Monday, September 23, 2013

The Ordeal of Richard Feverel - by George Meredith

Free US/UK Kindle Classic
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel is an 1859 novel by English author George Meredith.  (US Edition)  (UK Edition)  One of several candidates for "the first novelist," this is Meredith's best known book.  I think you have to say he has been forgotten when the Amazon UK site has no reviews of the free Kindle edition of this book!

The foreword of the book has a rather different take on Meredith's posterity:

Among the Victorian novelists, George Meredith occupies a place apart. Unlike Dickens, Thackeray, and Eliot, he appeals to a select few. Those who appreciate him are folk of his own temper—cultivated, intellectual, urbane. They are persons of taste and discernment. They are generally the middle-aged rather than the young. They are those who, aloof and contemplative, relish the comedy of life, rather than those who throw themselves whole-heartedly into the game. It is not to be marvelled at, therefore, that Meredith should have won his way slowly, or that recognition, when it came, should have rendered his position unique and secure.

I would say painting George Eliot's "Middlemarch" as middlebrow or pop culture is kind of a hard sell.

However, you don't have to read these sour grapes - just dive into the novel and immediately encounter:

After five years of marriage, and twelve of friendship, Sir Austin was left to his loneliness with nothing to ease his heart of love upon save a little baby boy in a cradle. He forgave the man: he put him aside as poor for his wrath. The woman he could not forgive; she had sinned every way. Simple ingratitude to a benefactor was a pardonable transgression, for he was not one to recount and crush the culprit under the heap of his good deeds. But her he had raised to be his equal, and he judged her as his equal. She had blackened the world's fair aspect for him.

As with any candidate for first novel, you can expect some oddities in the structure.

A comrade of some description was necessary, for Richard was neither to go to school nor to college. Sir Austin considered that the schools were corrupt, and maintained that young lads might by parental vigilance be kept pretty secure from the Serpent until Eve sided with him: a period that might be deferred, he said. He had a system of education for his son. How it worked we shall see.

So it seems this is a book about education . . .


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