George Meredith

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George Meredith
George Meredith.1893.jpg
George Meredith in 1893 by George Frederic Watts.
Born: Feb. 12, 1828
Portsmouth, England
Died: May 18, 1909
Box Hill, Surrey, Surrey, England
Nationality: Flag of England England

George Meredith, OM (February 12, 1828 – May 18, 1909) was an English Victorian novelist and poet. His novels are noted for their sparkling wit and dialogue. He was also one of the early pioneers of what would later become the psychological novel, especially his utilization of interior monologue, which became widely used and developed in the twentieth century novel. His novels were very popular in his day, but are not as widely read today.


Meredith was born in Portsmouth, England, a son and grandson of naval outfitters.[1] His mother died when he was five. At the age of 14 he was sent to a Moravian School in Neuwied, Germany, where he remained for two years. He studied law and was apprenticed to a London solicitor, but abandoned that profession for journalism and poetry shortly after marrying Mary Ellen Nicolls, a widowed daughter of Thomas Love Peacock, in 1849. He was 21 years old; she was 30.[2]

He collected his early writings, first published in periodicals, into Poems, which he managed to publish to some acclaim in 1851. However, poetry did not generate an income and he later turned to prose. His wife left him and their five-year-old son in 1858; she died three years later. Her departure was the inspiration for The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, his first "major novel."[3]

He married Marie Vulliamy in 1864 and settled in Surrey, where he continued writing novels and later in life returned to writing poetry, often inspired by nature. Oscar Wilde, in his dialogue The Decay Of Lying, implied that Meredith, along with Honore de Balzac, was his favorite novelists, saying "Ah, Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning."

In 1909 George Meredith died at his home in Box Hill, Surrey.


While Meredith continued to write and publish poetry throughout his life, he is best known for his novels, especially the early novel The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) and the two later ones, The Egoist (1879) and Diana of the Crossways (1885).

The Egoist, perhaps Meredith's best known novel, was a tragicomedy. It recounts the story of self-absorbed Sir Willoughby Patterne and his attempts at marriage; jilted by his first bride-to-be, he vacillates between the sentimental Laetitia Dale and the strong-willed Clara Middleton. More importantly, the novel follows Clara's attempts to escape from her engagement to Sir Willoughby, who desires women to serve as a mirror for him and consequently cannot understand why she would not want to marry him.


Twentieth century British novelist and short story writer, Angus Wilson, called The Egoist "the turning point in George Meredith's career." Wilson saw Meredith as "the first great art novelist." He considered the book an adaptation of a stage comedy, an achievement he arrogates to few English authors, who more characteristically, he suggests, present only "farce or satire." He compliments Meredith most when he is detached from his characters, as "it is then that our laughter is most thoughtful." Wilson is most taken by "the absolute truth of much of the dialogue." "The way Sir Willoughby continues to speak through the answers of other characters, returning to notice their replies only when his own vein of thought is exhausted" is a "wonderful observation of human speech." [4]

In his essay "Books Which Have Influenced Me," Robert Louis Stevenson reports the following story:

"A young friend of Mr. Meredith's (as I have the story) came to him in agony. 'This is too bad of you,' he cried. 'Willoughby is me!' 'No, my dear fellow,' said the author; 'he is all of us.'" [5]

E. M. Forster discussed the book in his lecture series Aspects of the Novel, using it as an example of a "highly organized" plot [6] Much of his discussion, however, focuses on Meredith and his popularity as an author.

More materially, Forster compliments Meredith on not revealing Laetitia Dale's changed feelings for Willoughby until she rejects him in their midnight meeting; "[i]t would have spoiled his high comedy if we had been kept in touch throughout … in fact it would be boorish. … Meredith with his unerring good sense here lets the plot triumph" rather than explaining Dale's character more fully. [7]

Forster further compares Meredith with Thomas Hardy, complimenting Hardy on his pastoral sensibilities and Meredith on his powerful plots, "[knowing] what [his] novel[s] could stand." [8]

More recently, feminist critics has argued that the novel dramatizes, among other things, the difficulty that women faced in Victorian society. Meredith's novel depicts a world in which women's bodies and minds were trafficked between fathers and husbands to cement male bonds.


As an adviser to publishers, Meredith is credited with helping Thomas Hardy start his literary career.

Before his death, Meredith was honored from many quarters: he succeeded Lord Tennyson as president of the Society of Authors; in 1905 he was appointed to the Order of Merit by King Edward VII.[9]



  • The Shaving of Shagpat (1856)
  • Farina (1857)
  • The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859)
  • Evan Harrington (1861)
  • Emilia in England (1864), republished as Sandra Belloni (1887)
  • Rhoda Fleming (1865)
  • Vittoria (1867)
  • The Adventures of Harry Richmond (1871)
  • Beauchamp's Career (1875)
  • The House on the Beach (1877)
  • The Case of General Ople and Lady Camper (1877)
  • The Tale of Chloe (1879)
  • The Egoist (1879)
  • The Tragic Comedians (1880)
  • Diana of the Crossways (1885)
  • One of our Conquerors (1891)
  • Lord Ormont and his Aminta (1894)
  • The Amazing Marriage (1895)
  • Celt and Saxon (1910)


  • Poems (1851)
  • Modern Love (1862)
  • Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth (1883)
  • A Faith on Trial (1885)
  • Ballads and Poems of Tragic Life (1887)
  • A Reading of Earth (1888)
  • The Empty Purse (1892)
  • Odes in Contribution to the Song of French History (1898)
  • A Reading of Life (1901)
  • Last Poems (1909)


  1. George Meredith. The Egoist. (The New American Library of World Literature, (Signet Classics), 1963. Introduction)
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., 508
  5. Robert Lewis Stevenson. R.L. Stevenson on Fiction. (Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 115
  6. E. M. Forester Aspects of the Novel. (Harvest Books. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1954), 87
  7. Ibid., 92
  8. Ibid., 94
  9. Meredith (1963)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Forster, E. M. Aspects of the Novel. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1954.
  • Meredith, George, and Angus Wilson (afterword). The Egoist, 501-508. The New American Library of World Literature (Signet Books), 1963.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis. R.L. Stevenson on Fiction. Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

External links

All links retrieved May 21, 2024.


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