George Meredith in 1893 by George Frederic Watts
12 February 1828|
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
|Died||18 May 1909
Box Hill, Surrey, England
|Literary movement||Victorian literature|
|Notable works||Modern Love|
|Spouses||Mary Ellen Peacock (1849-1861)
Marie Vulliamy (1864-1886)
|Children||Arthur, William, and Mariette|
Meredith was born in Portsmouth, England, a son and grandson of naval outfitters. 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. He married Edward Peacock's widowed sister Mary Ellen Nicolls in 1849 when he was twenty-one years old and she was twenty-eight.
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). 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".
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.
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,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. 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.
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.
On 20 September 1864, Meredith married Marie Vulliamy. She died of cancer in 1886.
Meredith had three children:
with Mary Ellen