The Female Tradition
A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing by Elaine Showalter
Review by: Ruth Yeazell
NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Spring, 1978), pp. 281-285 Published by: Duke University Press
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REVIEWS THE FEMALE TRADITION
George Stevenson.... It was chiefly a by-letter relationship, but they visited each other too....
Despite the bad writing, Meredith's rather unpleasant personality still manages to come through to us. We see his meanness (in both senses of the word; just one example was his unwillingnessto pay Arthur'sschool bills, never very high). We see him refusing to attend the funeral of his first wife, the funeral of his father, the funeral of his sonalways on the excuse of failing health (he lived to be 81). We see him, a professed Radical, writing a weekly column for a Tory newspaper for money, reading to an old lady every week for money, indeed performingany task he could for money: "Meredith was preparedto do anything in the literary line provided he was paid for it," Williams says. Meredithtook no interest in his son Will until he was about to marry an heiress (Meredith'ssecond wife had been an heiress) and then suddenly he starts writing letters full of hectoring strategy. The fastidious Meredith, son of a bankrupt tailor, couldn't tolerate his friend Rossetti's eating habits. In old age he was described by Kipling as "An old, withered little man given to elaboratedepigrammaticspeech"; as a conversationalist he was a show-off and had the habit of changing his feathers to suit his audience. In his last years he developed various theories about blood and race and became monomaniacalon the necessity of militaryconscription.As a readerof manuscripts for Chapmanand Hall he rejectedSamuel Butler'sErewhon(his only comment: "won't do") and advised Thomas Hardy not to write verse (Meredith thought himself a great poet).
Williams is surely right to call Meredith one of the most cosmopolitan and least insular of the nineteenth century English novelists. And his argument that Meredith never spoke of the things closest to him-indeed, that he was never really close to anybody, not even his wives-and that he was intensely secretive and unable to write directly about his own emotions, using fiction as a release for those emotions, seems very convincingindeed. So is his explanationof the characteristicobscurityof Meredith's novels: "threshing about amongst his complications... [he] forgets to 'place' himself, and to 'place' us." On these matters he is perceptive.It is not enough, however, to save this book from its egregious faults. The definitive life of Meredith-awaiting, perhaps, the next "revival"-remains to be written.
The Female Tradition
A Literatureof Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte SHOWALTER,
to Lessing (Princeton:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1977), pp. 378, $17.50.
Like many histories, A Literatureof Their Own begins when innocence is lost: Elaine Showalter opens her account of British women novelists not with Aphra Behn...
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