Silas Marner - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz will challenge you on context in George Eliot's Silas Marner. The environment in which a text is written is its context. In many ways context resembles and can sometimes be confused with setting. You might like to think of context as the author’s own setting. Geographical location, political events, and social issues together create the context of any particular text. Issues and events from the author’s past can often have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. Context also includes any personal beliefs of the author which help to shape the work.

How to write about context

Learning about the context of a fictional work can be useful because it gives an insight into some of the influences which help to shape a text.

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It is important to remember, however, that there is no straightforward relationship between text and context. Being complex in itself, history cannot dictate the meaning of any text. Instead, context works its influence through the author’s own aims and purposes. In Silas Marner, for example, George Eliot addresses many aspects of English rural life which she saw diminished and disappearing during her lifetime. This creates an air of nostalgia in the text, but many of its themes speak to the context in which it was written as much as to that in which it is set.

Pay close attention to the text to find out what it says about history, about politics, or about social issues. You can develop a deeper understanding of these issues through researching a work’s context. What was happening at the time the text was written? How does this relate to the issues being written about? Compare your knowledge of historical context to whatever the text says about these issues. At the same time, do not forget that works of art exist beyond their context. Good texts continue creating meaning long after the time when they are written.

In analysing a text, be careful to distinguish between its setting and its context. A novel such as Silas Marner, which is set in a time and place not too distant from when it was written, will still be affected by the difference between setting and context.

Research the context of George Eliot’s Silas Marner, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.

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  1. Unlike many women in the nineteenth century, George Eliot was very well-educated, both formally and self-taught. How does Eppie receive an education?
    Girls who were fortunate enough to receive some education learned to read at dame school. George Eliot, who was born in 1819, was sent away to various boarding schools to receive a more thorough education than Eppie's
  2. Which of the following is true?
    Class distinctions are very much present in Raveloe. Silas's interruption of the men in the Rainbow to report the theft of his gold is not as disruptive as his interruption of a private dinner party at the Red House after he finds Molly Farren. In addition, Godfrey's secret marriage to Molly is disgraceful because of her lowly status. Such social stratification continues throughout the nineteenth century
  3. Which of the following refers to one of the greatest changes experienced in Britain between the latter half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century?
    Agriculture and textiles, along with other crafts, became more mechanised. Many people's livelihoods were destroyed as machines came to replace human labour. Silas's craft as a weaver is endangered by mechanised textile production
  4. Eliot's religious views were influenced by which of the following?
    Eliot rejected her evangelical background, but developed a friendly predisposition towards genuine beliefs which encouraged good in humanity
  5. Which of the following is NOT true?
    By using a pen name, especially one which was masculine, some female authors hoped for their works to be judged upon merit, rather than being approached with prejudice
  6. What were the weavers called who violently protested against mechanised textile production?
    In a bid to save the livelihood of weavers, the Luddites broke up power looms and weaving frames between 1811 and 1812. Interestingly, these violent protests take place during the years when Silas Marner leaps forward to its second part. Silas's trade has begun to suffer by this point. Eliot writes from a perspective in time when mechanised textile production has become completely dominant
  7. Silas's chapel in Lantern Yard differs from the church in Raveloe by being which of the following?
    Eliot portrays the worshippers in Raveloe as content with tradition, even when they do not understand doctrine or their own beliefs. Silas's chapel encourages education and a better understanding of belief, but also becomes a cruel and unwelcoming place for the falsely-accused young man
  8. Why can Godfrey not divorce Molly?
    Until 1857, only Parliament could grant a divorce. Such divorces could only be granted in cases of adultery. They were also very expensive and thus limited to the wealthy
  9. When was Silas Marner first published?
    The novel is set in the first half of the century
  10. Dunstan and Godfrey are short of money at the beginning of the novel despite being sons of the local squire. Which one of the following is NOT a reason for their lack of money?
    The nineteenth century saw the rise of a new class of people made wealthy through manufacture, rather than through inherited wealth linked to land

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