FULL TITLE • Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe
AUTHOR • George Eliot
TYPE OF WORK • Novel
GENRE • Victorian novel, novel of manners, pastoral fiction
LANGUAGE • English
TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN • 1860–61, London
DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION • 1861
PUBLISHER • William Blackwood and Sons
NARRATOR • An anonymous omniscient speaker with no part in the plot
POINT OF VIEW • The narrator speaks in the omniscient third person, describing what the characters are seeing, feeling, and thinking and what they are failing to see, feel, and think. The narrator uses the first person singular “I,” but at no point enters the story as a character. Near the beginning, a personal story unrelated to the action of the novel is relayed to provide corroborating evidence for a generalization, hinting that the narrator is a real person.
TONE • Morally uncompromising, slightly condescending, but nevertheless deeply sympathetic to characters’ failings
TENSE • Past
SETTING (TIME) • The “early years” of the nineteenth century
SETTING (PLACE) • Raveloe, a fictional village in the English countryside
PROTAGONIST • Silas Marner
MAJOR CONFLICT • Silas Marner lives for a long time without any connection to other human beings or his youthful faith in God. Though he does not struggle to find purpose and connection in his life, the novel is about his recovery of purpose, faith, and community through his finding Eppie.
RISING ACTION • Silas spends fifteen years in relative isolation, amassing a hoard of gold coins that is then stolen by Dunstan Cass.
CLIMAX • Eppie appears in Silas’s cottage, and he decides to adopt her.
FALLING ACTION • When Godfrey fails to claim Eppie as his daughter and marries Nancy, Silas raises Eppie. Silas’s love and care for Eppie make him a revered member of the Raveloe community, ending his isolation. Sixteen years later, Godfrey admits that he is Eppie’s father and tries to adopt her, but she elects to stay with Silas.
THEMES • The individual versus the community; character as destiny; the interdependence of faith and community
MOTIFS • The natural world; domesticity; class
SYMBOLS • Silas’s loom; Lantern Yard; the hearth
FORESHADOWING • Silas opening his door to look outside as Eppie toddles toward his cottage; Mr. Macey telling Silas his money will be returned to him; Dunsey claiming that he always lands on his feet.
GEORGE ELIOT WAS THE PSEUDONYM of Mary Ann Evans, born in 1819 at the estate of her father’s employer in Chilvers Coton, Warwickshire, England. She was sent to boarding school, where she developed a strong religious faith, deeply influenced by the evangelical preacher Rev. John Edmund Jones. After her mother’s death, Evans moved with her father to the city of Coventry. There she met Charles and Caroline Bray, progressive intellectuals who led her to question her faith. In 1842 she stopped going to church, and this renunciation of her faith put a strain on Evans’s relationship with her father that did not ease for several years.
Evans became acquainted with intellectuals in Coventry who broadened her mind beyond a provincial perspective. Through her new associations, she traveled to Geneva and then to London, where she worked as a freelance writer. In London she met George Lewes, who became her husband in all but the legal sense—a true legal marriage was impossible, as Lewes already had an estranged wife. At this point in her life Evans was still primarily interested in philosophy, but Lewes persuaded her to turn her hand to fiction instead. The publication of her first collection of stories in 1857, under the male pseudonym of George Eliot, brought immediate acclaim from critics as prestigious as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as much speculation about the identity of the mysterious George Eliot. After the publication of her next book and first novel, Adam Bede, a number of impostors claimed authorship. In response, Evans asserted herself as the true author, causing quite a stir in a society that still regarded women as incapable of serious writing. Lewes died in 1878, and in 1880 Evans married a banker named John Walter Cross, who was twenty-one years her junior. She died the same year.
Eliot wrote the novels Adam Bede (1859) and The Mill on the Floss (1860) before publishing Silas Marner (1861), the tale of a lonely, miserly village weaver transformed by the love of his adopted daughter. Eliot is best known, however, for Middlemarch (1871–1872). Subtitled “A Study in Provincial Life,” this lengthy work tells the story of a small English village and its inhabitants, centering on the idealistic and self-sacrificing Dorothea Brooke.
Eliot’s novels are deeply philosophical. In exploring the inner workings of her characters and their relationship to their environment, she drew on influences that included the English poet William Wordsworth, the Italian poet Dante, the English art critic John Ruskin, and the Portuguese-Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, whose work Eliot translated into English. The philosophical concerns and references found in her novels—and the refusal to provide the requisite happy ending—struck some contemporary critics as unbecoming in a lady novelist. Eliot’s detailed and insightful psychological portrayals of her characters, as well as her exploration of the complex ways these characters confront moral dilemmas, decisively broke from the plot-driven domestic melodrama that had previously served as the standard for the Victorian novel. Eliot’s break from tradition inspired the modern novel and inspired numerous future authors, among them Henry James, who admired Eliot.
Silas Marner was Eliot’s third novel and is among the best known of her works. Many of the novel’s themes and concerns stem from Eliot’s own life experiences. Silas’s loss of religious faith recalls Eliot’s own struggle with her faith, and the novel’s setting in the vanishing English countryside reflects Eliot’s concern that England was fast becoming industrialized and impersonal. The novel’s concern with class and family can likewise be linked back to Eliot’s own life. The voice of the novel’s narrator can thus, to some extent, be seen as Eliot’s own voice—one tinged with slight condescension, but fond of the setting and thoroughly empathetic with the characters. Though Silas Marner is in a sense a very personal novel for Eliot, its treatment of the themes of faith, family, and class has nonetheless given it universal appeal, especially at the time of publication, when English society and institutions were undergoing rapid change.
“A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts.”
At his death, eleven years before the publication of Silas Marner, William Wordsworth was widely considered the most important English writer of his time. His intensely personal poetry, with its simple language and rhythms, marked a revolutionary departure from the complex, formal structures and classical subject matter of his predecessors, poets such as John Dryden and Alexander Pope. Unlike the poetry of Dryden and Pope, Wordsworth’s poems are meditative rather than narrative. They celebrate beauty and simplicity most often most often located in the natural landscape. Wordsworth’s influence on English poetry—at a time when poetry was unquestioningly held to be the most important form of literature—was enormous. Along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Wordsworth set in motion the Romantic era, inspiring a generation of poets that included John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron.
George Eliot evidently felt a kinship with Wordsworth and his strong identification with the English landscape. Like Wordsworth, Eliot draws many of her metaphors from the natural world. However, the Wordsworth epigraph she chose for Silas Marner also highlights the philosophical aspect of her affinity with Wordsworth. Like Eliot, Wordsworth had tried his hand at philosophy before turning to more literary pursuits, and in his poetry he works out his conception of human consciousness. One of Wordsworth’s major ideas, radical at the time, was that at the moment of birth, human beings move from a perfect, idealized “otherworld” to this imperfect world, characterized by injustice and corruption. Children, being closest to that otherworld, can remember its beauty and purity, seeing its traces in the natural world around them. As they grow up, however, they lose that connection and forget the knowledge they had as children. However, as described in the quote Eliot has chosen, children and the memories of childhood they evoke in adults can still bring us close to that early, idyllic state. It is not hard to imagine that Eliot had this model in mind when she wrote her story of a child bringing a man out of isolation and spiritual desolation.
SILAS MARNER IS THE WEAVER in the English countryside village of Raveloe in the early nineteenth century. Like many weavers of his time, he is an outsider—the object of suspicion because of his special skills and the fact that he has come to Raveloe from elsewhere. The villagers see Silas as especially odd because of the curious cataleptic fits he occasionally suffers. Silas has ended up in Raveloe because the members of his religious sect in Lantern Yard, an insular neighborhood in a larger town, falsely accused him of theft and excommunicated him.
Much shaken after the accusation, Silas finds nothing familiar in Raveloe to reawaken his faith and falls into a numbing routine of solitary work. His one attempt at neighborliness backfires: when an herbal remedy he suggests for a neighbor’s illness works, he is rumored to be a sort of witch doctor. With little else to live for, Silas becomes infatuated with the money he earns for his work and hoards it, living off as little as possible. Every night he pulls his gold out from its hiding place beneath his floorboards to count it. He carries on in this way for fifteen years.
Squire Cass is the wealthiest man in Raveloe, and his two eldest sons are Godfrey and Dunstan, or Dunsey. Dunsey is greedy and cruel, and enjoys tormenting Godfrey, the eldest son. Godfrey is good-natured but weak-willed, and, though secretly married to the opium addict Molly Farren, he is in love with Nancy Lammeter. Dunsey talked Godfrey into the marriage and repeatedly blackmails him with threats to reveal the marriage to their father. Godfrey gives Dunsey 100 pounds of the rent money paid to him by one of their father’s tenants. Godfrey then finds himself in a bind when Dunsey insists that Godfrey repay the sum himself. Dunsey once again threatens to reveal Godfrey’s marriage but, after some arguing, offers to sell Godfrey’s prize horse, Wildfire, to repay the loan.
The next day, Dunsey meets with some friends who are hunting and negotiates the sale of the horse. Dunsey decides to participate in the hunt before finalizing the sale, and, in doing so, he has a riding accident that kills the horse. Knowing the rumors of Silas’s hoard, Dunsey makes plans to intimidate the weaver into lending him money. His walk home takes him by Silas’s cottage, and, finding the cottage empty, Dunsey steals the money instead.
Silas returns from an errand to find his money gone. Overwhelmed by the loss, he runs to the local tavern for help and announces the theft to a sympathetic audience of tavern regulars. The theft becomes the talk of the village, and a theory arises that the thief might have been a peddler who came through the village some time before. Godfrey, meanwhile, is distracted by thoughts of Dunsey, who has not returned home. After hearing that Wildfire has been found dead, Godfrey decides to tell his father about the money, though not about his marriage. The Squire flies into a rage at the news, but does not do anything drastic to punish Godfrey.
Silas is utterly disconsolate at the loss of his gold and numbly continues his weaving. Some of the townspeople stop by to offer their condolences and advice. Among these visitors, Dolly Winthrop stands out. Like many of the others, she encourages Silas to go to church—something he has not done since he was banished from Lantern Yard—but she is also gentler and more genuinely sympathetic.
Nancy Lammeter arrives at Squire Cass’s famed New Year’s dance resolved to reject Godfrey’s advances because of his unsound character. However, Godfrey is more direct and insistent than he has been in a long time, and Nancy finds herself exhilarated by the evening in spite of her resolution. Meanwhile, Molly, Godfrey’s secret wife, is making her way to the Casses’ house to reveal the secret marriage. She has their daughter, a toddler, in her arms. Tiring after her long walk, Molly takes a draft of opium and passes out by the road. Seeing Silas’s cottage and drawn by the light of the fire, Molly’s little girl wanders through the open door and falls asleep at Silas’s hearth.
Silas is having one of his fits at the time and does not notice the little girl enter his cottage. When he comes to, he sees her already asleep on his hearth, and is as stunned by her appearance as he was by the disappearance of his money. A while later, Silas traces the girl’s footsteps outside and finds Molly’s body lying in the snow. Silas goes to the Squire’s house to find the doctor, and causes a stir at the dance when he arrives with the baby girl in his arms. Godfrey, recognizing his daughter, accompanies the doctor to Silas’s cottage. When the doctor declares that Molly is dead, Godfrey realizes that his secret is safe. He does not claim his daughter, and Silas adopts her.
Silas grows increasingly attached to the child and names her Eppie, after his mother and sister. With Dolly Winthrop’s help, Silas raises the child lovingly. Eppie begins to serve as a bridge between Silas and the rest of the villagers, who offer him help and advice and have come to think of him as an exemplary person because of what he has done. Eppie also brings Silas out of the benumbed state he fell into after the loss of his gold. In his newfound happiness, Silas begins to explore the memories of his past that he has long repressed.
The novel jumps ahead sixteen years. Godfrey has married Nancy and Squire Cass has died. Godfrey has inherited his father’s house, but he and Nancy have no children. Their one daughter died at birth, and Nancy has refused to adopt. Eppie has grown into a pretty and spirited young woman, and Silas a contented father. The stone-pit behind Silas’s cottage is drained to water neighboring fields, and Dunsey’s skeleton is found at the bottom, along with Silas’s gold. The discovery frightens Godfrey, who becomes convinced that his own secrets are destined to be uncovered as well. He confesses the truth to Nancy about his marriage to Molly and fathering of Eppie. Nancy is not angry but regretful, saying that they could have adopted Eppie legitimately if Godfrey had told her earlier.
That evening, Godfrey and Nancy decide to visit Silas’s cottage to confess the truth of Eppie’s lineage and claim her as their daughter. However, after hearing Godfrey and Nancy’s story, Eppie tells them she would rather stay with Silas than live with her biological father. Godfrey and Nancy leave, resigning themselves to helping Eppie from afar. The next day Silas decides to visit Lantern Yard to see if he was ever cleared of the theft of which he was accused years before. The town has changed almost beyond recognition, though, and Silas’s old chapel has been torn down to make way for a new factory. Silas realizes that his questions will never be answered, but he is content with the sense of faith he has regained through his life with Eppie. That summer Eppie is married to Aaron Winthrop, Dolly’s son. Aaron comes to live in Silas’s cottage, which has been expanded and refurbished at Godfrey’s expense.
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Individual Versus the Community
Silas Marner is in one sense the story of the title character, but it is also very much about the community of Raveloe in which he lives. Much of the novel’s dramatic force is generated by the tension between Silas and the society of Raveloe. Silas, who goes from being a member of a tight-knit community to utterly alone and then back again, is a perfect vehicle for Eliot to explore the relationship between the individual and the surrounding community.
In the early nineteenth century, a person’s village or town was all-important, providing the sole source of material and emotional support. The notion of interconnectedness and support within a village runs through the novel, in such examples as the parish’s charitable allowance for the crippled, the donation of leftovers from the Squire’s feasts to the village’s poor, and the villagers who drop by Silas’s cottage after he is robbed.
The community also provides its members with a structured sense of identity. We see this sense of identity play out in Raveloe’s public gatherings. At both the Rainbow and the Squire’s dance, interaction is ritualized through a shared understanding of each person’s social class and place in the community. As an outsider, living apart from this social structure, Silas initially lacks any sense of this identity. Not able to understand Silas in the context of their community, the villagers see him as strange, regarding him with a mixture of fear and curiosity. Silas is compared to an apparition both when he shows up at the Rainbow and the Red House. To be outside the community is to be something unnatural, even otherworldly.
Though it takes fifteen years, the influence of the community of Raveloe does eventually seep into Silas’s life. It does so via Godfrey’s problems, which find their way into Silas’s cottage first in the form of Dunsey, then again in Eppie. Eliot suggests that the interconnectedness of community is not something one necessarily enters into voluntarily, nor something one can even avoid. In terms of social standing, Silas and Godfrey are quite far from each other: whereas Silas is a distrusted outsider, Godfrey is the village’s golden boy, the heir of its most prominent family. By braiding together the fates of these two characters and showing how the rest of the village becomes implicated as well, Eliot portrays the bonds of community at their most inescapable and pervasive.
Character as Destiny
The plot of Silas Marner seems mechanistic at times, as Eliot takes care to give each character his or her just deserts. Dunsey dies, the Squire’s lands are divided Godfrey wins Nancy but ends up childless, and Silas lives happily ever after with Eppie as the most admired man in Raveloe. The tidiness of the novel’s resolution may or may not be entirely believable, but it is a central part of Eliot’s goal to present the universe as morally ordered. Fate, in the sense of a higher power rewarding and punishing each character’s actions, is a central theme of the novel. For Eliot, who we are determines not only what we do, but also what is done to us.
Nearly any character in the novel could serve as an example of this moral order, but perhaps the best illustration is Godfrey. Godfrey usually means well, but is unwilling to make sacrifices for what he knows to be right. At one point Godfrey finds himself actually hoping that Molly will die, as his constant hemming and hawing have backed him into so tight a corner that his thoughts have become truly horrible and cruel. However, throughout the novel Eliot maintains that Godfrey is not a bad person—he has simply been compromised by his inaction. Fittingly, Godfrey ends up with a similarly compromised destiny: in his marriage to Nancy he gets what he wants, only to eventually reach the dissatisfied conclusion that it is not what he wanted after all. Godfrey ends up in this ironic situation not simply because he is deserving, but because compromised thoughts and actions cannot, in the moral universe of Eliot’s novel, have anything but compromised results.
The Interdependence of Faith and Community
In one sense Silas Marner can be seen simply as the story of Silas’s loss and regaining of his faith. But one could just as easily describe the novel as the story of Silas’s rejection and subsequent embrace of his community. In the novel, these notions of faith and community are closely linked. They are both human necessities, and they both feed off of each other. The community of Lantern Yard is united by religious faith, and Raveloe is likewise introduced as a place in which people share the same set of superstitious beliefs. In the typical English village, the church functioned as the predominant social organization. Thus, when Silas loses his faith, he is isolated from any sort of larger community.
The connection between faith and community lies in Eliot’s close association of faith in a higher authority with faith in one’s fellow man. Silas’s regained faith differs from his former Lantern Yard faith in significant ways. His former faith was based first and foremost on the idea of God. When he is unjustly charged with murder, he does nothing to defend himself, trusting in a just God to clear his name. The faith Silas regains through Eppie is different in that it is not even explicitly Christian. Silas does not mention God in the same way he did in Lantern Yard, but bases his faith on the strength of his and Eppie’s commitment to each other. In his words, “since . . . I’ve come to love her . . . I’ve had light enough to trusten by; and now she says she’ll never leave me, I think I shall trusten till I die.”
Silas’s new faith is a religion that one might imagine Eliot herself espousing after her own break with formalized Christianity. It is a more personal faith than that of Lantern Yard, in which people zealously and superstitiously ascribe supernatural causes to events with straightforward causes, such as Silas’s fits. In a sense, Silas’s new belief is the opposite of his earlier, simplistic world view in that it preserves the place of mystery and ambiguity. Rather than functioning merely as a supernatural scapegoat, Silas’s faith comforts him in the face of the things that do not make sense to him. Additionally, as Dolly points out, Silas’s is a faith based on helping others and trusting others to do the same. Both Dolly’s and especially Silas’s faith consists of a belief in the goodness of other people as much as an idea of the divine. Such a faith is thus inextricably linked to the bonds of community.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The Natural World
Throughout the novel, Eliot draws on the natural world for many images and metaphors. Silas in particular is often compared to plants or animals, and these images are used to trace his progression from isolated loner to well-loved father figure. As he sits alone weaving near the start of the novel, Silas is likened to a spider, solitary and slightly ominous. Just after he is robbed, Silas is compared to an ant that finds its usual path blocked—an image of limitation and confusion, but also of searching for a solution. Later, as Silas begins to reach out to the rest of the village, his soul is likened to a plant, not yet budding but with its sap beginning to circulate. Finally, as he raises Eppie, Silas is described as “unfolding” and “trembling into full consciousness,” imagery evoking both the metamorphosis of an insect and the blooming of a flower. This nature imagery also emphasizes the preindustrial setting of the novel, reminding us of a time in England when the natural world was a bigger part of daily life than it was after the Industrial Revolution.
For the most part, the events of Silas Marner take place in two homes, Silas’s cottage and the Cass household. The novel’s two key events are intrusions into Silas’s domestic space, first by Dunsey and then by Eppie. Eliot uses the home as a marker of the state of its owner. When Silas is isolated and without faith, his cottage is bleak and closed off from the outside world. As Silas opens himself up to the community, we see that his door is more frequently open and he has a steady stream of visitors. Finally, as Silas and Eppie become a family, the cottage is brightened and filled with new life, both figuratively and in the form of literal improvements and refurbishments to the house and yard. Likewise, the Cass household moves from slovenly and “wifeless” under the Squire to clean and inviting under Nancy.
Raveloe, like most of nineteenth-century English society, is organized along strict lines of social class. This social hierarchy is encoded in many ways: the forms characters use to address one another, their habits, even where they sit at social events. While the Casses are not nobility, as landowners they sit atop Raveloe’s social pecking order, while Silas, an outsider, is at its base. Nonetheless, Silas proves himself to be the better man than his social superiors. Similarly, in Eppie’s view, the simple life of the working class is preferable to that of the landed class. Eliot is skilled in showing how class influences the thinking of her characters, from Dunsey’s idea of Silas as simply a source of easy money to Godfrey and Nancy’s idea that, as higher-class landowners, their claim to Eppie is stronger than Silas’s.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Silas’s loom embodies many of the novel’s major themes. On a literal level, the loom is Silas’s livelihood and source of income. The extent to which Silas’s obsession with money deforms his character is physically embodied by the bent frame and limited eyesight he develops due to so many hours at the loom. The loom also foreshadows the coming of industrialization—the loom is a machine in a time and place when most labor was nonmechanical, related to farming and animal husbandry. Additionally, the loom, constantly in motion but never going anywhere, embodies the unceasing but unchanging nature of Silas’s work and life. Finally, the process of weaving functions as a metaphor for the creation of a community, with its many interwoven threads, and presages the way in which Silas will bring together the village of Raveloe.
The place where Silas was raised in a tight-knit religious sect, Lantern Yard is a community of faith, held together by a narrow religious belief that Eliot suggests is based more on superstition than any sort of rational thought. Lantern Yard is the only community Silas knows, and after he is excommunicated, he is unable to find any similar community in Raveloe. Throughout the novel Lantern Yard functions as a symbol of Silas’s past, and his gradual coming to grips with what happened there signals his spiritual thaw. When Silas finally goes back to visit Lantern Yard, he finds that the entire neighborhood has disappeared, and no one remembers anything of it. A large factory stands in the spot where the chapel once stood. This disappearance demonstrates the disruptive power of industrialization, which destroys tradition and erases memory. Likewise, this break with the past signals that Silas has finally been able to move beyond his own embittering history, and that his earlier loss of faith has been replaced with newfound purpose.
The hearth represents the physical center of the household and symbolizes all of the comforts of home and family. When Godfrey dreams of a life with Nancy, he sees himself “with all his happiness centered on his own hearth, while Nancy would smile on him as he played with the children.” Even in a public place such as the Rainbow, one’s importance is measured by how close one sits to the fire. Initially, Silas shares his hearth with no one, at least not intentionally. However, the two intruders who forever change Silas’s life, first Dunsey and then Eppie, are drawn out of inclement weather by the inviting light of Silas’s fire. Silas’s cottage can never be entirely separate from the outside world, and the light of Silas’s fire attracts both misfortune and redemption. In the end, it is Silas’s hearth that feels the warmth of family, while Godfrey’s is childless.
Analysis of Major Characters
The title character, Silas is a solitary weaver who, at the time we meet him, is about thirty-nine years old and has been living in the English countryside village of Raveloe for fifteen years. Silas is reclusive and his neighbors in Raveloe regard him with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. He spends all day working at his loom and has never made an effort to get to know any of the villagers. Silas’s physical appearance is odd: he is bent from his work at the loom, has strange and frightening eyes, and generally looks much older than his years. Because Silas has knowledge of medicinal herbs and is subject to occasional cataleptic fits, many of his neighbors speculate that he has otherworldly powers.
Despite his antisocial behavior, however, Silas is at heart a deeply kind and honest person. At no point in the novel does Silas do or say anything remotely malicious and, strangely for a miser, he is not even particularly selfish. Silas’s love of money is merely the product of spiritual desolation, and his hidden capacity for love and sacrifice manifests itself when he takes in and raises Eppie.
Silas’s outsider status makes him the focal point for the themes of community, religion, and family that Eliot explores in the novel. As an outcast who eventually becomes Raveloe’s most exemplary citizen, Silas serves as a study in the relationship between the individual and the community. His loss and subsequent rediscovery of faith demonstrate both the difficulty and the solace that religious belief can bring. Additionally, the unlikely domestic life that Silas creates with Eppie presents an unconventional but powerful portrait of family and the home.
Though he is the title character of the novel, Silas is by and large passive, acted upon rather than acting on others. Almost all of the major events in the novel demonstrate this passivity. Silas is framed for theft in his old town and, instead of proclaiming his innocence, puts his trust in God to clear his name. Similarly, Dunsey’s theft of Silas’s gold and Eppie’s appearance on Silas’s doorstep—rather than any actions Silas takes of his own accord—are the major events that drive the narrative forward. Silas significantly diverges from this pattern of passivity when he decides to keep Eppie, thereby becoming an agent of his eventual salvation.
Godfrey is the eldest son of Squire Cass and the heir to the Cass estate. He is a good-natured young man, but weak-willed and usually unable to think of much beyond his immediate material comfort. As a young man he married an opium addict, Molly Farren, with whom he had a daughter. This secret marriage and Godfrey’s handling of it demonstrate the mixture of guilt and moral cowardice that keep him paralyzed for much of the novel. Godfrey consented to the marriage largely out of guilt and keeps the marriage secret because he knows his father will disown him if it ever comes to light.
Despite his physically powerful and graceful presence, Godfrey is generally passive. In this respect he is similar to Silas. However, Godfrey’s passivity is different from Silas’s, as his endless waffling and indecisiveness stem entirely from selfishness. Godfrey is subject to constant blackmail from Dunsey, who knows of Godfrey’s secret marriage, and Godfrey is finally freed of his malicious brother simply by an accident. He is delivered from Molly in a similarly fortuitous way, when Molly freezes to death while en route to Raveloe to expose their marriage to Godfrey’s family. Even Godfrey’s eventual confession to Nancy is motivated simply by his fright after the discovery of Dunsey’s remains. This confession comes years too late—by the time Godfrey is finally ready to take responsibility for Eppie, she has already accepted Silas as her father and does not want to replace him in her life.
Nancy is the pretty, caring, and stubborn young lady whom Godfrey pursues and then marries. Like Godfrey, Nancy comes from a family that is wealthy by Raveloe standards. However, her father, unlike Squire Cass, is a man who values moral rectitude, thrift, and hard work. Nancy has inherited these strict values and looks disapprovingly on what she sees as Godfrey’s weakness of character. She is, however, exhilarated by Godfrey’s attention, in part because of the status he embodies.
Nancy lives her life according to an inflexible code of behavior and belief. She seems to have already decided how she feels about every question that might come up in her life, not necessarily on the basis of any reason or thought, but simply because anything else would represent a sort of weakness in her own eyes. When Nancy is younger, this “code” of hers demands that she and her sister dress alike on formal occasions. When she is older, Nancy’s code forbids her to adopt a child, as in her mind such an action represents a defiance of God’s plan. Nancy is neither well educated nor particularly curious, and her code marks her as just as much a product of Raveloe’s isolation and rusticity as Dolly Winthrop. Nancy is, however, a genuinely kind and caring person, as evidenced by her forgiveness of Godfrey after his confession.