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How the guineas shone as they came pouring out of the dark leather mouths!’: Shades of Gold in George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861)

« How the guineas shone as they came pouring out of the dark leather mouths! » (1.2.21) : variations sur la représentation de l’or dans Silas Marner, de George Eliot (1861)
Marie-Laure Massei-Chamayou

Résumés

Tandis que, dans la littérature victorienne, l’argent est souvent évoqué en rapport avec la finance, le crédit et la spéculation, alors en pleine expansion, Silas Marner, publié par George Eliot en 1861, replace l’or au centre de l’intrigue, à la croisée du réalisme et de la symbolique, du profane et du sacré. Dans cette nouvelle, le thème de l’or n’est pas simplement le fil conducteur qui relie les histoires de Silas, d’Eppie ou de la famille Cass, il fait aussi écho aux récits mythiques et bibliques, tel le Livre de Job, se prêtant à de multiples interprétations : tour à tour synonyme d’une passion transgressive, d’une lumière impure ou d’une matière corrompue, qui, en tant que telle, permet justement à Silas de procéder à une mutation intérieure en passant par les trois étapes successives de la transmutation, la transformation puis la transfiguration, l’or apparaît comme l’ingrédient essentiel dans l’initiation alchimique du héros, inséparable de sa quête spirituelle. Au dénouement, la découverte du trésor volé conduit non seulement à l’émergence de la vérité, mais fonctionne aussi comme le signe de la récompense divine, eu égard à l’accomplissement du cheminement spirituel de Silas. La déclinaison du thème de l’or et de sa symbolique complexe construit par conséquent une poétique efficace, dont les messages peuvent être interprétés à différents niveaux de conscience.

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  • 1 Romola first appeared in serialised format in Cornhill Magazine between July 1862 and August 1863.
  • 2 ‘GE to John Blackwood, London, 12 January 1861’, The George Eliot Letters. Ed. Gordon S. Haight. Vo (...)
  • 3 Letter 3.382, 24 February 1861.

1Far from the common representation of money in Victorian literature, with its many references to the expanding world of finance, credit and speculation, George Eliot’s Silas Marner shows money in its primitive form, mainly as gold coins, at the crossroads between realism and symbolism, the profane and the sacred. This choice is probably linked to the strange genesis of the novella, which George Eliot felt compelled to write in a visionary moment while she had already started her ambitious historical novel, Romola,1 concerned with the Italian Renaissance: ‘I am writing a story which came across my other plans by a sudden inspiration . . . It is a story of old-fashioned village life, which has unfolded itself from the merest millet-seed of thought’,2 George Eliot explained to her publisher John Blackwood in January 1861. In a following letter, she specified the peculiar generic status of the work: ‘It came to me first of all, quite suddenly, as a sort of legendary tale, suggested by my recollection of having once, in early childhood, seen a linen-weaver with a bag on his back; but, as my mind dwelt on the subject, I became inclined to a more realistic treatment’.3

  • 4 As David Carroll argues in his introduction to the Penguin edition of Silas Marner, ‘the realistic (...)

2Despite such emphasis on realism, Silas Marner has been considered as an example of George Eliot’s myth-making because of the strange correlation between the unaccountable disappearance of Marner’s golden coins and their supposed transformation into a golden-haired child, according to his confused mind.4 This event is encapsulated in a key-sentence: ‘The gold had turned into the child’ (1.14.122).

3Now, as gold is at stake in the process, this unexpected transformation may be equated with a kind of transmutation—not in the sense of a transformation of base metals into gold since gold already partakes of the first phase, but understood as a conversion of a superior kind, i.e. of an already precious matter into a priceless being: a treasure in flesh and blood, a godsend in more ways than one.

4These two references, to myth and to transmutation, both suggest a spiritual quest, an inner metamorphosis reminiscent of alchemy, as alchemy is not merely concerned with the conversion of metals, but also with that of one’s mettle, i.e. one’s character. This interpretation is in keeping with what the narrator tells us, in chapter 1: ‘Marner’s inward life had been a history and metamorphosis’ (1.1.9 italics mine).

  • 5 For a very stimulating and enlightening analysis of the story of Job, cf Annick de Souzenelle, Job (...)
  • 6 The Christian name ‘Silas’ is said to come from the Latin sylvanus (the woods) and refers to a Bibl (...)

5To understand the nature and essence of this metamorphosis, it is necessary to grasp the obvious parallels between Silas Marner and The Book of Job5 in the Old Testament, as both characters are forced to confront the darkness of their inner selves. Like Job, Silas is portrayed as a ‘man of exemplary life and ardent faith’ (1.1.9), but his faith is sorely tested as he goes through a series of trials, in which money first, then more specifically, gold, play a key role: at Lantern Yard, Silas is falsely accused by his so-called best friend William Dane of stealing a bag of church money and he is finally declared guilty after the community members resort to the Biblical practice of the drawing of lots. As he feels unjustly sacrificed, Silas openly blames God: ‘There is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies, that bears witness against the innocent’ (1.1.14), a statement which recalls Job 9.20: ‘Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty’. Withdrawing into himself, he chooses to leave the treacherous light of Lantern Yard whose ‘obscure religious life’ (1.1.13) and deeply-rooted prejudices are castigated by the narrator, to seek refuge on the outskirts of the village of Raveloe, set in what is described as a ‘low, wooded6 region where he felt hidden even from the heavens by the screening trees’ (1.2.15). There, Silas’s life is reduced to the ‘unquestioning activity of a spinning insect’ (1.2.17), working at his loom, thanks to which he earns a fine amount of money, in gold. A new trial comes with the mysterious theft of his bag of gold, a disappearance synonymous with sheer deprivation and with a descent into hell, like Job’s. It is the unexpected arrival of a golden-haired child into his cottage which saves Silas and leads him to his redemption.

6In this short but elaborate initiatory tale, the symbolism of gold is complex because it evolves according to the three distinct phases which correspond to Silas’s initiation: transmutation, transformation and subsequent transfiguration.

7The first part will explore how the gold coins that Silas comes to invest with unspeakable desires partake of a strange alchemical process, in which the artificial light of gold paradoxically represents the materialization or emergence of the hero’s dark side.

8However, as transmutation entails a necessary purification of dark matter, the theft fittingly removes this impure gold, so that Silas may stop his lethal identification with the metal. Such a loss, which initiates his transformation, enables him to reconnect with the world and open his heart to welcome Eppie, the little foundling he cherishes as his new treasure. Through her close connexion with the gold in the weaver’s muddled mind, Eppie helps Silas complete his transformation.

9At the end, the sudden recovery of the stolen coins, purified after their passage down the alchemical stone-pit, may be interpreted as a divine reward for Silas’s spiritual progress, a sign of God’s grace: his transfiguration logically takes place in the true light of a mythical space which signals the end of the quest.

All that Glitters is Not Gold: Gold Versus/As Dark Matter?

  • 7 ‘The little light he possessed spread its beams so narrowly, that frustrated belief was a curtain b (...)

10In Raveloe where the light of God seems to have forsaken him,7 Silas is exiled in more ways than one: from his former community, from his new neighbours and also from his inner self. While the future seems all dark for him, a turning-point occurs when he is paid in gold: ‘for the first time in his life, he had five bright guineas put into his hand’ (1.2.17). This initiates his journey down into his inner darkness, where the only light available, a very artificial one, comes from the metal of the fascinating coins:

But what were the guineas to him who saw no vista beyond countless days of weaving? It was needless for him to ask that, for it was pleasant to him to feel them in his palm, and look at their bright faces, which were all his own. . . . Now, when all purpose was gone, that habit of looking towards the money and grasping it with a sense of fulfilled effort made a loam that was deep enough for the seeds of desire; and as Silas walked across the fields in the twilight, he drew out the money and thought it was brighter in the gathering gloom. (1.2.17)

11The term ‘loam’, which refers to some fertile soil, signals a perversion in such a context, because instead of using this humus to reconnect with the divine and the world at large, the loam threatens to engulf the last remnants of spirituality within him. As the gloom closes in, the seeds of desire may turn into lethal weeds, the weeds of his own inner hell, which he must penetrate to come to terms with the twin temptations of a perverted desire and possession.

  • 8 According to Benjamine Toussaint, the metaphor of the horizon is often used by George Eliot to allu (...)

12The lexical field of decay slowly pervades the text, because Silas goes down the wrong path. ‘The insect-like existence into which his nature had shrunk’ (1.2.18), that echoes his being ‘shut up in solitary imprisonment,’ highlights an appalling physical transformation, which also reflects the dangerous withering of his soul: ‘Strangely Marner’s face and figure shrank and bent themselves into a constant mechanical relation to the objects of his life’ (1.2.20). While his bent figure implies that he is not verticalised anymore on a spiritual level, his literal short-sightedness also becomes metaphorical of his progressive withdrawal into himself.8

13At that stage, the weaver has turned into a miser, for whom the solid coins, weighty and immutable in their materiality, come to represent the very essence of reality:

And the money not only grew, but it remained with him. He began to think it was conscious of him, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces. He handled them, he counted them, till their form and colour were like the satisfaction of a thirst to him. But it was only in the night that he drew them out to enjoy their companionship. (1.2.19-20)

14The circulation of money, essential to healthy economies, is totally obstructed by Silas’s weird form of hoarding. As these golden coins come to assume human characteristics, they end up arousing him: this pathological way of investing money with desires entails a generic shift in the narrative, from realism to a world of fantasies, made even more striking through internal focalization. George Eliot drives her character one step further towards debauchery, as the coins become eroticized:

At night came his revelry: at night he closed his shutters, and made fast his doors, and drew forth his gold. Long ago the heap of coins had become too large for the iron pot to hold them, and he had made for them two leather bags. . . . How the guineas shone as they came pouring out of the dark leather mouths!  . . He loved the guineas best, but he would not change the silver–the crowns and half-crowns that were his own earnings, begotten by his labour. He loved them all. He spread them out in heaps and bathed his hands in them; then he counted them and set them up in regular piles, and felt their rounded outline between his thumb and fingers, and thought fondly of the guineas that were only half-earned by the work in his loom, as if they had been unborn children. (1.2.21)

15This climactic scene, fraught with destabilizing connotations, obviously stages Silas’s deviating sexual urges, or homoerotic ‘commerce’ with his gold that comes out of two bags symbolizing his scrotum. According to Jeff Nunokawa, ‘the pleasure that Eliot’s miser takes in this illicit atmosphere resembles a condensed catalogue of sexual deviance—incest of course—but also the range of perversions that surround the “secret sin” of masturbation’ (Nunokawa 274).

16This scene also illustrates the Victorian fascination with materialism, the intoxicating power of money which could end up possessing people and depriving them of their human characteristics. Through his passion for and devotion to mere objects, Silas is in turn deformed, objectified and fashioned into correspondence with the gold coins: he ends up being ‘yellow’ (1.2.20)—a yellow slave in his locked cottage, a metaphor for his heart.

  • 9 For instance, in the Brothers Grimms’ fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, a poor miller boasts to the king (...)

17While his self is on the verge of disintegration, the gold coins issuing from the two bags seem to acquire a monstrous generative potency. Nunokawa concludes that the novel ‘casts the miser’s money as the reproduction of his own body—either his children or his clones. . . . conversely, if the money is the re-embodiment of Silas Marner, he, in turn, is the re-embodiment of the coins’ (Nunokawa 286). His exterior possessions are confused with his being, as if they had acquired an ontological autonomy. Such relentless work at his loom, therefore, leads Silas to his doom: beyond the obvious mythological reference to the three Fates, spinning and controlling the thread of life, the weaving job was also associated both with shady ways of making money9 and with the Devil, in the minds of prejudiced country folks.

18At that stage, Silas has thus substituted gold for god, leaving the superstitions of Lantern Yard for a worse alienation, a demanding and estranging religion: ‘the gold must be worshipped in close-locked solitude’ (1.14.125). Whereas the sheer materiality of gold threatens to lead the weaver to his spiritual loss, the narrator nonetheless plays down his solitary worship: ‘in his truthful simple soul, not even the growing greed and worship of gold could beget any vice directly injurious to others. The light of his faith quite put out, he had clung with all the force of his nature to his work and his money’ (1.5.42). Even though gold has blocked his spiritual channels, its presence has nonetheless helped keep his senses alive and structure his reality.

  • 10 See the all-encompassing symbolism of money, which is often compared to a screen, onto which psycho (...)

19The reference to ‘the dark leather mouths’ may also be interpreted from a less negative perspective—and not merely as an instance of ‘filthy lucre’—if we connect it with alchemical symbolism10: the link between gold and dark matter may indeed refer to the blackening phase, synonymous with putrefaction and decomposition, when the body is reduced to its primal matter. On a psychological level, this phase points to the necessary confrontation with one’s dark or unfulfilled/unrealized side: the soul is imprisoned by the matrix of material forces in which it dwells, while the personality is identified with the world of material form. At that stage of awareness, the individual’s life is typically governed by a combination of instinct, selfish desire and greed. Like Job, Silas must penetrate his innermost hell to confront his most shameful and unspeakable desires before he can complete his metamorphosis.

20Now, on the narrative level, gold is also the main dramatic thread that connects the parallel stories of the weaver and of the Cass brothers, Dunstan and Godfrey. It is Dunstan’s rapacious greed—synonymous with the blackmailing of his brother, with debts and betrayal—that leads him to rob Silas. Though traumatizing, such an act paradoxically marks the weaver’s first stage towards transformation, liberation and redemption.

Stepping Onto the Path of Light

21Totally identified with his gold, engulfed by his animal side, verging on the monstrous, the ‘confounded’ Silas is thus experiencing a reversed transmutation; but the trial comes to an end when his gold (which thus first came to symbolize his shadowy part) suddenly disappears. The theft (of his 272.12 & sixpence) which mutilates him, dramatizes the painful but necessary separation or dis-identification between Silas and matter, on his way to redemption.

  • 11 It is very telling that from that point, the lexical field of the occult happens to be transferred (...)
  • 12 The first sign of the return of the divine into Silas’s cottage and life comes with the present of (...)

22Even though such violent and unexpected loss nearly kills him—he emerges from the trial as a ghostly apparition—it forces him to step out of his cottage to look for help outside and open his trouble to his Raveloe neighbours, thus broadening his horizon. Whereas money is usually labelled ‘the bond of all bonds’, binding men to society by fostering exchanges, it is the disappearance of Silas’s gold which paradoxically makes possible new exchanges, so that the lexical field of expansion and unfoldment replaces the terms pointing to limitation. This shift in the narrative, which also hints at the beginning of a ‘growth’ with the ‘circulations of the sap’, signals that Silas, through the metaphor of the tree of knowledge, is at last moving from de-humanization to re-humanization, from having to being, at last capable of accessing a new dimension of himself.11 ‘Formerly, his heart had been as a locked casket with its treasure inside’he literally and ironically had a heart of gold—‘but now the casket was empty, and the lock was broken’ (1.10.81): it is this very loss which paves the way for the advent of a genuine treasure (1.10.82).12

  • 13 Both the gold and the girl were hidden treasures, both seem to be part of the same magical process— (...)

23The sudden irruption of Eppie is encapsulated in a telling sentence, ‘the gold had turned into the child’ (1.14.122), emphasizing the mysterious connections between the two,13 which range from analogy to chiasmus: both Eppie and the gold seem to partake of the same mysterious process, appearing and disappearing suddenly, but while the gold, which could have been a blessing, turns into a transitory curse for Silas, Eppie’s birth, which was considered as a curse by her father, eventually proves a blessing for everyone. Now, the substitution of girl for gold also obtains on the narrative level, as this pivotal moment marks a switch from realism to the fantastic, with gold as the constant guiding thread:

To his blurred vision, it seemed as if there were gold on the floor in front of the hearth. Gold! His own gold! . . . For a few moments, he was unable to stretch out his hand and grasp the restored treasure. The heap of gold seemed to glow and get larger beneath his agitated gaze. He stretched forth his hand; but instead of the hard coin with the familiar resisting outline, his fingers encountered soft warm curls. (1.12.110)

24This scene, which works as a ‘healing inversion of the myth of Midas’ (Beer 126), is framed by a rich symbolism as it takes place ‘on New Year’s Eve,’ at a moment of transition from darkness to light, with Silas on the threshold of his cottageand of his new life. The conversion of the weaver occurs at once through the sense of touchhe is touched in more ways than one by this kind of golden fleecethanks to which he can feel and realize a transformation of the species: the softness of Eppie’s hair contrasts so much with the former hardness of the coins that it triggers the shift from materiality to spirituality. This unexpected encounter takes place by the highly symbolic hearth, whose light does not reflect anymore the seductive or tainted glow of gold; on the contrary, now that Silas’s heart has been purged of his dark energies, the cottage light is associated with warmth, nurture and family life, especially as it saves Eppie from a certain death in the snow.

25Embodying this new harmony, Eppie’s ‘little golden head’ (1.12.109) logically brings along with her another radiant light, through her kinship with the spiritual world:

In the old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s. (1.14.131)

  • 14 See the title-page of the first edition of Silas Marner which featured the following lines by Words (...)
  • 15 George Eliot explained to her publisher that the aim of her story was to ‘set in a strong light the (...)
  • 16 Her real name, ‘Hephzibah’, is found twice in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 21:1 and Isaiah 62:4. Tran (...)

26This Wordsworthian14 passage testifies to our preceding interpretation of Silas’s monstrous commerce with his gold, of gold as an evil temptation. As the gold gives way to the girl, Eppie comes as a remedy.15 She triggers Marner’s epiphany, his moment of awakening, and reconnects him with his past, with memory: Silas had ‘a hurrying influx of memories. . . . a dreamy feeling that this child was somehow a message come to him from that far-off life: it stirred fibres that had never been moved in Raveloeold quiverings of tendernessold impressions of awe at the presentiment of some Power presiding over his life’ (1.12.111). The ‘hard’ name he chooses for her, Hephzibah, which used to be both his mother’s and his sister’s name (1.14.124), suggests that through her, Silas finds his place again within his family history. This Biblical name, however, also points to his reconnection with the spiritual world, to a new alliance with God, symbolised by her christening.16 Eppie’s appearance, therefore, testifies to the second stage of Silas’s metamorphosishis transformationwhich logically comes after the alchemical transmutation of his dark energies.

  • 17 Hence Silas’s humble attitude as he discovers her, comparable to that of the shepherds in front of (...)

27Through her close connexion with the gold and the spiritual,17 Eppie may thus eventually symbolise the successful emergence of Silas’s divine seed and sacred part, which enables him to evolve on a superior plane of consciousness: ‘“I can’t part with it, I can’t let it go,”’ the weaver sensibly replies to the neighbours who suggest he give up the child. ‘His speech, uttered under a strong impulse, was almost like a revelation to himself’ (1.13.115). Such transformation is consistently experienced through an opening of his heart and of his soul, while the former material forces are transmuted into spiritual energies such as love and a sense of higher purpose: ‘As her life unfolded . . ., his soul was unfolding too’ (1.14.126); ‘the child had come to link him once more with the whole world’ (1.14.130). Besides entrusting Silas with a new nurturing role and beyond pointing to a simple homology with the gold, Eppie definitely appears as the most precious of currencies, since she reconnects him both with the outside world and with his inner self.

28As the golden coins somehow paved the way for Silas’s reception of a genuine treasure in flesh and blood, Eppie becomes a channel of divine influence which helps Silas complete his transformation, the success of which is subsequently manifested through the final recovery of the lost gold.

Unearthing the Gold/the Truth

29‘Mr Macey was of opinion that when a man had done what Silas had done by an orphan child, it was a sign that his money would come to light again’ (2.16.141): the old parish clerk’s prophecy is eventually fulfilled in more ways than one, since the lost gold not only resurfaces at the end of Silas’s quest, it also becomes a positive sign of God’s reward and grace.

30Logically enough, the golden coins had gone into the darkness with Dunstan, down the stone-pit into which he drowned: ‘the rain and darkness had got thicker, and he was glad of it; though it was awkward walking with both hands filled, so that it was as much as he could do to grasp his whip along with one of the bags. So he stepped forward into the darkness’ (1.4.40). While the confrontation with the gold represented a necessary stage in Silas’s initiationhence the narrator’s playing down his inappropriate behaviourthe heavy metal rather materialises an all-consuming passion, even the capital sin of greed, in Dunstan’s case: the gold has therefore turned into a literal instrument of death and doom.

31The stone-pit clearly works as a crucible, both for people and objects, as it is a place where characters come to terms with their fate: those who cannot be redeemed, like Eppie’s drugged mother or the rogue Dunstan, die next to it or within it. But Dunstan’s symbolical and literal fall helps complete Silas’s transmutation process. This interpretation is confirmed by the curious rejoinder of the clerk, concerning the stolen guineas: ‘They’re gone where it’s hot enough to melt ’em’ (1.7.58). Such a statement underlines the obvious alchemical connotations of this crucible, down which the gold was purified both from the perverted projections of Silas’s desires and from Dunstan’s own greed.

  • 18 Quite ironically, the stolen golden whip, symbolizing a sign of mastery over nature, is found down (...)
  • 19 Like Eppie, whose first appearance symbolised the return of the repressed for her biological father (...)
  • 20 See the metaphor of the tale is linked to the weaver’s craft at the very beginning through the phra (...)

32The gold symbolism thus evolves when the stone-pit is drained on the orders of Godfrey after sixteen years: as the body of Dunstan is discovered, next to Silas’s bags of gold and another telling prop which enables the identification of the robberthe whip with the golden handle that Dunstan had taken from his brother18the re-appearance of the gold19 both helps the truth come to light and unify several economies at work in the novel, its manifold tales.20

33The stone-pit may ultimately come to symbolize Silas’s inward being: what was humid, i.e. ‘untapped’ within him had to be drainedhumid comes from humus, which echoes Silas’s ‘loam’ (1.2.17)an inner ‘matter’ with which he must come to terms. The whole trial thus had to do with humility, not in the moral sense, but in the spiritual one, which implies that the distance between the divine and man had to be reduced. At the end, Silas’s former ‘heart of gold’ (ironically referring to his deadened senses and blocked emotions) has undergone a dramatic transformation to embrace the figurative meaning of the phrase: after the passage down the crucible, only a pure metal/mettle remains and gold is reinvested with positive connotations.

34The final recovery of his lost gold eventually comes as the ultimate reward for Silas’s successful spiritual quest, the material sign of God’s grace and divine justice, the proof that redemption has been achieved: the gold now turns into a symbol of the weaver’s powerful inner spiritual light. This marks the last stage of the initiationhis transfiguration: while Silas’s ‘face showed that sort of transfiguration as he looked at Eppie’ (2.19.165), Eppie’s hair has ‘a rippling radiance’ (2.16.142) in a telling mirror effect. The gold metaphor, here associated with the liquid element and femininity, reverberates through the text to express the characters’ sense of wholeness and fulfilment.

35As the retrieved gold coins transcend their purely material value, they also become associated with the idea of transmission, since Eppie’s blessed marriage with the aptly named Aaron (referring to the first priest, ‘the enlightened’) symbolizes the creation of a family lineage firmly anchored in their expanded land. This marriage further testifies to the successful completion of Silas’s process of verticalisationthere is no looking back towards the past, at Lantern Yard, when his mind was ‘unhinged’ from his old faith and love.

36Eppie has therefore succeeded in unlocking for Silas ‘the fountains of human love and of faith in a divine love’ (1.10.86), leading him back to the Source, which is his promised land, his (inner) Garden of Eden: ‘The garden was fenced with stones on two sides, but in front there was an open fence, through which the flowers shone with answering gladness, as the four united people came within sight of them’ (Conclusion, 183). Like Job, Silas may keep all his treasures: Eppie, his fortune, even adding a new blessing with Aaron, as he gains a son. Like Job, Silas has successfully transformed his potentially lethal loam into a fertile and nurturing new soil to become his ‘tree of knowledge’, within which flows a new sap; he has emerged out of his inner darkness to a heightened level of consciousness and an expanded inward life, acquiring a new wisdom: ‘his large brown eyes seem to have gathered a longer vision and they have a less vague, a more answering gaze’ (2.16.138)thus completing the metamorphosis that culminates at the stage of transfiguration, when the light of the Soul pours down upon the outer persona and changes it—permanently: ‘it is as if a new fineness of ear for all spiritual voices had sent wonder-working vibrations through the heavy mortal frame’ (2.19.165). The beauty, power, and light inherent in the spiritual Self—the Soul—is gradually revealed through the synaesthesia which coalesce in the final scene of union: ‘the great lilacs and laburnums showed their golden and purple wealth,’ while Eppie’s hair ‘looked like the dash of gold on a lily’ (Conclusion 181). As nature’s coloursgold, purple and whiterespectively reflect the characters’ state of bliss, spiritual elevation and purity, or moral worth, this perfectly happy end shifts the narrative towards a mythical time and Edenic space, which signal the perfect completion of the quest.

37At the crossroads between realism, the legendary tale, the moral fable or the Christian allegory, definitely echoing Biblical and mythical narratives, Silas Marner thus fuses different, sometimes contrasting representations of gold through the characters of Silas, Eppie and Dunstan Cass. This proliferating signifier therefore takes on shifting roles and functions, which range from the explicit to the metaphorical, and lends itself to multiple interpretations as it necessarily partakes of the hero’s complex alchemical initiation: gold is, in turn, synonymous with a transgressive passion, an impure light or tainted matter, which enables Silas’s transmutation, transformation and transfiguration, eventually working as his rewardthe manifest sign of God’s grace. At the end, the recovery of the lost gold lifts the veil and uncovers the truth, thereby reuniting the several economies at work in the novella.

  • 21 At the crossroads between the mythical and the legendarywhose etymology suggests that a tale ‘must (...)

38Such ‘weaving’ of the multi-layered theme of gold into the narrative definitely gives birth to an effective poetics which may address several planes of consciousness,21 all the more as gold is both part of the legendary texture and of the realist agenda. The combination of the two strands helps emphasize George Eliot’s humanitarian values, ethical message and moral project, so comforting in a Victorian world dramatically transformed by industrialization, the ever-growing power of money and other alienating forces: even if gold may lead to corruption and enslavement through its monetary value, its symbolical affinity with spirituality, enlightenment and redemption should not be overlookedand, for George Eliot, that redemption definitely rests both on our connection with the divine and with human love, which ought to exist outside self-interest, untainted by monetary entanglements.

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Bibliographie

Beer, Gillian. George Eliot. Brighton: Harvester, 1986.

Eliot, George. Silas Marner. 1861. Ed. David Carroll. London: Penguin, 1996.

——. The George Eliot Letters. Ed. Gordon S. Haight. Volume 3 (1859-1861). New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1954.

Nunokawa, Jeff. ‘The Miser’s Two Bodies: Silas Marner and the Sexual Possibilities of the Commodity’, Victorian Studies 36.3 (1993): 273–92.

De Souzenelle, Annick. Job sur le Chemin de la lumière. Paris: Albin Michel, 1999.

Toussaint, Benjamine. ‘“To see beyond the horizon of mere selfishness”: L’Horizon moral dans les romans de George Eliot’, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 75 (avril 2012): 171–183. http://www.gotquestions.org/Hephzibah.html#ixzz3BlgOKnKP. Web. 8 April 2015.

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Notes

1 Romola first appeared in serialised format in Cornhill Magazine between July 1862 and August 1863.

2 ‘GE to John Blackwood, London, 12 January 1861’, The George Eliot Letters. Ed. Gordon S. Haight. Volume 3 (1859–1861) (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1954) 371.

3 Letter 3.382, 24 February 1861.

4 As David Carroll argues in his introduction to the Penguin edition of Silas Marner, ‘the realistic treatment to which the legendary core–the golden guineas and the golden-haired child–is subjected, makes the novel not only an example of George Eliot’s myth-making but also an expression of her mythography’ (Introduction viii).

5 For a very stimulating and enlightening analysis of the story of Job, cf Annick de Souzenelle, Job sur le Chemin de la lumière. Paris: Albin Michel, 1999.

6 The Christian name ‘Silas’ is said to come from the Latin sylvanus (the woods) and refers to a Biblical character, the missionary companion of St Paul and Timothy.

7 ‘The little light he possessed spread its beams so narrowly, that frustrated belief was a curtain broad enough to create for him the blackness of night’ (1.2.16). Such Manichean opposition between a fading light and an increasing darkness points to an imminent spiritual struggle, especially as ‘the future was all dark, for there was no Unseen Love that cared for him’ (1.2.17). Since Silas cannot fulfil himself, he is engulfed by his animal side and his primitive existence is portrayed in highly symbolic words.

8 According to Benjamine Toussaint, the metaphor of the horizon is often used by George Eliot to allude to her characters’ spiritual quest and potential evolution, but Silas Marner’s blocked horizon does not bode well at that stage. ‘“To See beyond the horizon of mere selfishness”: L’Horizon moral dans les romans de George Eliot’, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 75, avril 2012.

9 For instance, in the Brothers Grimms’ fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, a poor miller boasts to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold.

10 See the all-encompassing symbolism of money, which is often compared to a screen, onto which psychological issues and emotional concerns can be projected. As Sigmund Freud argued, our interest in and relation to money is said to be derived from our original interest in faeces, through increasingly sublimated interests in mud, sand, prettily shaped pebbles, more sophisticated collectibles and finally money. Freud would also equate money with faeces, connect it to anal eroticism and its possible symptom, miserliness.

11 It is very telling that from that point, the lexical field of the occult happens to be transferred from the character of Silas onto the mystery that surrounds the theft (1.7.57).

12 The first sign of the return of the divine into Silas’s cottage and life comes with the present of the lard cakes which bear the letters of Jesus, I.H.S. (1.10.82). Even if he does not understand the meaning of those letters, Silas grasps the pure intention behind the gift, and the whole scene can be regarded as a humanist reinterpretation of the communion.

13 Both the gold and the girl were hidden treasures, both seem to be part of the same magical process—entailing a mysterious disappearance/appearance and the two are linked in Silas Marner’s mind, as ‘the child was come instead of the gold’ (1.14.122). Both are to be found by the fire, within the cottage, a metaphor of Silas’s heart. And Eppie is a gift to reward Marner’s for the re-opening of his heart: ‘since he had lost his money, he had contracted the habit of opening his door and looking out from time to time, as if he thought that his money might be somehow coming back to him’ (1.12.109).

14 See the title-page of the first edition of Silas Marner which featured the following lines by Wordsworth: ‘A child, more than all other gifts/ That earth can offer to declining man/ Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts’ (‘Michael’, lines 146-48).

15 George Eliot explained to her publisher that the aim of her story was to ‘set in a strong light the remedial influences of pure, natural human relations’, Letters 3.382, 24 February 1861.

16 Her real name, ‘Hephzibah’, is found twice in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 21:1 and Isaiah 62:4. Translated from the original Hebrew, Hephzibah literally means, ‘My delight is in her’. As the root hafz means ‘guarding’ or ‘taking care of’, all words from this root suggest the idea of ‘safeguarding’, and therefore the name Hephzibah means not only someone who evokes delight, but also ‘one who is guarded’, a ‘protected one’. Isaiah 62:4 is a message of hope to the nation of Israel. God plans to change its name from Deserted and Desolate to Hephzibah and Beulah. Beulah means ‘married’. When God changes a name in the Bible, it conveys transformation, a second chance, and a new beginning. This passage promises the restoration of Israel to a place of favour and protection in God’s sight. Through this passage, the whole world knows that God finds delight in Israel and is married to her. He will no longer forsake His people. The Lord has sworn to never again allow a conqueror to overcome Israel, and Israel will exist in a sanctuary of safety’. http://www.gotquestions.org/Hephzibah.html#ixzz3BlgOKnKP.

17 Hence Silas’s humble attitude as he discovers her, comparable to that of the shepherds in front of the Infant Christ: ‘Silas fell on his knees and bent his head to examine the marvel’ (1.12.110).

18 Quite ironically, the stolen golden whip, symbolizing a sign of mastery over nature, is found down the stone-pit, thus signifying Dunstan’s utter failure to control both nature and his own passions.

19 Like Eppie, whose first appearance symbolised the return of the repressed for her biological father Godfrey Cass (‘as if it had been an apparition from the dead’ [1.13.114]), the recovery of the gold fulfils such a role: the ghosts of the past surge back.

20 See the metaphor of the tale is linked to the weaver’s craft at the very beginning through the phrase ‘the tale of his cloth’ (1.1.9).

21 At the crossroads between the mythical and the legendarywhose etymology suggests that a tale ‘must be read’Silas Marner definitely contains a gold nugget at its core, i.e. an underlying message of wisdom: myths speak out to us on the collective level by addressing several planes of consciousness and are a means of connection with our inner self, enabling us to bear and produce new fruit…

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Marie-Laure Massei-Chamayou, « How the guineas shone as they came pouring out of the dark leather mouths!’: Shades of Gold in George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861) », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 81 Printemps | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2015, consulté le 21 octobre 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/2022 ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.2022

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Marie-Laure Massei-Chamayou

Marie-Laure Massei-Chamayou is a Senior Lecturer at Paris 1-Pantheon Sorbonne University and a member of the CREA (Paris X-Nanterre - FAAAM research group). A Jane Austen specialist, she is the author of La Représentation de l’argent dans les romans de Jane Austen : L’Être et l’avoir (Collection Des Idées et des femmes, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012). She has published several articles on the conjoint themes of status, class, inheritance, power relations or the symbolism of money in Jane Austen’s novels. Her current research concentrates on George Eliot and other female novelists to explore how the representation of money in women’s fiction evolved throughout the Victorian period.

Marie-Laure Massei-Chamayou est Maître de Conférences à l’Université Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne et membre du CREA (Paris X-Nanterre – séminaire FAAAM). Spécialiste de l’œuvre de Jane Austen, elle est l’auteur de La Représentation de l’argent dans les romans de Jane Austen : L’Être et l’avoir (Collection Des Idées et des femmes, Paris : L’Harmattan, 2012) et de plusieurs articles traitant des mutations sociales, des rapports de pouvoir, de la représentation du statut, de la transmission de l’héritage ou de la symbolique de l’argent dans l’œuvre austenienne. Ses recherches portent aussi sur l’évolution de la représentation de l’argent chez les romancières de l’époque victorienne, telle George Eliot.

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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