George Meredith was the son and grandson of tailors of modest means whose good looks, social graces, and personal proclivities enabled them to move in higher social circles than most tradespeople did. When Meredith was about eighteen, he became a clerk to a solicitor who introduced him to a circle of writers and artists. Through his friend Edward Peacock, the son of novelist and poet Thomas Love Peacock, Meredith met Mary Peacock Nicolls, a widow six years older than he. She was beautiful, witty, sophisticated, and artistic, and Meredith fell passionately in love with her. He had his good looks to offer her, along with the promise of his talent—and poverty. He proposed, and she refused him several times. Finally, in 1849, they were married.
They had a son, Arthur, but the marriage was stormy. They were both strong-minded, and they were stressed by poverty. Mary was volatile and independent. After seven years, the marriage was failing, although the couple kept up appearances. Then she initiated an affair with Meredith’s friend, the artist Henry Wallis, with whom she had a child. She abandoned her husband and Arthur to go with Wallis to Capri, Italy, in 1858. Soon Wallis abandoned her, and she returned to England in ill health. After she left him, Meredith never saw her again. She lived in poverty, loneliness, and misery until her death in 1861. Some of the emotion of his courtship is reflected in Meredith’s “Love in the Valley” and The Ordeal...
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