George Silverman’s Explanation – 1868 – a short story
Dickens wrote this sad story (of a miserable man from Preston who is orphaned when very young) for his friend James T Fields of Boston, and its first appearance was in The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 21, Numbers 123-125, Jan to Mar 1868,
This was one of Dickens’s very last writings, George Silverman’s Explanation is a dark investigation of failure and guilty.
George Silverman’s parents were in a miserable condition of life, and his infant home was a cellar in Preston. Listening for the distinctive sound of his father ’clogs, watching his mother, trying to discerne her move as she appeared, knees, then waist and finally her face. She called him a ‘worldly little devil’, he was locked in the dark, cold cellar, usually hungry, while they looked for work.
There had been talk of his maternal grandfather, a machine-maker in Birmingham who owned some houses. The talk was of his death whereupon the mother expected to inherit his houses.
They both fell ill with a fever, and, despite his ministrations, he was suddenly orphaned. The people who lift him from the cellar seem fearful of him. Mr Verity Hawkyard emerges from the group and states that his grandfather in Birmingham has recently died, He asks ‘Where’s his houses?’ Hawkyard says he will see George is educated. There is some talk of a ‘farmyard’ and some mention of Houghton Towers, but George know nothing of either.
A policeman is charged with taking him to a ward in Houghton Towers. There he had food, a bed and blanket, a chair and table. He was given a bath and new clothes, he was disinfected. Hawkyard then advised him he would go to a farmyard. He ist old of the fresh air there and told not to say of what his parents died, or they might not take him. He is told to behave well and Hawkyard will put him to school.
He was taken on a farmer’s cart to Houghton Towers. He did not think it strange that it was decrepit, he thought all farmyards were probably like that. He ate and slept there unquestioning. He explored the run-down buildings.
There was a girl, Sylvia, at mealtimes who sat opposite him, but he feared giving her the fever so kept his distance. His hosts presumed him to be naturally Morose.
Sylvia announces that tomorrow is her birthday and other boys and girls will come, there will be a fiddler. She urges him to be sociable, but he says he can’t attend, She reacts by saying she willnever talk with him again. The farmer calls him ‘moody and broody’.
He watches the party from afar, from various places in the farmhouse.
Hawkyard makes good his promise to provide schooling. He gained a Foundation, so there was no cost to Hawkuard. He worked hard and has hopes of College, but remains unsociable in the eyes of others. Brother Hawkyard takes him to meet his congregation on a Sunday.
Hawkyard was a drysalter and preacher to the congregation. Another drysalter, Brother Gimblet, also preached but always praised Hawkyard, though George felt there was some jealousy. When George is going to college, Hawkyard claims the kudos of educating him.
George Silverman is convinced that he is the one at fault, the reason for all the misfortunes in his life. He writes a letter of thanks to Hawkyard and personally delivers it. He finds the two clergymen, and they mention that they are uniting their two businesses. Hawkyard died three years later and left everything to Gimlet, this was part of the deal struck that day.
His college experiences were no different than Houghton Towers, as he pursued the clerical profession. George was ordained and looked for a role in the Church, where he might use his ‘gift of quiet explanation’.
He tutored Mr Fareway, who, while able, was lazy perhaps because of his rich family. When he advised him not to apply for an examination, Lady Fareham, asked for half of his fees back, and George agreed to this.
Several years later, Fareway presents his mother to George, describing her as good at business. She asks if he wants preferment in the Church? She offers him a post of £200 pa in North Devon which is hers to offer. George accepts it and also to deal with some of her business affairs She then proposes that her daughter, Adelina, be one of his pupils.
Adelina proves to be able and beautiful and he falls in love with her and it proves to be reciprocated. But the house he is awarded as part of the post is small and he has two pupils, the second is Granville Wharton.
Granville forsakes his love and pushes Adelina towards George. With his regular support their romance blossoms and George marries them. Lady Fareway strikes him on the news of the marriage. She accuses him of being paid by Granville, a percentage of Adelina’s money. She forces him to resign his role.
George denies that he had so schemed. The bishop took her opinion and George was cast into the clerical wilderness. Adeline and Granville, and other friends, supported him so that he found a post at a college.
This tale is his ‘explanation’, he made little impression on people and was generally ill-used.
Granville and Adelina ask George tomarry them
· Fareway, Adelina
· Fareway, Mr
· Fareway, Lady
· Gimlet, Brother
· Hawkyard, Mr Verity
· Parksop, Brother
· Silverman, George
· Silverman, Mr
· Silverman, Mrs
· Wharton, Granville