My mother was a great book lover. She had tons of books in her shelf and I’ve seen her reading them in a late afternoon or on a lazy weekend. Maybe that was the reason I wanted to have my own books. It wasn’t until the 4th grade that I was lucky enough to own a book. My father had bought me one when I got chicken pox. It had adaptations from great stories like Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Three Musketeers, Gulliver’s Travels, and such. Since then, the journey of my love for English literature began.
In English literature, if you are looking for a good book to read, you will firstly be introduced to books by some of the renowned contemporary writers. Getting introduced to English literature meant knowing about the Victorian or Georgian age- contextually meaning the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from the early 19th to 20th century.
Victorian literature was not the only shining period in the history of English Literature. However, it was the novel that was dominant in this period to the English literary public which makes it the most important in the field of literature. The Romantic Literature, which preceded the Victorian Literature also gave us some great works including poetry and novels, but the dominating genre of this era was poetry.
As a lover of contemporary novels, my first introduction to English Literature had been when I was at the age of 12. I have always had fascination to classical novels and a love towards the then rising Europe. My first book was Silas Marner that belonged to my elder sister. I remember it took 6 days to reach the ending but I hadn’t been able to finish it. She had sold the book. Yeah.
I don’t know why I had picked this particular book while there were many other books in front of me like Arms and the Man, A Tale of Two Cites, Sons and Lovers, Measure for Measure or even W. B. Yeats. But it was the cover of the book that had me like ‘okay, this is the book I want to read.’ I think as a child, the book rendered to me as an easy read and the story wasn’t very impressive. But it was a good one. The main character wasn’t talking to me, he was all by himself- quiet and stoic. It’s like you are peeping through a window and watching everything happening. I liked how Elliot narrated it and her powerful voice came through in her writing.
Silas Marner had left quite an impression on me. Since then my hunger for contemporary books had grown. This book covered a pretty good idea about the 19th Century Europe and George Elliot combined symbolism with a historically precise setting in order to create a tale of love and hope. The reason I liked Silas Marner was because the novel explored the issues of family, and impacts of industrialization on English society of the sophisticated England.
Before that, my thought on England was that it was a heaven on Earth, a Utopia in the middle of civilization. These novels attracted me to know more and as I continued to read, my idea of Europe changed. It gave a much broader idea not only about the functions of various social ingredients and customs and traditions but also about the contrast between the life of sophistication and the common. And in order to apprehend that England, we have to understand how England emerged through the Romantic period. England was also going through the process of great changes and improvements especially in the Romantic era. It was the era when there were wars – French Revolution, Napoleonic wars and the First World War. These wars seemed to influence the Romantic era along with the political and social turmoil that came with it. The start of the Romantic Movement that is marked in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s poems from Lyrical Ballads spread along the lands of Europe. It greatly influenced the literary public and was noticeable in some of the contemporary writer’s writings.
While most Romantics were broadly progressive in their views and some seemed to keep conservative views- which was overly disrupted by Western traditions of rationality, the idea of moral absolute and agreed values for over a century. It slowly led to nationalism that we can see in Goethe’s work to even totalitarianism and fascism. However, the end of Romantic era is marked by a new style of Realism that greatly affected the literature. This movement was led by France, with Balzac and Flaubert in literature. Stendhal was an important precursor of Realism. In music, after about 1850 such works are referred to as “Late Romantic” or as Neoromantic” and “Postromantic”. Although in English literature, the convenient term “Victorian” evades having to characterize the period further.
But when I started to read Silas Marner, I didn’t know all these. In this Victorian classic I could see the 19th century England before my eyes while reading it. It was the England that recovered from the Romantic era and stepped into the Victorian era. Elliot painted a wonderfully vivid picture of English life in the village of Raveloe portraying varied aspects of human nature- cowardice, greed, despair, moral inflexibility, love, devotion and hope. All I could see in front of my eyes was that it’s a person who is interacting with life, with himself and other characters. He is honest and believes in religion until he is betrayed by his own friend and is left by the church. He gets everything back in the face of a little girl and her unconditional love. In the final page, he appears as a man with new faith, inner strength and maturity.
Elliot greatly narrated a place that portrayed the functions and beliefs of the people from the 19th century. You can easily start to believe that Raveloe is a real living place filled with flaws, defeats and triumphs of real human life.
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