‘Victorian Values’ and Silas Marner



In the good (or bad, depending on one’s point of view) old days when it was taken as a matter of course that classic literary texts were central to any English syllabus, Silas Marner was one of the most widely studied of Victorian novels in schools. Part of the reason for this, no doubt, was that it was short by nineteenth-century standards, as well as being perceived as a simple story written in an accessible style. But perhaps even more important was its identification with Victorian moral idealism since it would appear to present a world in which moral order is intrinsic and triumphs over moral disorder, with the good being rewarded and the bad being punished. In an edition of the novel for schools first published in 1912 and often reprinted, the editor discusses the appropriateness of Silas Marner as a school text and states:

above all, the ethical interest must be paramount; and no treatment of Silas Marner can be really educative which does not make its appeal to the moral consciousness. It is in the belief justified by a long experience that in this lies the true value of the teaching of literature, that this edition of Silas Marner is included in the series of English Literature for Schools.1


Fairy Tale Penguin Book Moral Consciousness Moral Order School Text 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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