George Meredith

This article is about the novelist. For the founder of Swansea, Tasmania, see George Meredith (Tasmanian settler).
George Meredith

George Meredith in 1893 by George Frederic Watts
Born (1828-02-12)12 February 1828
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
Died 18 May 1909(1909-05-18) (aged 81)
Box Hill, Surrey, England
Nationality English
Literary movement Victorian literature
Notable works Modern Love
Spouses Mary Ellen Peacock (1849–1861)
Marie Vulliamy (1864–1886)
Children Arthur, William, and Mariette


George Meredith, OM (12 February 1828 – 18 May 1909) was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era.


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 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.[2] He married Edward Peacock's widowed sister Mary Ellen Nicolls in 1849 when he was twenty-one years old and she was twenty-eight.[1]

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).[3] 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".[1]

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.[4]

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis, Birmingham 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,[5] Leslie Stephen, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing and J. M. Barrie. 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".

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.[6] 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.[1]

In 1909, he died at his home in Box Hill, Surrey.[1] He is buried in the cemetery at Dorking, Surrey.[7]

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'. Mary Ellen died in 1861.[8][9]

On 20 September 1864, Meredith married Marie Vulliamy. She died of cancer in 1886.[9]

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 in middle age
George Meredith's home at Box Hill, where much of his work was written





  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Meredith, George (1963). The Egoist. The New American Library of World Literature (Signet Classics). Introduction (first page).
  2. Poetry Foundation – George Meredith
  3. The Solicitors' journal and reporter, Volume 4
  4.  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1912). "Meredith, George". Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement. 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 604–616.
  5. 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.
  6. Tomalin, Claire. "Thomas Hardy: The Time Torn Man." New York: Penguin, 2007.
  7. "George Meredith – Find A Grave". Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  8. Vendler, Hellen (April 29, 2013). "The Tragedy in the Bedroom". The New Republic.
  9. 1 2 3
  10. First printed in The Fortnightly, May 1881.
  11. "The Lark Ascending by George Meredith". Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  12. Archibald Constable and Co., Westminster 1903.

Further reading

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