Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

George Meredith’s novels have never attracted as wide an audience as the fiction of his contemporaries—Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, and George Eliot—critics in his own day generally ignored Meredith’s work. Not until the publication of THE EGOIST in 1879 did the author gain much critical attention or public popularity. Meredith’s lack of popularity among the general public has been partially due to his difficult prose style and partially to the inaccessibility of his abstract and philosophical comic vision. His style is an odd mixture of the intellectual and emotional, the analytical and lyrical; his famous epigrams, for example, are often so compact and riddlelike as to elude easy understanding, while his descriptive passages and love scenes are frequently laden with rich images and inspired with great sensitivity. Meredith was primarily a philosopher who pleaded for the classical ideal of the golden mean; his witty comedy was aimed at restoring sanity and balance, at bringing men to their senses by making them laugh at the spectacle of their follies.

BEAUCHAMP’S CAREER appeared only a short time before Meredith published his famous ESSAY ON COMEDY. The novel, in consequence, bears the stamp of his theorizing, and in it comedy becomes a subtle and complex tool for character portrayal and social criticism, especially in the field of contemporary politics. Frederick Augustus Maxse, political reformer and Meredith’s friend, was the original of Beauchamp. Other characteristics of the novel are...

(The entire section is 639 words.)