Meet Silas Marner. He's a linen-weaver who lives in the village of Raveloe, and people don't like him. Well, they don't really trust him. Weaving requires a lot of skill, and peasants are suspicious of people who have any particular "cleverness" (1.1.1).
They figure he's got other powers than weaving—like the kind of powers that can cure sickness and maybe even make people sick.
Raveloe is a two-horse, one-stoplight, no-good-movie-theater town. It's far away from everything, it's got no nightlife, and its residents have no ambition.
Silas has been the village outcast there for fifteen years. He doesn't flirt with the girls, he doesn't farm, and he doesn't have friends. He's totally the guy making puppets while all the other dudes are playing football.
Jem Rodney even saw him in a fit one day, leaning on a fence like a dead guy.
But he weaves fine cloth, so the villagers tolerate him. For fifteen years he lives with them, unchanged.
Or so it seems.
Here's a little backstory:
Before Silas came to Raveloe, he was way involved with a Dissenting church in a place called Lantern-Yard, a section of a manufacturing city up north.
Brief digression: In the 19th century, most people were Anglicans, part of the state-sponsored Protestant Church of England. People who didn't belong to the church, mostly Baptists or Methodists, were called Dissenters. Dissenters went to "chapel" while Anglicans went to "Church," and they were often workers and manufacturers.
Anyway, Silas is a Dissenter. He and the church are one big happy family, until he falls into a trance during a prayer-meeting.
The church members are pretty cool about it, even though Silas refuses to pretend that he's had a spiritual vision.
Silas also has a good friend in the church, William Dane. The two talk a lot, mostly regular dude stuff like whether or not they've been granted eternal salvation. Even Silas's fiancée, Sarah, can't get between them.
After Silas's trance, William starts acting funny, almost like he's jealous of the attention Silas gets.
Now we get to the climax of this backstory: one night, Silas sits by the deathbed of one of the church members. The next day, the church elders accuse him of stealing money. He denies it, of course, but what's this? William found the bag of money in Silas's dresser, and Silas's knife in the man's drawer. Of course he did.
Silas suddenly remembers something: "the knife wasn't in my pocket" (1.1.11-12), he tells the accusers. William had borrowed the knife. Do you see where this is going?
No trial by jury here: Silas is subject to special church laws, and so he has to play a game of chance to determine his guilt or innocence. He draws the short straw, which means he's guilty.
Silas is exiled. Before he leaves, he accuses William of taking the money and rejects God: "there is no just God that governs the earth righteously, but a God of lies" (1.1.15).
Guess what happens next? Sarah and William marry. Ooh, burn.