Silas Marner

Silas Marner Summary and Analysis of Part One, Chapters 9-11

Chapter Nine

There is a confrontation between Godfrey and his father, the Squire. True to his decision at the close of Chapter 8, Godfrey decides to forgo the opportunity to confess his secret marriage, instead electing to tell his father merely about the death of Wildfire and the innocence of Mr. Fowler.

Godfrey approaches his father at breakfast, much to the surprise of the Squire, who is used to eating alone in the mornings, and he tells the Squire that there has been "a cursed piece of ill-luck with Wildfire." Godfrey explains about the horse and says that Bob Fowler has paid the one hundred pounds, which Godfrey neglected to give straight away to the Squire at Dunstan's bidding.

The Squire turns purple at this conspiracy. In his anger he threatens to disown the whole lot of his children. He asks why Godfrey should give the money to Dunstan without some reason at the bottom of it, and he makes a very close guess about what exactly is going on, saying, "You've been up to some trick, and you've been bribing [Dunstan] not to tell." Godfrey, desperate to keep his dirty secret hidden, reassures his father that it was a personal matter.

The smoke begins to settle, and Squire Cass, still blustering a bit, turns the conversation toward Godfrey's shortcomings (he has quite given up on Dunstan). He asks Godfrey why he has been hesitating in taking Nancy for his wife. The Squire, much to Godfrey's chagrin, suggests that he himself will approach Mr. Lammeter about the prospect of their children getting married.

Godfrey entrusts his fate to chance, hoping against hope that by some miracle he will be able to rid himself of all his burdens and gain all that he desires in one fell swoop. Eliot expands upon Godfrey's notion of chance, calling "Favourable Chance" the "god of all men who follow their own devices instead of obeying a law they believe in." Godfrey ought to be careful for what he wishes.

Chapter Ten

The excitement of the theft of Marner's gold has dwindled. The pedlar has not been found, and though conversation continues apace about the robbery, it occurs sleepily. It occurs to no one to connect the disappearance of the gold and that of Dunstan. Not even his brother suspects him, since he has been known to run off in the past, and the Wildfire affair is taken as ample motivation for him to have done just that.

While his misfortune thus provides the town with fodder for conversation, Marner himself has slipped into an inexpressibly deep depression. Although his was a dreary existence before, at least with his hoard he had something on which to focus his energies, some evidence of his importance to the world. Without his gold, he is left hollow and desolate, fulfilled only by a low, moaning grief.

Still, Marner has changed in the eyes of his fellow villagers. He is no longer considered a diabolical master of the unknown art of the loom. He is seen as rather stupid but also humanly unfortunate, too dull to take care of himself. The villagers pity him somewhat, visiting and bringing gifts. Mr. Macey, in his attempt to cheer Marner up, merely manages to insinuate that it is obvious that Marner is too weak and frightened himself to be suspected of anything like deception. This attempt at kindness falls upon Marner "as sunshine falls upon the wretched."

Another visitor to Marner, Mrs. Winthrop, proves to be a truly conscientious soul. She visits on Christmas Day with her son, Aaron, and a gift of lard-cakes. Mrs. Winthrop says that Marner really ought not be working on a Sunday, but that he should come to church instead for the Christmas service, or at least come into town to the bakehus to prepare something hot to eat on Sundays. While Marner appreciates her good faith, he is just about completely indifferent to her theology. Marner does not recognize Mrs. Winthrop's religion as akin to that of his own past. After Aaron sings a verse of "God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen," Mrs. Winthrop, seeing perhaps the futility of her visit, gets ready to leave, mentioning to Marner meanwhile that he should not count the loss of his money as so awful. After Mrs. Winthrop and Aaron have gone, Marner is relieved to be able to return to his weaving and his moaning, as desolate as ever.

Meanwhile, there is a to be massive dance at the Red House for all the society of Raveloe and Tarley. The chapter closes with preparations in full swing for this coming party. Godfrey is again in torment: Dunstan's disappearance is a source of joy for Godfrey, on the one hand, because he can spend the coming New Year's dance admiring Nancy. Yet anxiety reminds him that soon his reckoning will have to come, for Molly is in need of money, and she is not likely to remain quiet much longer.

Chapter Eleven

Nancy Lammeter arrives at the Red House New Year's Dance looking beautiful as always, and after an awkward greeting with Godfrey, she makes her way into the ladies' dressing room. There she finds the two Miss Gunns, visitors from Lytherly who are dressed in the height of fashion. Nancy converses with her aunt, Mrs. Osgood, with whom she has a special though formal bond. Nancy's sister, Priscilla, enters and begins chatting. Both she and Nancy are wearing the same gown, a sisterly idea of Nancy's that, needless to say, accentuates the difference in beauty of the two sisters. Still, they get along fine, and Priscilla, blunt as ever, greets the Miss Gunns by saying, more or less, that "we homely girls have our advantages too." The shallow, prim Miss Gunns are much offended--and Priscilla couldn't care less. She continues to offer her strong opinions while they finish dressing, speaking on men and marriage. She likes to "see the men mastered," and as for marriage, she says that "Mr. Have-your-way is the best husband."

The dinner preceding the dance begins. Nancy is seated between Godfrey and Mr. Crackenthorp. Conversation is merry and generous; Dr. Kimble and the Squire trade jokes and laughs. Much to Godfrey's dread, the Squire makes extravagant compliments about Nancy's appearance. Godfrey is racked with panic lest the conversation turn too directly to marriage. The Squire secures Godfrey the first dance with Nancy who, though quite upset at Godfrey's treatment of her in the past, does not say no.

The dance begins. The rector, the Squire, Mr. Lammeter and of course Godfrey and Nancy take a turn on the floor. Mr. Macey and Ben Winthrop watch the dancing while they share a drink. Mr. Macey finds fault with just about everyone, though Nancy escapes his censure. Meanwhile, Nancy has experienced a minor wardrobe malfunction on the dance floor. She asks Godfrey's help in escorting her, and they take this opportunity to have it out a little bit: Nancy makes bitter cracks about his pleasure-filled life, and Godfrey makes solemn statements that no pleasure means so much to him as her company. Their rapport ends with the coming of Priscilla to Nancy's aid. Godfrey turns aglow at the thought that Nancy must still have feelings for him.


Chapter 9 is a continuation, in a sense, of the last half of Chapter 8. It develops our understanding of Godfrey's moral cowardice while also giving us, indirectly, an account of how his character came to be formed. Godfrey has lived in the Red House his whole life without maternal guidance. His mother died before he knew her, and although this fact has been mentioned before, here we see for the first time just what this absence has rendered. There are no courtesies in conversation, no shared meal times. The Squire is wholly absorbed in his own life and his own petty grievances. His appearance is slovenly and disgusting, made more so by his haughty comportment. He treats his children more like tenants than like family, to be dismissed or ordered about or evicted. All of this, Eliot suggests, comes from lacking a nurturing mother figure.

In this context it is very easy to see what Nancy Lammeter means to Godfrey. He sees her as a surrogate mother. She would bring him an orderly life, smiles, pleasant conversation, a sense of his own worth. So it is clear what is at stake for Godfrey if he should lose his chance at Nancy: he would lose his hope of a functional family. Certainly, for all his weaknesses, the reader must feel that Godfrey deserves such a family. Alas, it is almost impossible for him to expect such a happy ending at this point in the novel.

The Squire, for his part, is equally responsible for Godfrey's miserable character. He is utterly unaware of his own foolishness, subscribing instead to the belief that folly is a monopoly of the young. Others share this opinion. It is cited, for instance, in dismissing Godfrey's claim that the mysterious pedlar was not an evil man-a thoroughly reasonable claim. Eliot ironically suggests, then, that folly is at least as much the property of the old as the young. Indeed, Godfrey is able to manipulate the prejudice against a youngster's folly later in the chapter, when he tells his father that the Bob Fowler affair was a private, foolish matter of youth between himself and Dunstan. It is not so foolish to exploit the appearance of folly, while it is much more foolish to swallow such a line, as the Squire does.

Eliot closes Chapter 9 with a kind of mini-essay on Favourable Chance. The capitalization of the words is itself a mockery, suggesting that folks in Godfrey's extreme position look upon even the random pattern of luck with abstract awe. Dunstan seems to have all the luck without ever asking for it, while Godfrey, who does nothing but pray for luck all day, never gets it. Thus Dunstan has already been associated with Favourable Chance. As the novel develops, we see more and more how akin Dunstan and Chance really are. They both seem immune to injury or repercussion. As Godfrey says of Dunstan in Chapter 8: "He'll never be hurt-he's made to hurt other people." The same might be said of Chance. And Godfrey, unable to stand for his own life, entrusts his future happiness to both of those slippery entities, Chance and Dunstan. It becomes clear that Chance, for those in Godfrey's shoes, is not to be trusted.

Chapter 10 depicts, in the extremely lovely prose of a narrative poem, the whole panorama of Raveloe at Christmastime, from Marner's lonely cottage to the preparations for the bustling Red House New Year's Eve party. And while the chapter pivots around Marner's change in the eyes of the villagers, it ultimately emphasizes Marner's continued distance from Raveloe life. After all, it was not merely William's betrayal many years ago that made Marner so unfit to be a part of society; it was also his having grown up in a strict Puritan religious community, with strange and unique customs. While the robbery provided Marner with an opportunity to reenter society, his foreignness remains obvious and, for the moment, insurmountable.

This foreignness is clear in the visits by Mr. Macey and Mrs. Winthrop. Mr. Macey expressly visits Marner to let him know that he has changed his mind about the reclusive weaver and that Marner is not so bad after all. Yet, Macey's visit is as much an indication of the old man's high opinion of himself as it is of any changed opinion about Marner. The reason for this change of opinion is hardly flattering. Macey squarely asserts that Marner is too simple to invent anything like the story of his own tragedy. He says that Marner is not capable of "making out a tale"--that is, of telling a lie--unwittingly making a pun on the weaver's trade ("making tales" in the old sense of "weaving linens"). Marner is figured as a tale-maker who cannot make a tale.

Mrs. Winthrop's visit, though plagued by some of the same cultural problems as Marner's visit with Macey, is altogether more amiable. While Marner's upbringing in Lantern Yard precludes him from understanding the religious significance of the Sunday bells (there were no bells in Lantern Yard) or the Christmas carol (only psalms were sung in Lantern Yard) or the importance of going to church (service was held in chapel), there is still, Eliot suggests, a bond of sorts between Marner and Mrs. Winthrop. Marner's dull, half-despairing need for outside help is the first step toward redemption. This cautious beginning of a return to faith is best symbolized in the lard-cakes that Mrs. Winthrop brings Marner, which are stamped with the Greek abbreviation for Christ's name. Marner thus digests a cake representing Jesus Christ. This is a kind of new communion, a taking of the sacrament on Christmas Day. Combined with little Aaron's Christmas hymn and Mrs. Winthrop's sermon, the visit amounts to a church service right in Marner's cottage. So although Eliot keeps Marner and his visitors ignorant of the symbolic significance of the visit, she carefully shows the sacredness of the occasion. Marner has already begun his return to the community of faith, although he does not yet know it.

The visits of Mr. Macey and Mrs. Winthrop have a strong resonance with the Biblical book of Job. God teaches Satan a lesson about righteousness and faith after Job, a virtuous man, suffers great and worsening miseries until he is left sitting alone, covered in sores, on a dung heap. Several of his friends visit him there to offer awkward consolation and advice, but Job retains his faith. Similarly, Marner is an honest, good Christian who has everything he believes in taken from him by a deceiver. He is reduced to pitying himself as though he were Job, and in this state he is visited and consoled. Both the book of Job and Silas Marner, invite contemplation of the mysteries of fate and divine justice.

In Chapter 11, the dance at the Red House shows the village of Raveloe in its best light. Good humor and generosity abound. The grand old manor teems with femininity and wit and dancing. This picture contrasts with our last view of the Red House, when Godfrey had his confrontation with the Squire. Then there had been no evidence of nurturing, no hint of generosity or understanding. The New Year truly has a restorative function in Raveloe: "This was as it should be ... and the charter of Raveloe seemed to be renewed by the ceremony." Even so, the dance is a special occasion, expressing themes of costume and superficial performance as much as it points toward lasting values. Once the women have left the Red House, it will return to the bachelor's kingdom it has become, and the Squire will resume his self-important idleness. For Godfrey, especially, the dance is a time of escape, not affirmation.

Chapter 11 also uses a distinct tone. Readers might think of Jane Austen as Eliot observes the manners of rural society with a deft wit. The introduction of Priscilla Cass uncovers the hypocrisy and pettiness of the assembled rich folk. Priscilla provides something of a feminist point of view, thanking her stars that there are pretty women like her sister, Nancy, to keep the damned men away from her. She swears she will never have a master for a husband, and she delights in seeing men overpowered by women. Her sincerity here is unclear, but it may seem refreshing to the other women to see such disobedience. Eliot's other works, which are generally more realistic in tone and plot, contain a great deal more of this perspective, especially The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch.

Also noteworthy in Chapter 11 is the clarity of class lines in the village. Although it seems that a fairly large subset of villagers is welcome at the Red House dance, only the most powerful families-the Lammeters, the Osgoods, the Casses, the Kimbles, the Crackenthorps-and their guests seem to be full members of the festivities. Mr. Macey and Ben Winthrop, being "privileged" members of the village, are nevertheless invited to sit on long benches aside the dance hall, being relegated to the position of observing the pleasures of their betters.