Meredith, George

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Meredith, George

George Meredith, 1828–1909, English novelist and poet. One of the great English novelists, Meredith wrote complex, often comic yet highly cerebral works that contain striking psychological character studies. As a youth he attended a Moravian school in Germany and eventually became apprenticed to a London lawyer. He began his career as a free-lance journalist, contributing to newspapers and magazines in London. His first volume of poems appeared in 1851 and received the praises of Tennyson. In 1849 he married Mary Ellen Nicoll, the widowed daughter of Thomas Love Peacock; she left him in 1858. Modern Love (1862), a series of 50 connected poems, reflects his own experience in relating the tragic dissolution of a marriage. He married Marie Vulliamy, happily, in 1864 and settled in Surrey, the location that inspired many of his later nature poems. Although Meredith began and ended his literary career as a poet, he is best remembered as a novelist. His first distinguished work, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, appeared in 1859. His other notable books include Evan Harrington (1860), The Adventures of Harry Richmond (1871), The Egoist (1879), and Diana of the Crossways (1885). His famous critical essay, On the Idea of Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit (1897), was first delivered as a lecture in 1877. Meredith's novels and poems are written in a brilliant but oblique style. Highly intellectual, his novels often treat social problems. Prominent in all his works is his joyful belief in life as a process of evolution.

See various volumes of his letters; biography by L. Stevenson (1953, repr. 1967); studies by G. M. Trevelyan (1906, repr. 1966), S. Sassoon (1948, repr. 1969), J. B. Priestley (1926, repr. 1970), G. Beer (1970), R. Muendel (1986).

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