It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted and I cannot for the life of me explain why. Best not to try, as it will only take precious time/energy. So instead, moved by a fairly old novel, I will just endeavor to dive in.
I just finished Silas Marner, by George Elliot. The book was published in 1861, which makes it over 150 years old. And yet I found the discussion of various topics–some of those near and dear to me here–to be both current and perceptive. Who knew?
I read the book because my library sponsors a summer reading challenge and one is asked to read a book over 100 years old. I love Middlemarch but have little familiarity with the rest of George Elliot’s work, so I chose this, in part because it is slender and hence seemed doable summer reading.
Here’s where I’d best put a spoiler alert, though for classic literature that seems a little odd. But since I’m cutting through the plot to get to some key points, that seems only fair.
Silas Marner is a weaver. Relatively early on his is betrayed by one he thinks to be a friend. He leaves his home and moves to a new place where he becomes a solitary and bitter man. Also something of a miser. Then he is robbed. This does little to improve his outlook on life or his engagement with humanity. It’s also rather beside the point for my purposes here. Suffice it to say, when things are fairly dark and bleak for him, a two-year old child (who will be called “Eppie”) arrives on his doorstep. The child’s mother has frozen to death near his door. The genetic father (we know as readers) is the son of the wealthy landowner nearby. This young man (Godfrey) knows he is the father of this child but, given the circumstances, has no particular interest in stepping forward.
Silas Marner determines that he will raise the child. This is a somewhat mysterious choice–an older, single and isolated many electing to become a single parent. But the child has touched him in significant ways. And so, with the cooperation of those in his community, he does.
Most of the time he is raising the child passes in between segments of the book. We see little of the upbringing. But the climax of the book is the moment when Godfrey comes to claim the child (now 18 or so) as his own. And there you have it–the confrontation of the social/psychological parent with the genetic parent.
As I said at the outset, what is really startling to me is how modern the arguments are. Though the writing style itself is dated, the substance of the argument is just as you would have seen here a year or so ago. I plan to talk about that a bit more tomorrow (see the casual pledge that I’ll be back?) but for now I want to note this. It’s easy to think that the issues of our time are just that–of our time. And that many of these issues are presented because of new technologies/markets. But this just doesn’t seem to be true. The issues are, I guess, the issues. One hundred fifty years ago people could argue perfectly well about the importance of biology/genetics vs. the importance of social performance.
Perhaps I should have known better than to think we were special or exceptional. We are not. We are part of a long and on-going conversation. The new technologies/markets may mean the old familiar issues come up in different contexts, but the issues themselves remain the same.