George Meredith

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George Meredith
George Meredith by George Frederic Watts.jpg
George Meredith in 1893 by George Frederic Watts
Born(1828-02-12)12 February 1828
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
Died18 May 1909(1909-05-18) (aged 81)
Box Hill, Surrey, England
Literary movement Victorian literature
Notable worksModern Love
SpousesMary Ellen Peacock (1849–1861)
Marie Vulliamy (1864–1886)
ChildrenArthur, William, and Mariette

Signature Signature of George Meredith.jpg

George Meredith OM (12 February 1828 – 18 May 1909) was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times. [1]

Victorian era period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign (1837–1901)

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodist, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. On some occasions the award has been postponed to the following year. It was not awarded in 2018, but two names will be awarded in 2019.



Meredith was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, a son and grandson of naval outfitters. [2] 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 read law and was articled as a solicitor, but abandoned that profession for journalism and poetry. He collaborated with Edward Gryffydh Peacock, son of Thomas Love Peacock, in publishing a privately circulated literary magazine, the Monthly Observer. [3] He married Edward Peacock's widowed sister Mary Ellen Nicolls in 1849 when he was twenty-one years old and she was twenty-eight. [2]

Portsmouth City & unitary authority area in England

Portsmouth is a port city in Hampshire, England, with a total population of 205,400 residents. The city of Portsmouth is nicknamed Pompey and is mainly built on Portsea Island, a flat, low-lying island measuring 24 square kilometres in area, just off the south-east coast of Hampshire. Uniquely, Portsmouth is the only island city in the United Kingdom, and is the only city whose population density exceeds that of London.

Hampshire County of England

Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England. The county town is the city of Winchester. Its two largest cities, Southampton and Portsmouth, are administered separately as unitary authorities; the rest of the county is governed by Hampshire County Council.

Moravian Church Protestant Christian denomination dating back to 15th century

The Moravian Church, formally named the Unitas Fratrum, in German known as [Herrnhuter] Brüdergemeine, is one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world, with its heritage dating back to the Bohemian Reformation in the 15th century and the Unity of the Brethren established in the Kingdom of Bohemia.

Meredith collected his early writings, first published in periodicals, in an 1851 volume, Poems. In 1856 he posed as the model for The Death of Chatterton , a notable painting by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis (1830–1916). [4] His wife ran off with Wallis in 1858; she died three years later. The collection of "sonnets" entitled Modern Love (1862) emerged from this experience as did The Ordeal of Richard Feverel , his first "major novel". [2]

<i>The Death of Chatterton</i> painting series by Henry Wallis

The Death of Chatterton is an oil painting on canvas, by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis, now in Tate Britain, London. Two smaller versions, sketches or replicas, are held by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. The Tate painting measures 62.2 centimetres (24.5 in) by 93.3 centimetres (36.7 in), and was completed in 1856.

Henry Wallis English Pre-Raphaelite painter, writer and collector

Henry Wallis was a British Pre-Raphaelite painter, writer and collector.

<i>The Ordeal of Richard Feverel</i> book by George Meredith

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son (1859) is the earliest full-length novel by George Meredith; its subject is the inability of systems of education to control human passions. It is one of a select group of standard texts that have been included in all four of Everyman's Library (1935), the New American Library of World Literature (1961), Oxford World's Classics (1984), and Penguin Classics (1998). With its rigorous psychological analysis and criticism of contemporary attitudes to sexuality, it has been seen by some critics as the first modern novel in English literature.

Meredith married Marie Vulliamy in 1864 and settled in Surrey. He continued writing novels and poetry, often inspired by nature. He had a keen understanding of comedy and his Essay on Comedy (1877) remains a reference work in the history of comic theory. In The Egoist , published in 1879, he applies some of his theories of comedy in one of his most enduring novels. Some of his writings, including The Egoist , also highlight the subjugation of women during the Victorian period. During most of his career, he had difficulty achieving popular success. His first successful novel was Diana of the Crossways published in 1885. [5]

Surrey County of England

Surrey is a county in South East England which borders Kent to the east, Sussex to the south, Hampshire to the west, Berkshire to the northwest, and Greater London to the northeast.

<i>The Egoist</i> (novel) book by George Meredith

The Egoist is a tragicomical novel by George Meredith published in 1879.

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery version, for which Meredith posed in 1856. Chatterton.jpg
The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery version, for which Meredith posed in 1856.

Meredith supplemented his often uncertain writer's income with a job as a publisher's reader. His advice to Chapman and Hall made him influential in the world of letters. His friends in the literary world included, at different times, William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Cotter Morison, [6] Leslie Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing and J. M. Barrie.Gissing wrote in a letter to his brother Algernon that Meredith's novels were 'of the superlatively tough species'. [7] His contemporary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle paid him homage in the short-story "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", when Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson during the discussion of the case, "And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you please, and we shall leave all minor matters until to-morrow." Oscar Wilde, in his dialogue "The Decay of Lying", implies that Meredith, along with Balzac, is his favourite novelist, saying "Ah, Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning".

Dante Gabriel Rossetti English poet, illustrator, painter and translator

Gabriel Charles Dante Rossetti, generally known as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was a British poet, illustrator, painter and translator, and a member of the Rossetti family. He founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Rossetti was later to be the main inspiration for a second generation of artists and writers influenced by the movement, most notably William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. His work also influenced the European Symbolists and was a major precursor of the Aesthetic movement.

Algernon Charles Swinburne English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic

Algernon Charles Swinburne was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He wrote several novels and collections of poetry such as Poems and Ballads, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Leslie Stephen British author, literary critic, and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography

Sir Leslie Stephen, was an English author, critic, historian, biographer, and mountaineer, and father of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

In 1868 Meredith was introduced to Thomas Hardy by Frederic Chapman of Chapman & Hall the publishers. Hardy had submitted his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady. Meredith advised Hardy not to publish his book as it would be attacked by reviewers and destroy his hopes of becoming a novelist. Meredith felt the book was too bitter a satire on the rich and counselled Hardy to put it aside and write another 'with a purely artistic purpose' and more of a plot. Meredith spoke from experience; his first big novel, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, was judged so shocking that Mudie's circulating library had cancelled an order of 300 copies. Hardy continued in his attempts to publish the novel: however it remained unpublished, though he clearly took Meredith's advice seriously. [8]

Thomas Hardy English novelist and poet

Thomas Hardy was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, especially on the declining status of rural people in Britain, such as those from his native South West England.

Frederic Chapman English publisher

Frederic Chapman was a publisher of the Victorian era who became a partner in Chapman & Hall, who published the works of Charles Dickens and Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, among others.

Chapman & Hall is an imprint owned by CRC Press, originally founded as a British publishing house in London in the first half of the 19th century by Edward Chapman and William Hall. Chapman & Hall were publishers for Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anthony Trollope, Eadweard Muybridge and Evelyn Waugh.

Meredith's politics were those of a Radical Liberal and he was friends with other Radicals such as Frederick Maxse and John Morley. [9] [10] Before his death, Meredith was honoured 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. [2]

In 1909, he died at his home in Box Hill, Surrey. [2] He is buried in the cemetery at Dorking, Surrey. [11]

Personal life

Meredith had two wives and three children. He outlived both wives and one child.

On 9 August 1849, Meredith married Mary Ellen Nicolls (née Peacock), a beautiful widow with a daughter. They had one child, Arthur (1853–1890). In 1858 she ran off with the painter Henry Wallis, shortly before giving birth to a child assumed to be Wallis's. Mary Ellen died in 1861. [12] [13]

On 20 September 1864, Meredith married Marie Vulliamy. She died of cancer in 1886. [13]

Meredith had three children:
with Mary Ellen

with Marie


"Our first novelist"
Meredith as caricatured by Max Beerbohm in Vanity Fair, September 1896 George Meredith Vanity Fair 24 September 1896.jpg
"Our first novelist"
Meredith as caricatured by Max Beerbohm in Vanity Fair , September 1896
George Meredith in middle age Portrait of George Meredith.jpg
George Meredith in middle age
George Meredith's home at Box Hill, where much of his work was written George Meredith's home at Box Hill.jpg
George Meredith's home at Box Hill, where much of his work was written




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  1. "Nomination Database". Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Meredith, George (1963). The Egoist. The New American Library of World Literature (Signet Classics). Introduction (first page).
  3. Poetry Foundation – George Meredith
  4. The Solicitors' journal and reporter, Volume 4
  5. Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "Meredith, George"  . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 604–616.
  6. Meredith's place in the circles of Rosetti, Swinburne, Morison, Sir Alexander Duff-Gordon and Sir William Hardman is described in S.M. Ellis, A Mid-Victorian Pepys, The Letters and Memoirs of Sir William Hardman, M.A., F.R.G.S (Cecil Palmer, London 1923), which includes an early photograph of George Meredith with his son Arthur Meredith, facing p. 50.
  7. Letters of George Gissing to members of his family, collected and arranged by Algernon and Ellen Gissing. London: Constable, 1927, letter dated 12/6/1884.
  8. Tomalin, Claire. Thomas Hardy: The Time Torn Man. New York: Penguin, 2007.
  9. McGlamery, Gayla S. (1993). "George Meredith and modern Liberal theory". Nineteenth-Century Contexts. 17 (1): 1–16.
  10. Taylor, Antony (2010). "'The Old Chartist': Radical Veterans on the Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Political Platform". History. 95 (4): 458–476.
  11. "George Meredith – Find A Grave". Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  12. Vendler, Hellen (29 April 2013). "The Tragedy in the Bedroom". The New Republic.
  13. 1 2 3
  14. First printed in The Fortnightly, May 1881.
  15. "The Lark Ascending by George Meredith" . Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  16. Archibald Constable and Co., Westminster 1903.

Further reading