December 11, 2008

The Little Child Had Come to Link Him Once More with the Whole World

No, not that child, though there is a seasonal allusion. I'm rereading Silas Marner and finding it every bit as good a secular fable for the holidays as A Christmas Carol--better, even, as the inspiring transformation of a lonely and bitter miser in this case is entirely the result of human accident, agency, and love. Here's poor Silas, bereft at the loss of his gold:
Silas spent his Christmas-day in loneliness, eating his meat in sadness of heart . . . . In the morning he looked out on the black frost that seemed to press cruelly on every blade of grass, while the half-icy red pool shivered under the bitter wind; but towards the evening the snow began to fall, and curtained from him even that dreary outlook, shutting him close up with his narrow grief. And he sat in his robbed home through the livelong evening, not caring to close his shutters or lock his door, pressing his head between his hands and moaning, until the cold grasped him and told him that his fire was grey.
It's no supernatural visitor, but a golden-haired child who stirs "old quiverings of tenderness" in Silas's bruised heart, animates his past, present, and future, and restores him to the human community:
[I]n this way, as the weeks grew to months, the child created fresh links between his life and the lives from which he had hitherto shrunk continually into narrower isolation. Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude--which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones--Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movement; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her. The gold had kept his thoughts in an every-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward . . . . The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, re-awakening his senses with her fresh life . . . and warming him into joy because she had joy. . . .

In the old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.


Robby Virus said...

I LOVED this book! I thought that the story was incredibly well-crafted, meaning that aside from Eliot's usual great way with words, the way the plot itself unfolded was brilliant (and perfectly satisfying!).

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

That last short paragraph is a strange tangle of the sentimental and sublime. The whole passage is very interesting.