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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648

What an analysis of a story, or novel, involves is at least one sense of Aristotle's notion of "substance." In Aristotle's Metaphysics, "substance" connotes "the underlying subject" of something (6.1). Therefore, what an analysis of a story involves is an Aristotelian "substance," or "the underlying subject" of the story, which is, in other words, that which underlies something about the story. In this case, let's take George Meredith's The Egoist into account. In order to offer our analysis, let's focus on the subject of "propriety" in The Egoist.

"Propriety" is loosely defined here as "a sense of appropriateness." By extension, "appropriateness" can be used as a word to identify the character of someone whose spirit is outstanding and/or dignified. So, our analysis of The Egoist involves two questions: Is Sir Willoughby Patterne a man of any propriety? And also, which characters in The Egoist best exemplify robust propriety? With regard to the two questions, we are inclined to consider the era in which George Meredith wrote The Egoist. In the Victorian era, society was characterized, in some way, by self-dignity. In other words, members of Victorian society had a strict (even greatly remarkable) sense of what was appropriate and what was not. Nowadays, people would almost certainly identify a character of self-dignity as egoism or vanity. However, it's wise to look into the cultural context of Meredith's day. Consider the following excerpt from The Egoist in which Meredith describes Sir Willoughby Patterne:

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Self-satisfied it must be. Humbleness does not win multitudes or the sex. It must be vain to have a sheen. Captivating melodies...have an inner pipe of that conceit almost ludicrous when you detect the chirp. (chapter 2)

Now, consider our original question: Is Sir Willoughby Patterne a man of any propriety? Undoubtedly, he has a certain appropriateness in accordance with his era, but even so, is that appropriateness less befitting than some higher standard of appropriateness—for example, a standard of robust propriety? We may need to find a character in Meredith's novel that exemplifies robust propriety if we are to distinguish Patterne from it. Perhaps a distinction can be made via the character Patterne chooses as his opposite ego, or soul? Indeed, in chapter 49, the dialogue between Patterne and Laetitia evinces in us a contrast, or a distinction, between each character's ego or soul; and, in that context, the character Laetitia may serve as a good model of robust propriety. From this context, we can propose that "the underlying subject" of propriety in The Egoist is a robust propriety seen in the relationship, or appropriateness, of two souls or egos.

In summary, we have focused on an analysis of a particular subject in George Meredith's The Egoist: that is, propriety. Having analyzed this subject, we found that our analysis of the subject involved not so much a question about whether or not this or that character in The Egoist has an ego or soul of robust propriety, but more so that the subject of robust propriety is a deep, underlying subject, which might be some form of relationship, or appropriateness, between two characters (e.g., Patterne and Laetitia). Thus, an analysis of George Meredith's The Egoist involves an idea that robust propriety is seen, or perhaps realized, in relationship, or appropriateness, between two souls or egos.

In conclusion, the good news about the literary arts is that an analysis of a story, or novel, is quite subjective; this means that the analysis of a story, or novel, can stem from some particular subject, and such a particular subject could be a theme, idea, term, or just about anything related to the story. Readers are encouraged to take a look at the summary of The Egoist in relation to the analysis provided here and, furthermore, to use the references provided here in relation to the summary of Meredith's novel in order to gain a deeper understanding.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

Patterne Hall

Patterne Hall. Home of Sir Willoughby Patterne, the “egoist” of the title. Using a technique more common to drama than to the Victorian novel, George Meredith sets virtually every scene of the novel somewhere on the grounds of Patterne Hall. Sir Willoughby’s country estate is not merely his home; he considers it a kind of earthly paradise where he and others wise enough to follow his lead can escape the vexations of the modern world. After leaving the hall for a three-year tour of the Continent when he was jilted, Willoughby has returned to settle down, bringing friends and acquaintances to Patterne Hall to impress them with his wealth and wisdom.

Described at various places in the novel as both a fortress and an aerie, Patterne Hall serves as Willoughby’s Garden of Eden, in which he can pursue idiosyncratic pleasures. The grounds of the estate are spacious and variegated, consisting of woods, farm lands, and several cottages in which tenants and other dependents live. Sir Willoughby’s second fiancé, Clara Middleton, is at first taken with the magnificence of the hall but eventually finds it is a prison in which she is likely to become trapped if she marries Willoughby. Much of the novel is taken up with her struggle to be released from her engagement and leave Patterne Hall. Clara finds it difficult to escape, however; her friends and family believe her engagement to Willoughby is a coup for her, since her father has wealth but only minor social status. The notion that the hall is a kind of heaven on earth is reinforced when Willoughby punishes his cousin and ward, Crossjay Patterne, in a manner he finds most appropriate and harsh: he banishes him from the estate. Meredith makes the hall a symbol of its owner: As other figures feel trapped at Patterne Hall, Willoughby is likewise a man trapped in his own self-absorption.

Railway station

Railway station. Railway stop to which Clara rushes in her attempt to free herself from Sir Willoughby. Frustrated in her attempts to get him to call off their engagement, Clara plans to escape to London to visit a friend. Willoughby’s close friend Colonel De Craye finds her at the train station and persuades her to return to Patterne Hall; their conversation makes it clear that Clara feels trapped in her relationship with Willoughby.


Laboratory. Room in Patterne Halle that Willoughby uses as a retreat whenever he wishes to escape social pressures at Patterne Hall. He affects to be a man of science, but the laboratory seems more a refuge where he can tinker with experiments. His claim that women are incapable of understanding science is a convenient ruse to keep the many women who visit the hall from following him into this inner sanctum.

Dining hall

Dining hall. Center of much of the social activity at Patterne Hall. Meredith uses occasions such as luncheons and dinners not only to further the plot but also to bring together various characters for discussions of politics, social relationships, religion, science, and matters pertaining to culture and civilization. In the dining hall, Sir Willoughby is able to dominate conversations and thereby display his exceptional self-centeredness.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 223

Handwerk, Gary J. “Linguistic Blindness and Ironic Vision in The Egoist.” Nineteenth Century Literature 39, no. 2 (September, 1984): 163-185. Handwerk discusses the irony of the relationship between self-knowledge and language.

Hill, Charles J. “Theme and Image in The Egoist.” University of Kansas City Review 20, no. 4 (Summer, 1954): 281-285. Reprinted in The Egoist, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 518-524. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Hill reads the novel as a document in Meredith’s campaign to encourage men to support women’s emancipation.

Mayo, Robert D. “The Egoist and the Willow Pattern.” English Literary History 9 (1942): 71-78. Reprinted in The Egoist, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 453-460. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. This significant article explains how Sir Willoughby Patterne is identified with the unrealistic conventionalism of the willow design as it is so charmingly described by Charles Lamb in his essay “Old China.”

Sundell, Michael C. “The Functions of Flitch in The Egoist.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24, no. 2 (September, 1969): 227-235. Reprinted in The Egoist, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 524-531. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Sundell discusses how Adam Flitch, the coachman at Patterne Hall who was dismissed as a result of Willoughby’s brutal egoism, symbolizes the perennial servitor.

Williams, Carolyn. “Natural Selection and Narrative Form in The Egoist.” Victorian Studies 27, no. 1 (Autumn, 1983): 53-79. An enlightening study of the impact of Darwinism on the novel.

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Critical Essays