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Silas Marner - Extract 1

This GCSE English Literature quiz is the first of two extract questions for Silas Marner by George Eliot. Godfrey and Nancy have been married for many years, but their happiness has been marred by childlessness. Godfrey has encouraged Nancy to consider adopting a child, suggesting Eppie, of course, but Nancy has refused due to her own prejudices about the unknown parentage of orphans. Godfrey has not been able to admit that Eppie’s parentage is not as unknown as everyone in the village supposes. This passage is located close to the beginning of the second part of the novel, taking place sixteen years after Eppie wandered into Silas’s life. The Stone-pit has just revealed its terrible secrets.

How to answer an extract question in an exam:

Always ensure that you read a passage through carefully more than once when answering an extract question in an exam.

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This is never a waste of time. On your first reading, you can aim for a broad understanding of the passage and consider how you might use it to answer the question. The second reading is the time to make detailed notes and annotations and to begin to gather your thoughts. It is a good idea to ask yourself why the specific passage has been chosen. How does it fit with the rest of the text? Are any significant characters or significant themes introduced? What events follow? Are later events foreshadowed in the chosen passage? Does it mark a turning point? Also consider the ending of the extract: why do you think it ends where it does instead of somewhere else? Is there anything significant about the final line?

Remember to pay close attention to the question you have chosen to answer. You might be asked to write about mood and atmosphere, or a particular character, or even about your personal response to the passage or to a character. You might be asked to discuss dialogue, behaviour or feelings. Always explain the passage’s immediate context: acknowledge the events which precede the extract. Pay close attention to the detail, to setting and characterisation. Analyse and discuss the relationship between the excerpt and the themes of the text. Structure your response by grouping related ideas together in your writing. Remember to leave enough time to discuss the entire passage rather than analysing one section in detail and then neglecting the remainder of the extract!

Read the extract from George Eliot's Silas Marner below carefully before answering the questions.

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“Sit down Nancy, — there,” he said, pointing to a chair opposite him. “I came back as soon as I could, to hinder anybody’s telling you but me. I’ve had a great shock — but I care most about the shock it’ll be to you.”

“It isn’t father and Priscilla?” said Nancy, with quivering lips, clasping her hands tightly together on her lap.

“No, it’s nobody living,” said Godfrey, unequal to the considerate skill with which he would have wished to make his revelation. “It’s Dunstan — my brother Dunstan, that we lost sight of sixteen years ago. We’ve found him — found his body — his skeleton.”

The deep dread Godfrey’s look had created in Nancy made her feel these words a relief. She sat in comparative calmness to hear what else he had to tell. He went on:

“The Stone-pit has gone dry suddenly — from the draining, I suppose; and there he lies — has lain for sixteen years, wedged between two great stones. There’s his watch and seals, and there’s my gold-handled hunting-whip, with my name on: he took it away, without my knowing, the day he went hunting on Wildfire, the last time he was seen.”

Godfrey paused: it was not so easy to say what came next. “Do you think he drowned himself?” said Nancy, almost wondering that her husband should be so deeply shaken by what had happened all those years ago to an unloved brother, of whom worse things had been augured.

“No, he fell in,” said Godfrey, in a low but distinct voice, as if he felt some deep meaning in the fact. Presently he added: “Dunstan was the man that robbed Silas Marner.”

The blood rushed to Nancy’s face and neck at this surprise and shame, for she had been bred up to regard even a distant kinship with crime as a dishonour.

“O Godfrey!” she said, with compassion in her tone, for she had immediately reflected that the dishonour must be felt still more keenly by her husband.

“There was money in the pit,” he continued — “all the weaver’s money. Everything’s been gathered up and they’re taking the skeleton to the Rainbow. But I came back to tell you: there was no hindering it; you must know.”

He was silent, looking on the ground for two long minutes. Nancy would have said some words of comfort under this disgrace, but she refrained, from an instinctive sense that there was something behind — that Godfrey had something else to tell her.

George Eliot, Silas Marner (Penguin, 1967)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    After the servant informs her that she has seen people hurrying away in the same direction, Nancy begins to feel as if an accident has occurred. She waits patiently, although anxiously, for Godfrey to return safely
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    Godfrey is shaken by the manner in which his brother's wrongdoings have come to light and decides that it would be best for Nancy to find out the truth directly
  3. Godfrey is reluctant to tell Nancy what has been found in the Stone-pit. How is his reluctance conveyed?
    Godfrey hesitates repeatedly as he attempts to explain the full details of the discovery to Nancy. These pauses are indicated with dashes
  4. What might Godfrey feel is the "deep meaning" in the manner by which Dunstan died?
    Godfrey is struck by the manner of Dunstan's death as though it were fitting punishment for his crime as well as a warning to others to be open and honest
  5. Nancy tends towards putting her husband's feelings before her own. How is this habit evident in this passage?
    Although she first feels shame, Nancy puts her own feelings aside in compassion for her husband's feelings
  6. What is the meaning of Godfrey's silence at the end of the passage?
    Prompted by the shocking way in which Dunstan's secrets were exposed, Godfrey decides to expose his own secrets to view and to clear his conscience. He does this despite not being sure how Nancy will respond
  7. How might the atmosphere of this passage best be described?
    The atmosphere of foreboding is interesting because the terrible actions being revealed actually occurred in the past. One of the key messages of this text is that evil which is apparently hidden has a tendency to come to light
  8. Nancy is slightly surprised at Godfrey's hesitation in telling her about Dunstan. Which one of the following is NOT a reason for her surprise?
    As far as Nancy is concerned, villagers have held the worst opinions of Dunstan since his disappearance. Stealing, in Nancy's view, is more shameful than suicide
  9. Godfrey expresses much anxiety in this passage. To which of the following is this anxiety most closely connected?
    Godfrey is focussed on being the one to tell Nancy the news about Dunstan, his own inability to prevent her from hearing the news, and his need to reveal further secrets to her
  10. How does Nancy receive Godfrey's news about the discovery in the Stone-pit?
    Nancy's calmness and stillness are matched by Godfrey's own measured way of giving her the news

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