George Meredith, His Life and Work

George Meredith, His Life and Work

George Meredith, His Life and Work

George Meredith, His Life and Work

Excerpt

My reason for writing this book is that I have failed to find any work seriously grappling with Meredith's ideas, his creative definition. At one time it was fashionable to write studies, uniformly superficial, on his attitudes to Nature and Women; but these studies never attempted to relate his attitudes on Nature or anything else to the clear and rich struggle in his life and work, and thus made him out as a thin-minded earnest intellectual of the type with no relevance to our perilous and bitter world, in which an inescapable crisis offers men the choice between the smoke of a final disintegration and a secure hold on Earth at long last.

So far, however, from being remote from this situation of crisis, Meredith of all our novelists developing after 1850 realised most deeply the way the world was going. Naturally he did not see its ultimate crisis in the precise form in which it has emerged; but he penetrated and defined the conflicts which have issued in that form.

Why then has he been so ignored, so little questioned, in the years after the 1914-18 War, when the relevance of his definition, if I am correct, has at last become fiercely obvious?

The answer to that question is what the whole of my book attempts. Here I shall make only one preliminary point. In 1931 an American critic (Chauncey Brewster Tinker) wrote, 'Disguise the matter as we may, the undeniable fact is that Meredith is a believer in Progress.' Simply, that is the explanation of his neglect and of the nonsense written about him. For he both grasped the essential nature of the conflict now issuing in the threat to life itself, and held a deep optimism which believed that despite all hells men--the masses--would master the threat and achieve a happy and harmonious life on earth.

Meredith has been ignored because of his profound relevance to the situation of our world.

He has his faults, which I think are not unduly evaded in this study; but it is his virtues that have told against him.

In my youth, reading uncritically all Great Novels I could lay hands on, I read The Shaving of Shagpat, The Egoist, and others of Meredith's works, and they left a respectful impression. But I did not return to him until I recently picked up Beauchamp's Career--one of the Great Novels I'd missed--and found how startling it was. I then read or reread through . . .

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