To aid recovery from my Christmas bout of Hyper-Gaskellitis I dosed myself up with some George Eliot and read Silas Marner.
Luckily George didn't have Nell Freudenberger's problem which should have made life a whole lot easier.Being described by Henry James as "magnificently awe-inspiringly ugly" should have won her the sympathy vote surely?
I hadn't picked up Silas Marner since the compulsory school read when I was about 14 and when, to my complete surprise, I loved it, so I was interested to see how it shaped up nearly 40 years on.How can all that not be helped by this adorable painting on the cover of the Oxford World's Classics edition? Worn Out by Thomas Faed (1826-1900)
To be honest, ugly or not, George Eliot needs no assistance to shape up. I realise now she works for me regardless, so I was rapidly into the The Weaver of Raveloe and emerged feeling all sparkly and refreshed.
It was a joy to read it for pleasure and not pay too much attention to all the deep and meaningful stuff going on but there can be no doubt, as the introduction in my edition by Terence Cave points out, the novel "holds in place some of George Eliot's most serious and far-reaching concerns".
That aside it's just such a lovely story, the lonely weaver storing up his treasure of gold coins on earth only to have it stolen and replaced by a wealth far greater than anything he could ever have imagined.
That perfect moment of complete wonder when Silas discovers the child Eppie sitting in front of his fire,
"...he seated himself on his fireside chair... when, to his blurred vision, it seemed as if there were gold on the floor in front of the hearth. Gold! - his own gold - brought back to him as mysteriously as it had been taken away...He leaned forward at last, and stretched forth his hand; but instead of the hard coin with the resisting outline, his fingers encountered soft warm curls"
It's surely the mark of a great and timeless book that it can be read in so many different ways and for so many reasons, but read as a parable Silas Marner never fails to impart the simplest of messages nor does it ever lose its magic.