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.
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.
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.