Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 46 (2015)
In 1861 Henry Crabb Robinson compared George Eliot's Silas Mamer with Coleridge's 'The Ancient Mariner'. He noted the novel's 'great affinity' with the poem: 'A little child, its mother having frozen to death at his solitary hovel, is taken in by Silas [ ...]. It is to him what the blessing of the animals is to the Ancient Mariner.' 1 In 1977, U. C. Knoepflmacher argued that: '[b]oth The Mill on the Floss and Silas Mamer hark back to those poems of severance, loss, and expiation that had haunted the imaginations of Coleridge and Wordsworth at the turn of the century,.2 Elsewhere, Knoepflmacher has suggested that '[t]he man called "Old Master Mamer" belongs and does not belong to that disinherited race of wanderers who roam through the Lyrical Ballads. [ ...] His surname' says Knoepflmacher, 'suggests his kinship to Coleridge's Ancient Mariner,.3 So, connections between Silas Mamer and 'The Ancient Mariner' have been made before, but none has focused on consonance and dissonance in the language and narrative structure of each text in relation to the other. Close readings of the texts produce startling correspondences in the language used to describe alienation, isolation, and ideas of community. At the same time, the narrative of each text can be read as a reversal of the other, and each employs remarkably similar metaphorical language to characterize the nature of narrative itself.
Of his contributions to 1798's Lyrical Ballads, which included 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Coleridge wrote: 'the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions, as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real'" Of Eliot's comments concerning her intentions in writing Silas Mamery, those on creating 'a sufficiently real background [ ... ] so that the presentation will lay hold on the emotions as human experience' are significantly consonant with the qualities championed by Coleridge: the power of the emotions to engage, and the employment of elements 'real' enough to convince.' Coleridge's inclusion of supernatural 'incidents and agents' does not detract from the emotional power and impact of the 'Mariner', but his rendering of their effects produces a lack of coherence in his narrative radically at odds with the moral cohesion Eliot imposes on her 'legendary' tale. A fundamental reason for this divergence is the differing treatment of Subjectivity in each narrative, which informs, and is informed by, agency, moral responsibility, and materiality.