Poetry Facts

George Meredith: An Underrated Poet Of The Victorian Era

Last Updated: March 29, 2022
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If you’re looking for something different in your poetry reading, I recommend giving George Meredith a try. He was a popular novelist and poet of the Victorian era, and was nominated seven times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In this article, you’ll learn who George Meredith is, what his style of writing is, and where to start with his poetry. Let’s get into it!

Who is George Meredith?

George Meredith portrait

George Meredith (1828-1909) was the only child of a small family in Portsmouth, England. His father, Augustus Meredith, was a naval outfitter. Meredith was five when he first learned about the difficulties of life: his mother died, and his father’s outfitting business failed.

Young Meredith was then sent to boarding schools, being far away and had little contact with his family. At seventeen, he was on a path to becoming a solicitor, but then decided to pursue poetry and journalism instead of the legal profession.

Meredith entered his first marriage at twenty one, and it was neither a happy nor a lasting relationship. Later on, he married a younger woman in 1864, and the couple settled at Box Hill, Surrey a few years later, where Meredith lived the rest of his life.

Throughout his lifetime, George Meredith wrote numerous works of poetry and novels. However, it was not until 1885 that he published his first and most commercially rewarding novel, Diana of the Crossways. His reputation in the literary world continued to grow and he was made President of the Society of Authors later in life.

George Meredith’s style of writing

There were many contradicting comments about Meredith’s literary style. With his novels, a large amount of dialogue being used had led some critics to think of his works as “talky”. At the same time, there are critics such as Neil Roberts, who argue that Meredith’s extensive dialogue use and multiple voices make him “a Bakhtinian novelist par excellence”.

Meredith’s proses are allusive and aphoristic, and they are considered by many people to be hard to read. Some critics think that his style serves as an end in itself, rather than being a means to an end like it should be. Despite objections about the mental effort it takes to understand his prose, many people think of that as the “poetic qualities” and admire Meredith for that.

Just like with his novels and prose, Meredith’s poetry also drew both praise and criticism. He had innovations in metrical and stanzaic forms, along with unorthodox syntax and metaphors. Meredith considered poetry his main vocation, despite writing many novels. The main theme of his verses is the restrictions and imposing orders of Victorian society, how it failed to look at the world from a broad perspective.

George Meredith could have become a force such as Charles Dickens, if his poetry was so hard to read. Getting into Meredith’s poetry is a daunting task, even for the modern literary critics. However, if you’re interested in poetry from the Victorian era, you can’t skip Meredith. In the next section, we’re going to review George Meredith’s 3 best works of poetry to start with.

3 Best Poetry Works by George Meredith to Start With

1. Poems

Poems is the very first work of literature by George Meredith. It is an absolutely beautiful collection of poetry, full of romantic and classical-inspired nature poems. The archaic verse can be difficult to understand sometimes, as with any poetry of the Victorian era, but in this case, it’s certainly worth the effort.

2. Modern Love

Shortly after the death of his first wife in 1861, Meredith completed what arguably is his most popular poem, Modern Love. In this poem, Meredith used a stanzaic form that he himself invented, a 16-line sonnet. The book is a collection of sonnets that describe an unhappy marriage for both partners, exploring the realities of Victorian marriages, dealing with themes like martial infidelity. Modern Love is semi-autobiographical to Meredith, as his first marriage was far from ideal.

3. The Lark Ascending

The Lark Ascending is a poem of 122 links about the song of the skylark, a bird that can be found across Europe. It describes how the bird’s song can bring joy to our souls and awaken the best of us. The poem inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams, an English composer, to write a musical work of the same name. Interestingly enough, the music piece is now more well-known than the poem.

Final thoughts

George Meredith is one of those authors who should be more popular than they are. Although he was an established author in his lifetime, Meredith’s achievements were overshadowed by many of his contemporaries. With this article, we hope that more people would know about him and look into his work.

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