Subordination to prominence: The development of the Meredithian heroine

Lisa Beranek Terasa, Marquette University

Abstract

George Meredith's literary reputation, as a socially significant and aesthetically adept author, can be recovered by an examination of his feminism, evident in the female characterizations in his fiction. The analysis of these women shows a male author confronting and refashioning the reigning ideology of nineteenth-century womanhood. His position as a feminist is well-known, but not without challenges. In an effort to assess adequately his contribution, this study will consider these complications: his narrative obscurity, his conservative private life, the conflict between Victorianism and Modernism in his work, and the irregular, but promising development of the female characterizations. As the central women characters in his novels advance toward various levels of independence, they provide constructive as well as controversial models for readers. The struggle of the heroines in the early novels--The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Evan Harrington, Emilia in England, Rhoda Fleming, Vittoria, The Adventures of Harry Richmond, Beauchamp's Career--reveals the barriers that must be overcome in establishing female autonomy. The Egoist addresses the topic of a woman's right to choose the "right" marriage partner. Diana of the Crossways exposes the risks of a woman's ability to think and act independently in society. The late novels--One of Our Conquerors, Lord Ormont and His Aminta, The Amazing Marriage--explore the incompatibility of the role of wife for the enabled heroines. Together, these novels reiterate Meredith's message, stated in his correspondence, of steady, not radical, change through education to solve the "woman question." In Meredith's case, the tension in his work between the strains of Victorianism and Modernism, patriarchy and feminism, success and failure of his female characters, should be viewed not as a liability, but as an asset that reveals a male feminist at work envisioning a new place and status for women in the world.

Recommended Citation

Lisa Beranek Terasa, "Subordination to prominence: The development of the Meredithian heroine" (January 1, 1991). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9200160.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9200160

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