George Meredith as a Novelist
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
George Meredith as a Novelist is an article published in the South Wales Daily News on 4 november 1892.
Report of a lecture about The Genius and Writings of George Meredith of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society held on 2 november 1892.
George Meredith as a Novelist
In speaking of George Meredith some time since I described him as the author with a style and nothing else. In a lecture given by Mr Conan Doyle to the Norwood Literary and Scientific Society, the subject being the writings of the novelist, Mr Doyle accepts this view. He says, "Even when he is at his best we read him from the intellectual pleasure of his style and thought, and not from a keen interest in his story." This is a very just criticism. Meredith is no novelist, but merely a writer. His characters are dummies who are relieved from utter insipidity by a clever aphorism or well turned epigram which is put into their mouths. They are like champagne bottles, which occasionally hold some choice vintage. When their contents are extracted they are utterly worthless. Charles II. once bade a foreigner, who was over in England collecting materials for a history, to be careful lest he gave offence. The historian replied that if a man had the wisdom of Solomon he could scarcely hope in compiling such a work not to give offence. Then said the Merry Monarch, "be as wise as Solomon; write proverbs, not history." George Meredith ought to have meditated upon this advice; he ought to have written aphorisms and maxims like Rochefoucauld, not novels. How Mr Doyle could compare "Richard Feverel" with "Vanity Fair" passes comprehension. Thackeray had quite as good a style as George Meredith — in fact, superior. George Meredith's contains too much of the essence; it is not sufficiently diluted to be acceptable to the palate. Like very strong spirits, it chokes instead of being grateful to the stomach. On the other hand Thackeray's is just as pure, and just as potent, but it is mixed with water to render it suitable and enjoyable to partake of. A very little of Meredith satisfies; you can drink Thackeray to the dregs and want more. Thackeray's creations are living, moving beings. You may remember nothing of what they say, but such a person as Becky Sharpe is burnt into the memory. As for George Meredith's books they are fearfully tedious and wearisome. The characters are wooden, and with no individuality. Take away the smart sayings, and the clothes in which they are attired, and nothing remains but the most uninteresting blocks. To pretend that George Meredith is fit to be named with Thackeray, Dickens, or George Elliot is not to be entertained for one moment. He tricks his creatures out in rich apparel, but in all their finery cannot conceal their humble origin. Nor is it true to say that Meredith's style is original. It decidedly owes a great deal to Thackeray.