George Meredith. The English novelist and poet George Meredith concentrated on detailed character development and witty intellectual discussion. His narrative style is often highly metaphorical, allusive, Between and , George Meredith published fifteen novels and a number of long short stories or novellas, taking as his special subject the instability of human relationships within a sharply co It is difficult to define George Meredith's place among the major Victorian poets, in part because of his many claims to distinction. He is at once impresario and sage, prophet and man of the world.
Although George Meredith's literary reputation has diminished somewhat since his death in , he is still regarded as a major writer of the Victorian period. But besides producing fifteen novels, nu London: Bradbury and Evans, The Adventures of Harry Richmond. London: Smith, Elder and Co.
Rylance, Rick. Victorian Psychology and British Culture Oxford: Oxford University Press, Spencer, Herbert. The Principles of Psychology. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, An Autobiography. London: Williams and Norgate, XXV, , pp. Young, Robert M. Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century. The s were described by contemporary historian Justin McCarthy as a distinctive epoch with a history entirely its own, no previous period having produced such a quantity of 'original matter' One book in particular, Darwin's Origin of Species published in , George Henry Lewes observed, 'made' the 'epoch' , The evolutionary perspective acquired during the s, I argue in this study of two novels, is integral to Meredith's fiction written in this period.
Evan Harrington articulates an early response to the evolutionary debate, which appreciates the humour as well as the stir of ideas produced by Darwin's theories. At the end of the decade Harry Richmond constructs the evolutionary position with past, present and future inextricably connected. Evan Harrington was serialized in Once a Week before being published as a three volume novel in Written in the wake of the Origin of Species , they are concerned with ideas of heredity, development and adaptation.
In Evan Harrington and Harry Richmond , origins are shown to exist beyond the boundaries of the single life of the protagonist, incorporating earlier generations which influence future life through physical laws of inheritance. In the Origin of Species , Darwin argued a biological or genealogical arrangement for past and present in 'a single community of descent' joined together by lines of inheritance Heredity, Walter Bagehot observed in , had been rendered 'distinct' by modern science The question of physical inheritance was raised before Darwin by Lewes in In his essay 'Hereditary Influence, Animal and Human,' Lewes recognized the fact that transmission of physical and mental qualities from parent to offspring was a visible fact, open to universal observation, but he also suggested that this hypothesis in the past was formed in ignorance of nature's processes.
In contrast, modern physiological science, he argued, provided a material law for inheritance which demonstrated its necessity in maintaining the species , Variations in transmission were later explained by Lewes in terms of 'double parentage' or 'double inheritance,' the unequal influence of two parents which produce variations and contradictions , 2, In each novel, human character and development are shown to be determined, in part at least, by the transmission of physical and mental characteristics.
In Evan Harrington , Meredith observes two generations of a family of tailors and traces the individual variations of character and temperament which emerge within the familial network. In Evan Harrington the principal characters are described significantly in terms of their hereditary relationships.
The children all derive attributes from both parents in different combinations and to varying degrees. Their physical inheritance is visible to all those around them: they are the handsome children of a fine looking couple. The daughters are persons of singular beauty and refinement 'hereditarily combined' 1.
The effects of double parenting are recognised in Evan's nature and personality: he is a Harrington and a Dawley with all the contradictions that this implies. Although the father had aspired to high society, and kept horses, it is Evan's mother who has the greater claims to gentility, her lawyer father having descended 'the genealogical tree' to marry his cook 1. Though the novel opens with Evan Harrington 's father, 'the great Mel,' dead in his coffin, his larger than life personality is clearly delineated.
Mel had lived his life to the full; he was a poetic dreamer, extravagant and impractical. He spoke mysteriously of his origins, of a great line of descent from the Welsh princes. It is suggested by some who knew him well that his behaviour was conditioned: it was 'in the grain' 1. Mrs Mel is his opposite.
She organizes the household and its inhabitants with precision and a fearless determination, epitomized in her single handed capture of a young intruder whom she shoots, nurses back to health, tames and places in her service. After her husband's death, while she allows other women to weep and to collapse under the emotional weight of the occasion, she remains matter of fact, the emotion she still feels for her husband disciplined and under control.
Whereas Mel, able to accommodate human weakness, had 'a Presence' she has 'a Port': a natural but unsympathetic dignity and nobility 1. Evan is shown to have derived a complex inheritance from both parents; his poetic romantic temperament, his ambition, his openness and natural honesty, all inherited from his father, are blended in his nature with a natural authority, a grace and a strong sense of duty derived from his 'barren-spirited' mother 2. Evan is described as inheriting from each progenitor the finest of their attributes; he is 'the best mixed compound of his parents' 3.
The flamboyance and grand aspirations of Evan's eldest sister Louisa would seem to connect her closely to her father but she has also inherited her mother's hard practical sense. She has lifted her life from the tailor's shop in Lymport with an unsentimental determination by arranging a magnificent marriage for herself. Her sisters have similarly removed themselves from Tailordom, via 'the slight connecting links' in the social fabric 1.
As the Countess de Saldar, Louisa operates like a military strategist, interpreting situations, anticipating difficulties, and martialling events. A 'born general,' she mines the opposition as she attempts to take charge of the events around her 1. She has not inherited her father's openness and honesty but directs all her energies into the concealment of her anomalous social position.
She plays a shrewd game; her robust heath, inherited from Mel, allows her, when occasion demands, to play the part of the 'high-born invalid' without 'damage to her constitution' 2. Louisa's vulnerability lies in a deep seated fear of a mother whom she associates with the Demogorgon. The 'root of the evil' for Louisa was her father's decision to marry an unromantic, prosaic Dawley, whose only concern was 'to deliver facts' 3. Louisa blames Evan's shortcomings on the maternal line, on the fact that he is a Dawley rather than a Harrington and therefore a hopeless case.
One might as well, she complains, 'try to raise the dead as a Dawley from the dust he grovels in! In spite of her antipathy to her mother, in her determination to take total control of events, Louisa strongly resembles her.
They share a religious sensibility but whereas her mother's feelings are grounded in superstition Louisa believes in a Providence that is seen to work invariably in her favour, its interest coinciding with her own. The Countess like her brother is a composite and complex product of two strong parents of opposing temperaments, whose joint biological legacy has visibly helped to shape her. All of the sisters are variations of their parents, 'some Port, and some Presence, hereditarily combined' 1. Harriet is handsome, practical and down to earth, without the flourish of Mel.
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Caroline is beautiful and graceful, like her mother, but with Mel's sensitivity and vulnerability. In life, the father had dominated his daughters; in death he continues to subjugate as they become 'bondsmen to his ashes' 1. Each praises their father as the perfect gentleman but, to preserve their own status, they mount guard over his grave, to 'secure his ghost from an airing' 1. The threads linking the generations in Evan Harrington are shown to be intricate, fine and tenacious. In Harry Richmond , written towards the end the decade, the issue of heredity is considered from a more intimate perspective, with emphasis placed on observed states of mind, on the transmission of mental qualities.
The inheritance of mental as well as physical characteristics had been argued before the Origin of Species by Herbert Spencer who, in in The Principles of Psychology , described the modified nervous tendencies that were produced by 'new habits of life' over countless generations The psychological significance of heredity and double parenting seemed confirmed in the mids by the statistical research of Frances Galton, who argued that intellectual capacity was largely the result of descent and the combined influence of two parents Harry Richmond opens with an account of the seizing of young Harry by his father from his grandfather at his mother's home.
This encounter reveals not only the vast social inequality between the families united by his birth but also physical and temperamental differences. The Squire is blunt, practical and down to earth while Roy is a romantic, impractical dreamer. The Belthams are the oldest family in the county with an uncontested pedigree and great wealth. Roy, the impoverished son of an actress, pretending to royal blood, claims a superior lineage though, as his name implies, through an illegitimate line. Riversley is a solid conservative country seat and the wealthy Squire its equally solid and reliable, if hot tempered, master.
From Roy's perspective, Squire Beltham lacks the finer feelings; he is 'earthy' and 'an animal' 1. To the Squire, Roy is a blackguard and a madman who has destroyed the life of his daughter. From the child's point of view, his father is a magician, capable of turning himself into a menagerie of wild animals at will. Emotionally Harry feels close to his father but knows himself also to be a Beltham.
The only offspring of the union of the two families, he is aware from an early age of conflicting elements in his nature which he associates with converging but discordant lines of descent. He sees himself as a hostage between two worlds: 'a kind of shuttlecock flying between two battledores' 1. Harry has his father's proclivity to dream but possesses the strong practical sense of his grandfather.
He hates speculation but, once he is away from his studies, his head 'shoots rockets to the furthest hills. Any weakness in Harry is seen by his grandfather as a matter of 'bad blood,' in one of several references in the novel to the mixing of blood. The allusion is current and draws on interests in cross-breeding stimulated by Darwin who, in the Origin of Species and in other works, argues the benefits to be derived from a cross between individuals not closely related The Squire, proud and confident in his lineal descent, damns the mixing of blood and looks for purity.
In Harry, he recognises 'Beltham' pluck and trusts that the 'bad blood' of his mixed inheritance will be 'sweated out'; assured that 'old blood' will win out in the end I. An opposing view is given by the Reverend Peterborough, who has studied the question, believing it to be one of the 'great physical problems' of the day. Contesting the Squire's judgment, he informs Harry that science has shown that intermixing does no harm and occasionally is of benefit: 'old blood,' he asserts, requires varying and modifying by 'intermixture' 2.
The social benefit of mixing strains is advocated humorously in the novel when John Thresher, the uncomplicated but philosophical farmer at Harry's childhood retreat, proposes that the solution to every problem is to 'mix, strain and throw away the sediment,' a process used to produce England's finest ale 1.
The same method, he suggests, could be used to resolve social differences. The social and cultural benefit of mixing strains was argued by Bagehot in ,m , where he argued the importance of the process of blending for the earliest societies in creating the degree of variability necessary for their advancement The significance of factors other than heredity and blood was emphasized by Lewes in , when he argued that the organism represented only one half of the problem of life; the other was the medium in which the organism grew Spencer, from his earliest evolutionary studies, had emphasized the importance of the medium in describing the process of continual adjustment and adaptation between organism and environment.
He identified the interval between the embryo and the fully grown animal as the most dangerous period in an individual's life, a time when natural selection chiefly played its part by testing the strength of the individual. In human terms, he noted, wealth alone could interpose in the process and deprive 'natural selection' of its 'rightful victim' In Meredith's novels, the hereditary transmission of characteristics is shown not as an isolated element working in people's lives, but as one factor among several affecting the development of character.
In Evan Harrington , the importance of adapting to circumstances is stressed early in the narrative. Evan is initially presented as lacking in character due to his 'wanting experience. Evan's inherent resemblance to his father is modified by a difference in conditions. It is a subject of general observation and speculation that Evan is more serious, more scholarly than Mel, his natural abilities having been nurtured by a gentleman's education and foreign travel.
Evan's social aspirations are given substance by his education and strengthened by the determination of his sisters to improve his station. His innate sense of worth and all the circumstances of his life, together with his inherited temperament, are shown to play their part in shaping his nature and pulling him from the social situation into which he was born. In Harry Richmond there is a preoccupation with all that affects individual character: the forces that govern intellectual and moral growth, determining the development of the faculties and the fulfilment of the individual.
The process is described subjectively.
The procedure relies on the perceptions, emotions and memories of a first person narrator but development is nevertheless shown to be intricate, linked to environment as well as to heredity, and temperament. The young Harry Richmond is uprooted from all that he knows and understands and placed into very different conditions which make new demands on his nature. His personality is shown to grow in complexity, to become differentiated, as he matures and learns to adapt to a variety of contrasting environments.
The world of Riversley Grange, where Harry spends his first four years, is secure dependable and predictable, except for the shadowy and tragic figure of his mother, unhinged possibly by inherited disease or by Roy's treatment of her. The world into which he is transported by his father is filled with excitement, wonder and marvel but his position is shown to be precarious in the extreme when he becomes lost on the streets of London. It is a world the child only half comprehends, mediated by a brilliant father who is nevertheless an unreliable guardian.