The Experimental Impulse in George Meredith's Fiction

The Experimental Impulse in George Meredith's Fiction

The Experimental Impulse in George Meredith's Fiction

The Experimental Impulse in George Meredith's Fiction

Synopsis

"This book argues that George Meredith as a writer of Victorian fiction is most interesting and important for us today in the ways in which he wrote against convention. The focus is on those novels that most clearly illuminate the experimental and transgressive impulse in Meredith, as seen in his treatment of controversial contemporary themes, in his departures from conventions of genre, and in his innovations with narrative technique and the representation of consciousness." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

[The Ordeal of Richard Feverel] goes on so so. Everything I do is an Ex
periment, and till it’s done, I never know whether ‘tis worth a farthing.

George Meredith to Eyre Crowe, 4 January 1858

IN THIS BOOK I ARGUE THAT GEORGE MEREDITH AS A WRITER OF VICTOrian fiction is most important and interesting for us today in the way he wrote against—or beyond—convention, convention taken to mean novelistic tradition as well as that compendium of attitudes and values we associate with Victorian culture. The French critic Abel Chevalley, writing in he Roman anglais de notre temps in 1921, produces a useful early twentieth-century perspective of Meredith’s position in relation to Victorian convention by comparing him, when still in the first decade of his publishing career, with his mid-century contemporaries. Musing on the fact that both The Ordeal of Richard Feverel and Adam Bede were published in 1859, Chevalley notes that

Nothing is more deceptive than dates…. Dickens and Thackeray, the
Brontes and George Eliot, all were locked in a debate with their age
[while] Meredith had already gone beyond it. English novelists between
1840 and 1870 were all struggling with the compromises and conven
tions of Victorian civilization. Meredith had prematurely escaped from
all that. On the subjects of the economic and moral life, the relations
of the sexes, the conditions of marriage, even the meaning of human
existence, he had … gone ahead by at least fifty years.

My focus in this study will be on those novels that most clearly illuminate the experimental and transgressive impulse in Meredith, as seen in his treatment of controversial contemporary themes—like those mentioned by Chevalley—in his departures from conventions of genre, and in his innovations with narrative technique and the representation of consciousness. These are novels that had a profoundly stimulating effect on many of those canonical writers we now associate with the first wave of modernism . . .

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