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Silas Marner

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 28 January 2010

Melvyn Bragg and guests Rosemary Ashton, Dinah Birch and Valentine Cunningham discuss George Eliot's novel Silas Marner.

Published in 1861, Silas Marner is by far Eliot's shortest and seemingly simplest work. Yet beneath the fairytale-like structure, of all her novels it offers the most focused expression of Eliot's moral view. Influenced by the deconstruction of Christianity pioneered by leading European thinkers including Auguste Comte and Ludwig Feuerbach, Silas Marner is a highly sophisticated attempt to translate the symbolism of religion into purely human terms.

The novel tells the story of Silas, a weaver who is thrown out of his religious community after being falsely charged with theft. Silas is embittered and exists only for his work and his precious hoard of money - until that money is stolen, and an abandoned child wanders into his house.

By the end of her lifetime, George Eliot was the most powerful female intellectual in the country. Her extraordinary range of publications encompassed novels, poetry, literary criticism, scientific and religious texts. But beneath her fierce intellecualism was the deep convinction that for society to continue, humans must connect with their fellow humans. And it is this idea that forms the core of her writing.

Rosemary Ashton is Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College, London; Dinah Birch is Professor of English at Liverpool University; And Valentine Cunningham is Professor of English Language and Literature at Corpus Christi, University of Oxford.

  • FURTHER READING

    Ashton, Rosemary, G. H. Lewes: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)

    Ashton, Rosemary, George Eliot: A Life (Penguin, 1998)

    Ashton, Rosemary, 142 Strand: A Radical Address in Victorian London (London: Chatto and Windus, 2006)

    Carroll, David, ed., George Eliot: The Critical Heritage (Routledge, 1971)

    Eliot, George, ‘The Natural History of German Life’ and ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’ in Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings (Penguin, 2005)

    Haight, Gordon, George Eliot: A Biography (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968)

    Haight, Gordon, The George Eliot Letters, 9 vols (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1954-78)

    Levine, George, The Cambridge Companion to George Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)

    Pinney, Thomas (ed.), The Essays of George Eliot (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963)

    Wordsworth, William, ‘Tintern Abbey’, ‘Michael’ and ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’ in Selected Poems (Penguin Classics, 2004)

    Other fiction by George Eliot:

    Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Felix Holt the Radical (1866), Middlemarch (1872), Daniel Deronda (1876)

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