George and Mary Ellen Meredith

Member of The Hundred

George and Mary Ellen Meredith
Birth and death
1821 - 1909
Profession details
Novelist, Poet
Related place
Alistair Grant and Joanna Tapp

George Meredith was a celebrated Victorian novelist and poet, though he is read little today. His short-lived marriage to Mary Ellen Meredith had a great effect on his writing.

George and Mary Ellen married in 1849. They settled in Weybridge - first at a boarding house called 'The Limes' (in what is now The Quadrant), and later at their own house at 54/56 Baker Street. The marriage was initially happy, and George wrote a series of pastoral poems inspired by the local landscape. Meredith's first fiction in 1856 was, 'The Shaving of Shagpat: an Arabian Entertainment', which he claimed to have 'written ... at Weybridge with duns at the door'.

Around 1857 Mary Ellen began an affair with the painter Henry Wallis (a friend of her husband's). In a letter to Wallis, Mary Ellen wrote 'I love you so really, so far beyond anything I have known of love'. The couple had a child, Felix, but their passionate relationship soon ended. Mary Ellen died only a few years later, living in seclusion at Oatlands. Neither George Meredith nor Henry Wallis attended her funeral.

George later remarried and moved to Box Hill. Yet he never really got over Mary Ellen's betrayal. Her loss inspired some of his most profoundly emotional work, such as his sonnet series 'Modern Love' (1862).

'I bleed, but her who wounds I will not blame.
Have I not felt her heart as 't were my own
Beat thro' me? could I hurt her? heaven and hell!
But I could hurt her cruelly!'

(Extract from 'Modern Love' (1862) Sonnet XIX)

Mary Ellen Meredith, née Peacock, (1821-61) daughter of the poet Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) she married Lieutenant Edward Nicolls, who drowned two months later while in command of HMS Dwarf in Ireland. In August 1849, after five years of widowhood, she married George Meredith, then an ambitious young poet with no obvious prospects.

She became lover to the painter Henry Wallis whose famous portrait of her dates the same year that she gave birth to their son Harold known as 'Felix', who was born in April 1858. She lived in recluse with Felix near to her father at Oatlands Park and died in 1861 aged only 40. None of the men in her life were among the three mourners at her funeral. Her father was broken hearted and lost his desire to write.

Meredith never forgave his wife but his writings attempted to understand her predicament, and their relationship inspired some of his most insightful works such as 'Modern Love' and the 'Egoist'.

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