Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Penguin "Cabinet edition of 1878" 1996 edition. Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.
Overall Impression: This is a fine work, more meaningful to me read as an adult.
Written 1860-1, set (at the time of the theft) in the early 1800s.
The inscription is from Wordsworth:
A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts.
Silas Marner is a linen-weaver who, before coming to Raveloe as a young man in c. 1790, had participated in the Calvinist sect community of Lantern Yard, "North'ard" of Raveloe. There he was framed and falsely accused of a theft by his friend, William Dane, who believed Silas' cataleptic fits were the work of the devil. Silas' guilt was finalized by the drawing of lots and he went into bitter exile to Raveloe, losing his fiancee Sarah to Dane.
Raveloe differs much from Lantern Yard-- his God seems far removed there. He has helped Sally Oates dropsy, engendering suspicion amongst some villagers that he has powers allied with the devil, but refuses to help others with healing herbs. At night, he goes through a ritual of pulling out and handling his accumulated gold coins, which he has hoarded over the 16 years there. He has become a lonely withdrawn miser.
Godfrey Cass is the eldest son of Squire Cass and has made a secret and degrading marriage to the lowly Molly Farren while wishing he could marry the lovely and respectable Nancy Lammeter. His brother Dunstan ("Dunsey") theratens to make this known and holds this over him. Dunsey has spent money owed his father by a tenant, Mr. Fowler, and Godfrey reluctantly agrees to allow Dunstan sell Godfrey's horse Wildfire to raise the funds. But Dunstan causes the mare's death on a stake while jumping it. Walking home in the rain and mist, Dunstan comes upon Silas' cottage at the stone-pits and enters, finding and stealing his hidden bags of gold.
Silas is distraught to discover the theft, and rushes to the local tavern the Rainbow to announce it. The men there swap tales and insults, and wonder about ghosts in the land. Silas is first taken for a ghost, but eventually the men agree to help him. They speculate a foreign pedlar with earrings did the deed.
Godfrey learns that his horse is dead and confesses his financial misdeeds to his father-- the Squire plans to turn Dunstan out, but he never returns. Silas is comforted by Mr. Macey and then Mrs. Dolly Winthrop, the latter encouraging him to be neighborly and to attend church.
On the night of the traditional New Year's Eve party at the Cass', Godfrey uncomfortably struggles with how to win Nancy's respect and love. Molly, bent on revenge, resolves to confront Godfrey and his family with her existence and child. She sets out with her two year old daughter in the snow, but takes opium, gets lost, and sinks into the snow and freezes to death. Her golden-haired child toddles into Silas' cottage, seeming as if a gift of God (or his lost sister) to replace his lost gold. Silas seeks a doctor for the mother at the Cass' but she is found to be long dead. Godfrey is relieved.
Silas wants to keep the child. He is assisted by Dolly, who recommends that she be christened (he names her Hepzibah or "Eppie" after his mother.) With the needs of parenting and the love of Eppie, Silas' life is transformed: he emerges from his isolation and begins to connect with others. He nurtures Eppie and is unable to punish her. Godfrey watches Eppie from afar, unwilling to tarnish his name by announcing his fatherhood.
In Part II, The novel jumps abruptly 16 years ahead. Eppie is now 18 y/o, likes Aaron, and wonders about having her mother's wedding ring when she marries.
Godfrey and Nancy have married. She is a devoted wife and keeps a spotless house. Their only child died young and both lament the absence of children in their lives-- but Godfrey has asked her to adopt a child, specifically the unacknowledged Eppie, and she has refused.
Dunstan's skeleton is discovered in the drained stone-pit, along with Silas' gold. Godfrey elects to confess his past marriage and fathering Eppie to his wife. She accepts him, wishing he had confessed earlier.
The gold no longer has its powerful hold on Silas that it used to have. The Cass' come to Silas' cottage and ask first to adopt Eppie to provide a better life for her in order to make up for the harm Dunstan caused to Silas. When he and she turn this down, Godfrey informs them he is the parent and has a rightful claim on her. Silas bitterly asks why he did not claim the girl 16 years ago, but eventually leaves the decision up to Eppie. She again refuses to leave her beloved adopted father and her kind, declining to become a lady.
Nancy and Godfrey resign themselves to not getting Eppie, but provide some financial help. They do not divulge the secret.
Silas and Eppie journey back to find Lantern Yard, in hopes of being vindicated from the false accusation, but it has diappeared into a grimy factory. Aaron Winthrop, son of Dolly and Ben W., marries Eppie and moves in at the enlarged cottage at the stone-pits with her and her father.