be in Godfrey and which he himself senses.  After all, many men would not have married the alcoholic woman he (presumably) got pregnant. He married her out of ‘compunction’.  That compunction may be a form of  weakness and an attempt to halt the process whereby ‘the seed brings forth a crop after its kind’. Compunction is an  interesting word –  being sharply pricked  – being hurt by remorse… I wonder what  a person like Godfrey, with some sense of  ‘could do better’ – can do to change? and is that going to be possible?  What would need to be in place? Is the pain of compunction what is needed,  or the discipline he somehow vaguely longs for but cannot self-supply?  How is he going to shore up his ‘better will’?

Often we need outside help, new habits, a voice over the shoulder helping us create those new habits…I’m wondering about Miss Nancy Lammeter, could she be the discipline Godfrey needs? … But then, Godfrey is already  married!