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Patrick McEvoy-Halston ProfessorS. Burgar

English 380 24 Jvne2002
Haunting Raveloe: How George Eliot, in Silas Marner,Exorcizes Her Past "/

thereis a debate overwhether In George Eliot's SilasMarner(1861), menat theRainbow the ghostat the Warrenstables.Further,they weigh in on whethera ghost,evenif it did exist,would even into entrance the bar, andwith his want "ignorantfolk" to believein it. With Silas'sunnoticed in Eliot suggests ghosts not discerning who they wantfilo believein that are apparition-like countenance, or is Silas,of course, not a ghost,but o'ghosts," presences them,theyjust want to be remembered. if in with the past,do indeedhauntmanycharacters the text/ /rndtheseghosts, ignored,give associated / by is everyreasonfor people,suchasthoseat the Rainbow,to be wary of themYRaveloe alsoinhabited presence. Eliot would ratherembrace Raveloe than But an apparitionfrom the future--Eliotasa narrative on of hauntit. In fact, her visit is evidence the continuinginfluenceof "old waysof thinking," of ghosts, like prospects happiness moderns her havein an for that her own life. Knowing intimatelythe increasing and anyone might rise to success, knowinghow differenther situationandbeliefs agein which seemingly off it that sustain arefrom thoseof the past,sheis not be ableto shake the feelingthat sheandher age punishmentfor beingunfaithful to their nentageinher unfaithfulness, is like her character she deserve ,2+^ Eliot is her GodreyCass.But perhaps, quiteviciousattackon Godrey'sbrotherDunlapnotwithstanding, morelike the diabolicallycunninganddaringDunlapin imagining,thoughher creationSilasMarner,a ghosts.By "showing"both that shehasnot forgottenthemandthat stratagem appeasing ancestral for the lest,h.8"ffi;r?;e degenerate, internalpersecutors, shebelieves they mustbe remembered Eliot placates but only so asto buy time until sheis readyto banishthemfrom her mind altogether.We look first to signsof agitationin the na:rator,in a text otherwise craftedby a sympathetic judicio.r, -irra,(. but evidence Eliot fearssheis somehow that blameworthy beingan egoistic, for willful modern. WhenMr. Maceyargues "[a]s if ghos'es'ud wantto be believedin by anybodyso ignirant" (Eliot 54), Eliot, with Silas'sghost-likeappearance the Rainbow,is ableto suggest at otherwise because his statement couldbe contradicted experience. by Experience, oftenin the form of surprising, sudden, anddramaticchanges everyday to life, is mostoftenusedby Eliot to showhow unpredictable nature,r./

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2 Eliot hasa conception naturethatmight strikemanyof us asrealisticbecause highlightsa of it ko'^* phenomenon we've long beenusedto, that of the constancy inevitabilityof change.In Raveloe, and or with simple,reclusivepeoplesuchasSilas,Eliot shows that because us "life [is] . . . breathed on variouslyby multitudinous currents, from the windsof heaven the thoughts men[,] . . . [which] are to of for evermovingandcrossing eachother,with incalculable results"(23),that neitherthe town nor its denizens foreverhold "life," or nature,atbay. Realistic-seeming, is Eliot's characterization can too, of / 151 systems codesof thoughtasideologt"tp*/.ular to a personor a peoplesituated aparticular or at time andplace,ratherthanasabsolute truths. Shetreatsthosewho cling to regularandpatterned waysof thinking with sympathy, in general, but, showsthat in their rigidity, these waysof thinking often imposea form on reality which eitherRealitysubverts their user'sexpense with Silasandhis ritual of leaving (as at his doorwrlocked),or which encloses their usersin a kind of walled-inmisery(asis the casewith i- ) --il--^ -*'1'* ( ) Nancy's"unalterable little code[s]"(156)). ' tL o' ,*.ta^ ')t'o!"| -<-':fn ' olaf^.a":4 ,-^", L"T. "ror.,r.-r* teYtuous seeming maxim in the text--thatbwglars aredull minded--whichsbeinsistsis alnost alwaystnie "ffii jtiat pr). **r"" the degreeto which peoplearerewardedor punisheddepends the exter$to which they behaveor tbink "selfishly," It on advances samesort ofargun€nt that we often seein a fairy tale, an enchanted tle reakn very far distant in -/ spirit from the dispassionate world ofrealisrfand it reflectsa world-view which Dunlap,the char-acterI

Yet despite tendency this ofEliot to characterize change -b'-.-*^ asinwitable,sheherselfexpresses a



who'Eliot makesa skeletoilof, andwho, aswe will explore,is similar to Eliot herself,"deprecatelsl" /,"-*"*-'.'





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Godrey,Dunlaprand Silasarethreecharacters whom Eliot seems especiallyconcemed both r( 1/

show howtheyconceive tlemselves reveal ushowtheyfarein life. Godrey, book'send, us of and for at hasbeen bothpunished rewarded. is admonished thetextfor nothaving 'tnoral courage" and He in the to /\tJ" ownupto his marriage Mattf to Nancy.YetnottellingNancydid not-preveirt rnarriagg did it to the nor entirely ruin hisprorpo,



failsto make claimto b6[y, butheclearlyhasfound

"ri*""ss-he you happiness marriage. in With "teirderness" says Nancy(175),"1got n spiteof all; andyetI've he to

3 I beengrumblinganduneasy because hadn't something else"(175),adding,importantfor our purposes, and it" "as if I deserved (L75). Godrey'sbrother,Dturlap,is judgedby Eliot for his devilishcleverness is punished rathermoreseverely; folGodrey at leasthadthe modesty think of himself asdeserving to punishment, Dunlap, instead,extortshis brotherandpreysupon his neighbowswithout self-reproach.To be rewarded with an entirelyhappypresent with promisingfutue prospects, according the logic of to
Silas Marner, demandsthe "humble sort of acquiescence what was held to be good" that 9rlas has in

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Eliot, who discerns whenthe landlord,for example, logic" (54), clearlyknows uses"analogical andbelievesthat reflectioncanhelp oneavoidmistakingnormsor habitsof thoughtfor universallyvalid / truths.vReflecting "[p]oor Marner" (14), shetells us that,"[t]o peopleaccustomed reason on to aboutthe forms in which their religious feeling hasincorporated itself, it is difficult to enterinto that simple, untaughtstateof mind in which the form andthe feelinghaveneverbeensevered an act of reflection" by (14). Perhaps reason the that Eliot, at leastwith the dispersal rewards punishments, of and suddenly conceives natureas a neatandorderlymechanism ensures thereare,to Dunlap'smisfortune, of that that "unpleasant consequences" people'sactions(73),whenotherwise characterizes to she natureasan unpredictable, chaoticentity,is because Eliot, herself, with this matter,hasnot yet managed entirely to freeherselffrom that simpleway of thinkingtoo bonded emotional to arousal enable to reflective thought. That is, while writing, whenshebringsto mind clearexamples egoisrn, of peopleintent on of or pleasing themselves, becomes overcome she so with feelingsof guilt for her own intelligence success and that shecannotyet manage that disinterested stateof mind requiredto notice, ffid thereforebe capableof altering,her naturalinclinations associate to ambitionwith hubrisandinflict vengeance the "guilty'' on \/,/ trespassers. Eliot, we know, doesnot alwaysdistinguish herselffrom "simpletons";shefrequently tells us, often including all humanityin her sweeping generalizations, we all sharesomeof the mentalhabits that of thosewho do, suchas ,1 , / of the simple andhonestmemb€rs the Raveloecommunity, But, suspiciously, *{t{ | f r,f--^/\ and/orshapingas"ill \\ William Daneand Dunlap Cass,arethosewhosegainssheinsistson characterizing '




gotten." Williar& who his peersseeasbeing"so dazzled his own light asto hold himselfwiserthan by (10), displaces his teachers" Silasasa revered brotherwith a plot that involvesstealing from the deacon. (34),who is alwayson the lookout"to take . . . someone (34),refersto Silas Dunlap,who "swaggers" in"
as an "old staring simpleton" (39). William and Dunlap ardyoungsters who not only disrespecttheir
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elders--the teachers with William, the elderlywith Dunlap--but who wouldffim indifferentto their fate oncethey hav-o from their eld€rs'presenco influencein pursuit of their'letty distanced themselvos and ($f). egoistic" pleasures

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Dunlap hasa singularability to arouse to Eliot. Eliot, who seeins find every

way to find somevirtue in "sirryle" minds, finds nonewhen shelabelsDunlap's asdull. But doesEliot truly think Dunlap dull? We notethat shelabelshim dull just after shetells us that he thinks of Silasas an old sirnpleton. Further,while Dunlap,in the sequence hashim ride his hone to deathandburglar that Silas,is shownasan impdsdddven, unttrintine fo@reviously he not only showedconsiderable cunningin his masteryover his brother,but also dernonstrated ability to mast€rhis own emotions. an Dunlap's manipulationofGodrey in a fashionwhich makeshim Consideringthat Eliot characterizes fair more diabolically cleverTthan imnulsiveand dull, vengeance, ratler tlan reasoned commentary, .r-y,s,, .t< a,.-l-O ; -v,AJ-!, t" ,* I 4,;'-.,. "*tmight move her writing h*. -n1,.--** ,, ,t -,r' k u aujr' o- l^ z,sr^-g r'/,^f".,^Previously,Eliot showedDunlap asa risk taker,but a very skilled and intelligent one, and she his also ernphasized differencebetween self-controland Godrey'slack thereof. While Godrey the succumbs a "movementofcompunction . . . which wasa blight on his life" (31), it is Dunlap who sees to marriagethe meansof gratiffing at oncehis jealousbateandhis cupidity," "in his brother's degra.ding and seizes upon his opportuniry( t). Godreyprefersto intimidateratherthanrcasonwith his broth€r. Godrey,'tnasteredby . . . fear" (29), would flog [Dunlap] . . . within an inch of his Ufe'(29). Dunlap,in by confast, maintains,evenwhile beingphysicallythreatened his brother,"an air ofunconcem" (29). He


for Godrey stopresisting to and "an'\rait" (29). If Eliot wasat thispointin thenanative make fair assessmentDunlap's to a of to acc€pt t€rms his reallycoulddonobetter as does, he that and control,she tlan to suggest, Godrey intelligeirce impulse goals, (27). one wouldbein errol because ofDunlaps's couldhave'more sharpness" Evenin this she

p.""rr"r-tbut h" thought hasenough insightinto hisbrother's

repugnant thoughit is, is to agitatehis brotherasmuchaspossible. He bravesa trial, andrisks error (or (27)),but he therebybetterknowsthe extentto which he hasensnared his fverstrfotingl his mark" brother. Ultimately,we note,Godreyacquiesces: Dunlapaccomplishes goal andneednot fear his Godrey. Dunlapis not, however,safefrom Eliot, andit is she,incapable the restraintthat evenGodrey of manages, who "knock[s] . . . [Dunlap]down" (28). / What Dunlap,in particular, represents Eliot, is someone to who "forsake[s]a decent craft that he maypursuethe gentilitiesof a profession which naturenevercd.lej hinrl' (74). Dunlap,the second to son,lives a gentrifiedlife of drink, horseridinggmd leisure,andhashis elderbrothercontemplate the consequences becoming soldier(28). In his presumption, of a Dunlapis similarto William Dane,who, / thoughfavoured, not lookeduponwith quitethe reverence arethosethoughtto be selected God r/ is as by (as for a specialpurpose Silasis). William, aswith Dunlap,betrays bondthat oughtto existbetween the ,/ brothers whenhe devises means benefitat Silas'sexpense. a to Both DunlapandWilliam canbe imaginedas similar in natureto Eliot andher conterporaries, Mid-Victorians, aswith Dunlap,and as #rl,f


",{t;"J "^ with laterbomsons, havethenebulous to theirownrole,to define "freedorn'' create thernselves rather " ilr/"Wy- ^ '. ,./ | ,, --d rhanhavinga clearroleandidentitythrustuponthernlElde"sons haveanobvious to thepastin thr, link {dfi,+ theywould,aswith Godrey, into thelandsomeday''(24). Theyaremoreeasilyimagind again^ "come *5r"/; (andasEliot herself with Godrey irnagines him),"ashaving ess€ntially an nature'(3I ), and*" V ) { .domestic

(as thusnot subject Eliot imagines Dunlap) wanderlust. to ffiot, ffiup

/'^lV^W andWilliam,posses sesthe


intelligenceto, ifshe shoulddesire,manipulate thoseabouther for her own benefit. Moreover,*"t


havesufEcientwill to acceptrisks in pursuit of goals. In a conplex, 'lnodern " wer+hanging society, this sort ofDarwinian intelligenceandwill might be deemed nec€ssary oo]y to succeed to not but "*-u",

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andmight havebeenimaginedby Eliot and her conternporaries be the nomr for her age. But p€rhaps to the habitual association ofttris sort ofintelligence asegoisticand self-servinghauntsthe minds ofpeople like Eliot sufficiently that it creates idiosyncratictende, rciesfsuchasEliot's needto prurishher likenessin her writing, and necessitates att€Nnpts exon€rate to thecrselves from charges tlat they belongto a dangerously degenerate far removedin ethicalpurity from the *honest[y] lbelongingto] . . . their age

6 - (20)./ ancestors We know that Eliot is concerned showhow intrusivepastevents be on our present.Eliot to can tells us that Nancy "filled the vacantmoments living inwardly, over and over again,throughall her by (154),an experience remernbered experience" Eliot characterizes a "morbid habit of mind" (154). And as with Godrey,Eliot showsus someone who cannot,simplyby changing patterns thinking, free his of himselffrom torment. For evenif Godreywalwith the gracious assistance time, to forgethis past,the of "past" hasnot forgetor forgivefridtl pfi"t conjures Molly in the text asan embodied ghost up from the pastwho seeks punishGodrey. Thepassage time, forgetfulness, to of *o#ro Molly's advantage, shewantsnothingmorethan to catchGodreyjust whenhe feels safeenoughfrom harm to for pursuea relationshipwith Nancy. Eliot wishesthat Godreyhadthe moral courage tell Nancy abouthis to .2 ( early marriageto Molly earlierfhanhe does,but considering that it is difficult to believethat Eliot

\u that not ruined chances Nancy, chooses contrive stratag€m his with Eliot to a d:"Ja Jb \ imagines thiswould have '7 n-?Y,r /.,
,/* rf than that of confessing sinsasa means consolidate presentand future happiness.Eliot is hir to her (other tryrng to demonstrate internalpersecutors, to whetherghostshauntingher mind, or neur5x(al networks nestedin her brain, that, with SilasMarner,her own intelligenceis at work trying to remember her forefathers--her "neighbours"from the past--and assure herselfthat shenot only valuesthembut, given the chance, would standup for them in an attemptto protectthem from ,"o ./

In the text, Eliot defends Raveloedenizens the both throughsubtleplot contrivancesTand through impassioned narative "rants." The members the Rave)oe of as communityareprimarily described simple andhonest, but, at times,alsoasvengefulandbarbari it beginning Eliot's account is only fear, of ".6*he born of superstition, which preventsSilas"from the persecution his singularitiesmight havedrawn that uponhim" (9). And nearbook's end,Silas'sisolationhelpsprotectEppiefrom "the loweringinfluences of . . . village talk andhabits"(146). The resultis that,sincewe neverdo witnesstheir persecution of .. ' w.^ /r' Silas,nor do we seeEppiegrow into anythingotherthana wholly purechild, we aremostlikely to

the with Dolly. Eliot alsohastle chance activelydefend to I t, +U associate t]Dical"Raveloean" theb€nevoleot 'tV-1N^
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."(apparrntly some the from of readers bas she *invit€d al"rrgt*u .GriLfti-orffr\-rr--"--J


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'ogrammatically ones"who cannotfathomhow her "feelingscanat all resemble theirs" (93,.%J. And fair

she Eliot sometimes evensounds a proudmemberof the Raveloe like community,especially.yhen ',,"/ t' ?.t*{rr.: i.r-ri , -,' -*-.; -'l f i :r, fl mimics,with her diatribeagainst thosewho seekmorethanttiey.Ur1e.ytlle.orcpind tohave, the Raveloean hatredfor thosewho "wish to be betterthanthe 'commonrun"' (80). the In SilasMarner,Eliot maybe both provingto herselfthat sheis morean angelwho embraces pastthan a moderndevil who disparages andaccustoming it, herselfto think this way. As with Eppie's that he is not so much soothingremarks to father,whenhe fearshe may loseher whenshemarries, losinga daughter gaininga son,Eliot tells herselfthat,asa successful as "modem" writer, sheis not resuscitated respect detaching herselffrom the normsof her forefathers, o'attaching," a supposed with but her for old folkwaysin her writing, a new ageto her own. Sodoing,shehopes replace habitual to folks couldcomeby. . . [not] us[ing] that conception those"who ha[ve]morecunningthanhonest of cunningin a neighbourlywat'' with her preferred acuteness sense "mind[s] . . . of extraordinary that of] [servea role in their] . . . contemplat[ion the doingsof their fallible fellow-men"(77,102). Shehopes, aswith Eppie,havingplacated "relations,"that shemight therebV freeto enjoythe firrits of her her be / feelingsof self-repro own refinement without experiencing acnY rsgffipossible that Eliot may not, at n heart,truly respect forefathers.Indeed, her therearesignsin the text that shethinksthat the povertyof past,might be a conditionthat they both "ordinary farmers"(68), the prototypeinhabitant our pastoral of could and shouldhavefreedthemselves from. We feel this whenshedrawsour attention how similar to in naturethe Raveloefarmersareto SquireCass, because have"slouched their way throughlife but they with a consciousness beingin the vicinity of their "betters,o' of and [they] wantthat self-possession authoritativeness voice andcarriage of which belong[s]to a manwho thoughtof superiors remote as /

(68). Ultimately,perhaps existences" Raveloe, Eliot, is like the brownpot Silaskeepsby his hearth: it for is be kept andtended only while its mistreatment to might seem "bruise[her] . . . roots" (142),that is, to while its removalor replacement would provedisturbing.Justas Silas'stotemicrelic, the lastremaining pieceat book's endof his dwelling'sold furnishings, overtime might conceivably daybe nothing one morethan a decrepitold pot to Silas,Raveloe, the place,time, andpeopleRaveloe or re,presents, might


oneday for Eliot becomean irrelevant old village peopledwith cowardry and zuperstitious simpletons. consideringEliot's previousloving sentiment, thoughts,andwords,this development wourd seema betrayalof her forefathers, but as sheherselftells us, ..language is a streamthat is almostsureto smackof a mingledsoil,,(7S). /


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