[This was already Dallas's third fulsome notice in Times of a new work of fiction by George Eliot. The review as a whole covered nearly two-and-a-half columns, of which the opening and closing paragraphs are transcribed here. - Graham Law]

Silas Marner

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o George Eliot belongs this praise - that not only is every one of her tales a masterpiece, but also they may be opened at almost any page, and the eye is certain to light upon something worth reading - some curious dialogue or vivid description, some pregnant thought or happy phrase. Silas Marner is, like the rest of her fictions, full of matter and delightful in manner. It is a picture of secluded village life in the midland counties in the early part of the present century, and we owe not a little gratitude to the author for the good which she has done, as well as for the amusement which she has imparted by means of such pictures. She has given dignity to the life of boors and peasants in some of our bucolic districts, and this not by any concealment of their ignorance, follies, and frailties, nor by false colouring, bombastic sentiment, and exceptional events, but by a plain statement of the everyday life of the people. The charm of George Eliot's novels lies in their truthfulness. Nothing is extenuated nor aught set down in malice. We see the people amid all their grovelling cares, with all their coarseness, ignorance, and prejudice - poor, paltry, stupid, wretched, well-nigh despicable. This mean existence George Eliot raises into dignity by endowing it with conscience and with kindliness. There is nothing glittering about it. Here we have no mock heroics. There is not the slightest attempt to represent the boor as a village Hampden, nor the passing pedlar as a poet wanting the accomplishment of verse. The personages of the tale are common, very common people, but they are good and kind, hardworking and dutiful. It is very wonderful to see how their lives are ennobled and beautified by their sense of duty, and by their sympathy with each other. It is the grandest of all lessons - the only true philosophy - the most consoling of creeds - that real greatness is within reach of the poorest and meanest of mankind. Wealth, glory, the pride of intellect, and the advantages of personal form - these are rare gifts, which seem to be scattered at random among the good and the bad; and in this ambitious age a when we see every one hastening to be rich and covetous of distinction, it is pleasant to be reminded that the honest man is the noblest work of God. George Eliot reminds us of it in her own genial way - transporting us into the midst of these stupid, common-place inhabitants of Raveloe - making them move before us and speak as if they lived, and making us feel a warm interest in all their petty concerns and humble endeavours. Such a novelist, while she amuses, teaches us. We open her volumes confident of most brilliant entertainment, and we close them wondering at the art of a writer who manages to reverse a time-honoured phrase and to render us, not sadder and better, but merrier and better. . . . [12b]

This is the burden of the book expressed in comical fashion. The weaver of Raveloe is very much in the position of the man of Uz. He is surrounded with comforters, most of whom are even less sympathizing than the comforters of Job, and he sinks into a deeper despair than that of the most patient of men, for, as we have said, he cursed and denied God in his affliction. The picture of his misery and the discipline of his repentance are but a homely, human version of the older and diviner drama. Instead of supernatural incidents and divine colloquies, we have ordinary accidents and village prattle. Instead of the Deity coming forth to justify his afflicted creature and to teach him better, a little child proves to the world the good qualities of his heart, and gives light and liberty to his understanding. It is a noble lesson, beautifully taught, though in saying thus much we run a risk of conveying the impression that George Eliot belongs to the class of religious or moralizing novelists who have rendered hateful the very idea of serious purpose in a novel. This is not the case, however. Hers is a very spiritual nature, and she cannot choose but regard life from a very lofty point of view. But her novels are true novels, not sermons done into dialogue. The moral purpose which is evident in her writing is mostly an unconscious purpose. It is that sort of moral meaning which belongs to every great work of art, and which no elevated mind can get rid of. She tells a simple story without the least idea of inculcating any copy-book lesson, but by merely elevating the reader to her mount of observation she cannot fail to suggest to the mind some profound reflections. . . . [12d]

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[Dallas, Eneas Sweetland]. "Silas Marner," The Times (29 April 1861): 12b-d. [Review of George Eliot, Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe, Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1861.]

Created 2 February 2024