53 pages 1 hour read

George Eliot

Silas Marner

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1861

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Summary and Study Guide


Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe is the third novel by Mary Ann Evans, published under the pseudonym George Eliot. The realist novel portrays the life of a weaver in 1800s England against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution. The novel has been adapted into films, radio plays, theatrical productions, and television shows.

This guide refers to the 2021 Alma Classics edition.

Content Warning: This guide discusses addiction and depression, which feature in Silas Marner.

Plot Summary

Silas Marner is set in the early 19th century. The eponymous Silas Marner is a working-class weaver who lives in the village of Raveloe in Northern England. Since he does not come from Raveloe, many of the locals treat him with suspicion. He lives alone on the edge of the town, and he occasionally experiences undiagnosed convulsive fits. Silas previously lived in a different region of Northern England, called Lantern Yard. However, he was forced to leave after being falsely accused of stealing from his local church, where he was also a member of the congregation. The people of Lantern Yard drove Silas out of town, forcing him to end his engagement to a local woman. His former fiancée instead married William Dane, Silas’s supposed best friend, who may have framed Silas for the theft.

Silas is deeply affected by the false accusation. He finds no comfort or familiarity in Raveloe, so he dedicates his time to his solitary work. When he tries to reach out to his neighbors by suggesting an herbal remedy for an illness, the locals accuse him of meddling in witchcraft. Since he has few expenses and no one to socialize with, Silas hoards his earnings and becomes obsessed with accumulating wealth. He lives a miserly lifestyle; each night, he pulls his stash of money from its hiding place to carefully count it out. Silas spends 15 years living like this.

The richest man in Raveloe is Squire Cass. His sons, Godfrey and Dunstan (nicknamed Dunsey) are very different. The young Dunsey often bullies his good-natured older brother. Godfrey loves a woman named Nancy Lammeter, though he is secretly married to Molly Farren, who is addicted to opium. Godfrey was cajoled into marrying Molly by his cruel and greedy brother. Dunsey threatens to reveal the marriage if Godfrey does not do as he says, thus covering up his own theft and indiscretions.

One night, Dunsey steals two bags of Silas’s precious gold coins. Silas discovers that he has been robbed and sinks into a deep depression. The locals try to help Silas, but he refuses their aid after years of isolation. Dunsey vanishes with the gold. Since this is not the first time that he has disappeared, few locals notice. A passing peddler is blamed for the theft.

On New Year’s Eve, Molly brings her two-year-old daughter to the party at the Cass house. She wants to reveal her marriage to Godfrey, who is growing closer to Nancy. Before Molly can reach the party, however, she collapses from opium ingestion, losing consciousness in the snow. Left alone, her child wanders away and into Silas’s house, falling asleep by the fire. Silas does not notice her, as he is suffering from a fit. When he comes to, Silas follows the child’s trail and finds Molly dead. He tries to summon help at the Cass party but, on noticing Molly, Godfrey ignores his dead wife, as he is now free to marry Nancy. He does not reveal that the young girl is his daughter.

Silas decides to take care of the motherless child. He names her Eppie, in reference to his mother and sister. Eppie revitalizes Silas. Though he no longer has his gold, he feels he now has something even more valuable. Godfrey marries Nancy, but his marriage to Molly, and the existence of his daughter, remains a secret. He covertly gives money to Silas to help with Eppie’s upbringing. Silas’s neighbor, Dolly Winthrop, also helps him to raise Eppie. Gradually, Silas integrates into the local community.

Sixteen years later, Eppie is a popular person in the village. Godfrey and Nancy are married but do not have children. Following his father’s death, Godfrey inherited the family fortune. When a stone pit near Silas’s house is drained, Dunsey’s remains are found alongside the stolen gold. Godfrey is terrified that his secrets will be similarly revealed. He tells Nancy about his first marriage and the existence of his daughter, Eppie. Nancy understands but is upset that she did not know earlier, as she and Godfrey could have adopted Eppie. She visits Silas’s house with Godfrey, who tells Eppie the truth about her lineage. Eppie announces that she would rather stay with Silas than live with Godfrey and Nancy, who still want to help however they can. Silas returns to Lantern Yard, which has radically changed through industrialization. He finds no answers to his questions about the false accusation. Eppie marries Dolly Winthrop’s son, Aaron, and they live in Silas’s house, renovated with Godfrey’s money.