The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 26. Silas Marner
After the completion of this novel, which was dedicated to Lewes, the authoress left England in his company for a few months’ holiday, which she spent mainly in Italy. In Florence, which aroused in her a stronger interest than even Rome itself, she began to think of Romola; nor is it possible that this theme could have grown in her mind without the aid of the genius loci. But, after her return, although she continued to carry on an extensive course of reading for the sake of this book, she did not actually set to work upon it for nearly a twelvemonth further. Wholly absorbed as she was, at this time, by her literary work, and holding aloof from any wider social intercourse, she was able, by 1861, to complete for publication another story, totally different in its associations from that upon which her mind had already become primarily intent. Silas Marner, though it can hardly be said to fall under the category of short stories, extends to no great length, and, in construction and treatment, shows a perfect sense of proportion on the part of the writer. Indeed, competent judges have pronounced it, in form, George Eliot’s most finished work, while none of her larger novels surpasses it in delicacy of pathos. The life of the solitary linen-weaver, driven out long ago, by a grievous wrong, from the little religious community to which he belonged, and doomed, as it seemed, to a remote quietude rendered bearable only by his satisfaction in his growing pile of gold, is suddenly changed by the theft of his treasure. The young spendthrift who has done the deed vanishes; and the mystery remains unsolved till it is cleared up with the unravelling of the whole plot of the story. Nothing could be more powerfully drawn than the blank despondency of the unhappy man, and nothing more beautifully imagined than the change wrought by the golden-haired child who takes the place of the gold by his hearth and in his heart. The tenderness of fancy which pervades this simple tale, and the brightness of humour which, not so much in the symposiasts of the Rainbow as in the motherly Dolly Winthrop, relieves the constrained simplicity of its course, certainly assure to Silas Marner a place of its own among George Eliot’s works.