2016 Classics Challenge: February | ‘Silas Marner’ by George Eliot

2016 Classics Challenge

My choice of Classic for February was Silas Marner by George Eliot.

silas marner


WHEN I discovered this classic

I first heard of and read Silas Marner when I was in Year Nine at school (probably about fourteen), reading it for GCSE English. Reading collectively with twenty-something other teenagers, mostly out loud, isn’t necessarily the most endearing first-read experience – I’m fairly confident it puts a lot of people off reading classics altogether – but my mother’s fondness for the book persuaded me to be patient and give it more of a chance. Past a certain point, I didn’t want to wait several days to get the next installment in the stuttering tones of one of my peers, but instead read myself at home to pre-empt the awkward class situation (what is the proper etiquette when someone completely mispronounces a simple word out of nerves?). If you’re intending to study literature to any level beyond GCSE, I’d recommend forming the habit of reading on your own, and before the class – it gives you the chance to actually connect with the text, and if you don’t understand things or have questions, lets you have them ready to ask at the right time.

WHY I chose to read it

I loved the book as a student but hadn’t reread it since – and I was slightly confused to realise that it’s therefore around nine years since I read it originally. I was interested to find out what came through differently when reading as an adult, and when reading for pleasure, rather than memorising tick-points to mention in an essay…

WHAT makes it a classic

First published in 1861, George Eliot’s third novel is a well known part of the classic literary canon, as much admired for its writing as it is loved for its characters.

WHAT I thought of it

I loved Silas Marner just as much a second time through as when I read it originally. As expected, certain things came through very differently as an older reader, many of which I remember my teacher trying to impress on us as teens. While I might have learned it by rote then, I felt it more personally now. I’ve grown far more empathy in the past nine years for adults who make mistakes – whereas as a fourteen year old, adults should never make mistakes, but should be the responsible ones and always in control – and today, I was more affected by the concept of redemption, and a second chance. While previously I had a much better connection to Eppie than to Silas as characters, this time I felt more understanding for them both, and fondness for both of them as well.

WILL it stay a classic

Undoubtedly to me, yes. It’s a very well established piece of classic literature with very broad ranging themes and introspections – on greed and sin, love and redemption, faith and goodness, industrialisation and power – which all retain their poignancy. We are now very far removed from the circumstances of Raveloe and its inhabitants, even further removed than George Eliot was when she wrote the tale, but the eye cast backwards in nostalgia is a theme of reflection I think we will never be bored of.

WHO I’d recommend it to

I’m never sure what sort of groups I’m meant to list here, so I’m going to simply say what I think you should read it for. It is worth reading for the beautiful journey and relationship of the central characters, the hope that it explores and embodies, and the excellent exploration of relationships between human beings whose lives play out adjacent to each other.

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