Summary and Analysis
Silas and Eppie are at home alone that evening as Silas explains to her how he used to treasure his money before she came to him. Now he feels that the money was taken from him in time to save him, and it has been kept for him until it was wanted for her.
Godfrey and Nancy interrupt this talk. Godfrey begins by saying that he feels bound to make up for what a member of his family did to Silas. Then they speak of how little money Silas really has. At last, Godfrey comes to the point of offering to raise Eppie as his daughter. Silas manages to reply that he will not stand in her way. Eppie, however, refuses politely, saying that she cannot leave her father. Godfrey has been anxious to set his error right, but now this block irritates him. He puts forth his claim on Eppie as his own child. Silas says angrily that Godfrey should have claimed her sixteen years ago, that repentance cannot change the events of sixteen years. Godfrey finally says that Silas should not stand in the way of the child's welfare. He wants to save her from marrying a workingman and leading a hard life forever. Silas then tells him to ask Eppie what she wants.
Godfrey gently asks Eppie to come live with him, and Nancy also urges her. Eppie says she cannot be happy apart from Silas. When Silas asks her to consider carefully, she replies that she does not care to be a lady. Nancy then reminds Eppie that she has a duty to her real father; but Eppie feels no duty to any father but one, and she adds that she has already promised to marry a workingman. This closes the issue for Godfrey, who hurries away, followed by his wife.
Silas was robbed by Dunstan, but the treasure that replaced his gold was Godfrey's daughter. Thus the two original plots become further interwoven, for now that Silas' gold has been returned, Godfrey feels able to claim his own. But he finds that this is not the sort of transaction that can be completed so neatly, for human feelings enter into it. He has neglected his duty, and in the process his "rights" as a father have vanished.
Godfrey suffered for his weakness in the past, but he kept his suffering to a minimum by refusing to face the cause. He still has not faced the issue, for he is not yet concerned with Eppie, but with himself: "He had been full of his own penitence and resolution to retrieve his error." Now he is baffled that Eppie does not want to be "retrieved." That he has no concept of what his daughter wants is shown by his fear that "she may marry some low working man," which is just what Eppie desires.
Nancy is in a difficult position. She believes in "principle," and by that belief Eppie is Godfrey's. She also loves her husband and wishes to protect him. For these reasons, she partly takes his position and his narrow point of view: "We shall want for nothing when we have our daughter." She, too, speaks of "a duty you owe to your lawful father." But it is implied that she does so out of concern for Godfrey rather than from conviction.
Eliot views the action from the point of view of each of the participants in turn in order to give the fullest sense of what is happening, but she concentrates on two characters — Silas and Eppie. Certainly they are the ones who are intended to have the "right" feelings, and their views are put most forcefully. We have already seen what sort of life Nancy and Godfrey have achieved. Now the relationship of Silas and Eppie is tested more deeply than ever and found to be sound. It is deeper than Godfrey imagines, or even Nancy. It shows the full extent of Silas' "salvation."
Silas, compared to Godfrey, has suffered more greatly, but he has come to maturity and through that to his reward. He is willing to sacrifice his own interests for Eppie's sake, but she refuses her part in that bargain.
Silas is right in telling Godfrey that "repentance doesn't alter what's been going on for sixteen years." Fatherhood is more than blood; it is a carefully built relationship that cannot be given or stolen like gold. Even principle — Godfrey's "duty" — cannot overcome the claims of love. The central irony of Godfrey's position is now brought home to him: because of his past weakness, he can never have his desire. In the end, his weakness brings its own punishment.