In the quiet villages of England in the early nineteenth century, life follows an unchanging pattern. The seasons come and go, for both the rich Squire and his family in the big house, and the villagers in their little cottages. Anything new or strange is met with suspicion in villages like Raveloe.
And Silas Marner the linen-weaver is strange. He lives alone, and no one knows anything about his family. How can you trust a man when you don’t know his mother and father? And he is pale, with strange, staring eyes, for he works long hours at his loom every day – even on Sundays, when he should be in church. He must be a friend of the devil, the villagers say to each other.
Poor Silas! He’s a sad, lonely man, and his only friends are the bright gold coins that he earns for his weaving and keeps hidden under the floorboards. But change must come, even to a quiet place like Raveloe. The Squire’s two sons share a secret, which leads to quarrelling, robbery, and a death, one cold snowy night not far from the door of Silas’s cottage …
In the early years of the nineteenth century, strange-looking little men were often seen on the country roads, usually with a heavy bag on their shoulders. They were linen-weavers, taking the linen they had woven to the women in the villages. Unlike the strong, healthy country people, they were small and thin, with tired white faces, bent backs and round shoulders. They were often shortsighted too, because they had to look so closely at their work. To the villagers the weavers looked almost foreign, and quite frightening. Where did they come from? Was it the devil who sent them? Who were their parents? How could you trust a man if you didn’t know his father or mother? Country people used to be very suspicious of all strangers and travellers. They were also suspicious of clever people, people who could do something they themselves had not learnt to do. That is why the linen-weavers, who often moved from towns to live and work in the country, were considered strangers all their lives by their neighbours, and were sometimes very lonely as a result.
Silas Marner was one of these weavers. He lived in a small cottage near the village of Raveloe. Every day he worked at his loom in the cottage. The small boys of Raveloe had never heard the sound of a loom before, and sometimes they used to run up to his house to look quickly in at the window. If Silas noticed them, he lifted his shortsighted eyes from the loom to stare at the boys. There was something terrible about his stare, which made the boys run away at once, screaming with fear. The villagers believed that Silas had an almost devilish power, which he could use to harm them if he wanted, and so they were all afraid of him. Raveloe was an important-looking village with a fine old church and a number of large farms. But it was at least an hour away from any other village, and very few strangers visited it, which explains why the villagers’ opinions were so out of date.
Silas Marner had first come to Raveloe fifteen years before, as a young man. He and his way of life seemed very strange to the villagers. He worked long hours at his loom, and had no friends or visitors from the village or anywhere else. He never talked to his neighbours unless it was necessary for his work, and he never looked at any of the Raveloe girls. ‘Who would want to marry him anyway?’ the girls laughed to each other. ‘Marry a dead man come to life again, with that unhealthy white skin and those insect-like eyes of his? Certainly not!’