Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Nitwit's Review of Silas Marner

I don't know how I missed reading George Eliot's book "Silas Marner" in school. I've been thinking it was one of those classics that they teach in high school, but if that's true and if I did read it then, I'd forgotten every bit of it by now. Perhaps some people would say, "Lucky you!"

It was a Steve Martin movie that I saw on TV last year called, "A Simple Twist Of Fate" that led me to read it at long last. After seeing the movie, I read that the story line was based on the classic George Eliot novel. I don't know much about comic Steve Martin's serious side, but this is at least the second time he's made a movie of a classic novel. The other, a modern version of Cyrano De Bergerac renamed "Roxanne", was comic, as you'd expect from him, but the Silas Marner movie, as I recall, was pretty straightforward. I liked both of those movies, though neither was perfect.

Not Much To Say

I had thought I might write a review of the next book I read and that I liked. I find now that, though I liked the Silas Marner book, I start this review feeling that I won't find much to say about it. I'd recommend it to any of my friends who usually enjoy this sort of thing and to none of my friends who don't. There are no shootouts or car chases—even the horse race and a ruined horse are not depicted in much hot detail. There's no fisticuffs, love scenes, or other rollicking events. Every detailed thing I can say about the book seems likely to dissuade anyone from reading it. Yet it's a well-written book with clear observations and intelligent phrases all through.

Hey, Where's The Trash And The Sensationalism?

Now that I've read Silas Marner, I see that Hollywood changed the story some—when do they not change the story?—adding a bit more "drama" to suit the modern taste. I guess all of the book could be said to have had rather less drama, "impact" or "sizzle" that modern tastes prefer.

Like many other books, Silas Marner wasn't written in a time of "ultra" anything. It was written by a woman who was very liberated for the times—she lived with a married man (unable to obtain a divorce) for many years, for instance—who, as an author, found it advisable to maintain the illusion that she was a man in order not to ruin her book sales. I have been told by friends that some of her other writings depicted more daring or more improper situations than this one, but there's no unmarried fornicators or sinners in this book.

The one bit of intrigue or suspense is in the knowledge that the hero, formerly a miser caring only for his wealth, has lost his riches and then "saved himself" from his despair by the adoption of a child who is no relation to him. The reader knows whom the father of the child is and that the father is nearby. We know it's something awful hanging over Silas Marner's head all the time, though Silas does not know it. Something will happen—any reader would know it—and it cannot bode well. In the reader's eyes, the more adjusted and normal the former hermit becomes, the more normalized his relation to society becomes and the more his love for the adopted girl grows, the larger the cloud over him seems to looms. Silas has far more to lose now than when he had his poor man's treasure, his bag of gold.

The child's real father is morally weak, but he is rich, and anyone who isn't rich can see what's wrong with that picture and what will eventually be threatened. This spoiled rich man will declare himself and demand his child. What happens to the reader is that, though we know where it all leads, the closer we get to it, the more we abhor the possibility of the impoverished but happy father and daughter being deprived of their treasure, which is one another. Jeez, I sound like a set of Cliffs notes.

Tell Me, Tell Me, Tell Me The Answer

Though there are other characters and situations woven through this, the above is the crux of the tension in the book, the thing we wait to see resolved, the one we wade through other elements to see played out. It keeps the reader curious and anxious to know the end of it. As with Charles Dickens' writing and other older fiction, there are characters and scenes that poke along slowly as if we have nothing better to do in the world—which of course, readers of that time didn't, having no TV, movies, telephones, etc. on which to piss away the moments of their lives. A modern reader, however, does have to fight a sense of irritable hurry. I found I had to skim a little to keep from falling asleep, but only paragraphs here and there, not whole pages or chapters.

It is a curiosity to be a little enthralled by a book we have every reason to consider apt to be boring. All the talk of the rural characters, backwoodsy even at the time that George Eliot wrote it, is even more so now. Slow characters, when written, create some very slow conversations. But there's a good story and a good writer at work behind it all—you don't quite know what's going to happen until very near the end, even though you know every fact before the end!

I'm glad I got around to reading this book at last. So, thanks, Steve Martin, you big jerk!
a 4800-word story, somewhat comic, somewhat not, located in
a short story blog for all the Lost And Found of this world.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."— Mark Twain

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