Introduces her four major concerns illustrated in Silas Marner - namely village life
Within the very first paragraph on the book, Gorge Elliot introduces her four major concerns illustrated in Silas Marner – namely village life (of the late 18th century), superstition and belief, alienation and historical change (in this case specifically that caused by industrial revolution and the ending of the Napoleonic Wars). These concerns are closely woven together in the story (and in some cases real life) as can once again be seen in this opening two paragraphs and often can be looked at in relation to one another.
Village life was probably Gorge Elliot’s primary focus when writing the novel and her anthropological investigations provide us with a fair deal of insight into it throughout the novel. The village of Raveloe is the setting for the majority of the story. The third line, while not introducing us to it per se, introduces us to the general idea of villages resembling it. It is said to be “far away among the lanes or deep in the bosom of the hills”. This is an important introduction, physically and psychologically distancing Victorian readers from Raveloe and making it seem totally different from the world they live in. In many ways, this difference is very real. Raveloe is still untouched by the effects of the industrial revolution that created the town Elliot’s readers are familiar with. It is Elliot’s objective to provide a comparison between Raveloe and such towns – represented in the novel by Lantern Yard.
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The opening paragraph also describes the villagers. They are described as “untraveled” and are very much uneducated. Knowledge to them is something suspicious, most likely due to the fact history has showed that those with power and knowledge tend to oppress those who are weaker. The villagers find it difficult to associate the concepts of knowledge or power and goodness with one another. Another thing these country folk are distrustful of are things outside their realm of knowledge, which is fairly small. Anything which they do not comprehend or have not experienced, such as the weavers and their trade, is at once dangerous and suspicious. Associated with this is the concept of continuity that is something very important to the village folk. It is thus that something which is new or which roots are unknown is regarded with suspicion. As the paragraph says “how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father or mother?”
This brings is to the theme of superstition. As mentioned above the country folk are very much suspicious of things they do not understand. Since they are unable to rationally and logically comprehend the nature of such things, they start formulating superstitions regarding these things. This is why “the shepherd, though he had good reason to believe that the bag held nothing but flaxen thread, or else the long rolls of strong linen spun from that thread, was not quite sure this trade of waving…could be carried on entirely without the help of the Evil One.” Natural human inclination is to create irrational beliefs, usually linked to the supernatural, about things that are mysterious and unknown. Further examples of this can be seen further on in the novel, when, for example, myth is created about the pedlar being responsible for the theft of Silas’ gold though there is little proof to suggest so.
Alienation is another one of Elliot’s concerns that is mentioned in these opening paragraphs. Towards the end of the first paragraph Elliot mentions that the linen-weavers “were to the last regarded as aliens by their rustic neighbors, and usually contracted the eccentric habits which belong to a state of loneliness.” Elliot is clearly not just examining the factors that lead to such alienation but also the effects it can have on the human. These effects are clearly seen in the life of Silas who is alienated by the villagers of Raveloe due to a combination of his mysterious heritage, vocation, appearance and loom. This alienation eventually causes him to fall into a state of miserliness.
The last of the concerns brought up he is actually suggested by the first three words of the novel. The phrase “In the days” at once creates the impression that the story is set in a distant time though in reality it took place less than a century before the book was published. The creation of this illusion is intentional. As mentioned above, Elliot aims to compare Raveloe and such villages with the towns that emerged due to the industrial revolution. The purpose of this is to actually examine the effects of the revolution on society. By making the setting seem chronologically more distant then it really is, readers are once again clearly aware of the comparison between Raveloe and their newly industrialized towns. Raveloe is made to represent everything pre-industrial revolution.
Throughout the novel, Elliot also adopts, with the aid of irony, an attitude of benevolent condescension towards the characters. Traces of this attitude are also apparent in this extract. The most prominent example of this would have to be the sentence “how was a man to be explained unless you at least knew somebody who knew his father or mother?” The point is that this is most certainly not true as a complete stranger new not be a dangerous or dishonest person. In this way Elliot lightly pokes fun at the attitudes of the villagers.
Thus, it can be seen that within the opening two paragraphs, Elliot sets up the foundations of the primary concerns in this book. While, it is quite obviously not possible to go into anything resembling detail regarding any one of them, the paragraphs provide a platform upon which build up upon. The attitude and tone of the narrator, while not obviously apparent, can also be felt here. This opening basically serves as a generalization to which the life of Silas Marner, as detailed in the rest of the novel, is a specific example.