George Meredith’s The Egoist: A Literary and Critical History
George Meredith was an English author, critic, poet, and war correspondent. He was considered to be a successful writer. He published several works of fiction and poetry. These works included: The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, The Tragic Comedians, Modern Love Poems of the English Roadside, and Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth among many others. Toward the end of his career, after the tragic deaths of his wife and son, Meredith received the Order of Merit. He was born in 1828 and died in 1909 (Casal).
The Egoist is arguably his greatest work of fiction and “is celebrated as a major in the history of the British novel. It presents Meredith’s learned insight into psychology, sociology and Social Darwinism in a highly refined and stylized prose”(DiMauro 250). The novel is about Sir Willoughby Patterene, a highly narcissistic gentleman, in his quest to find a socially acceptable wife. In Willoughby’s youth his two aunts nurtured his narcissism. He was the self-proclaimed “son of the house.” Which is a reference to Louix XIV, who believed that he was the center of the entire universe (DiMauro 250)
Throughout the narrative Sir Willoughby has little luck with women. “His first fiancee, Constantia Durham, abandons him three weeks before the wedding; the second, Clara Middleton, grows to abhor the cynosure, leaving Willoughby to court Laetitia Dale, the daughter of a cottager on the Patterne estate, whom Willoughby had once renounced as being below his station” (DiMauro 250).
The Egoist is a fictionalized work rooting from a lecture Meredith gave at the London Institute called, On The Idea of Comedy The Uses of the Comic Spirit. This lecture later became book titled An Essay on Comedy (Casal). French dramatist, Jean Baptiste Molirere, primarily influenced Meredith’s comic views, particularly the novel Tartuffe. Being that the novel was born out of Meredith’s comic findings, the full title of the work is called The Egoist: A Comedy in Narrative. The story of The Egoist is:
Based upon drama rather than fiction and reflects Meredith’s understanding of comedy as a means of criticizing society and analyzing the individual. Meredith was the first to replace an elaborate plot structure with careful psychological analysis of characters, an innovation that would greatly influence the modern novel. (DiMauro 250)
Meredith was fifty years old when he began work on The Egoist. In 1879 he gave the manuscript to his publisher, Charles Kegan Paul.