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The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1879)

par George Meredith

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The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) concerns Sir Austin Feverel's misconceived attempts to educate his son Richard according to a system of his own devising. Embodied in Sir Austin's anonymously published 'The Pilgrim's Scrip', the system is based on theories of sexual restraint and finds little favour with Richard.Although the wider Victorian reading public was not amused, the novel won a cult following.… (plus d'informations)

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5 sur 5
Here is a novel that changes almost every conception I had about what was being written in the mid-19th century. In college I took several literature courses, but only as a sideline, choosing to focus on history. If I had, I would be furious I hadn’t been given this book already. As it is I can imagine that 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel' had been a part of a general lit survey I hadn’t taken; that it wasn’t mentioned in my electives because, as a matter of course, we would already have been introduced. English faculty, you’re on notice! This novel is a bridge towards modernism, that Eliot, Joyce, James and Woolf all must have read, but it is a passionate work of art worth reading in its own right.

A brief caution: read the original 1859 edition. Meredith revised it twice, in 1875 and 1896, the first condensed the first four chapters into one and the second removed certain humorous lines and most of Sir Austin’s more critical aphorisms towards women and the reasons behind his theories. Meredith’s intentions were likely to make the novel more readable and reduce scandal, he writes of kissing - with no intentions of engagement! - but actually diminishes the novel. I know this because I was reading the Project Gutenberg text in tandem with a hard-copy and was halfway through before I noticed discrepancies in chapter numbering. So I began again. The revisions left much unexplained and the bold, experimental quality of the book was ruined.

'The Ordeal', subtitled ‘A History of Father and Son’, is about the efforts of Sir Austin to raise his son free of original sin, or ‘The Apple-Disease’, after his wife runs away with his best friend. He writes aphorisms in his notebook, and publishes, with an attempt at anonymity, ‘The Pilgrims’ Scrip’, in large part a screed against women, but also the outlines of the ‘System’. Richard will be raised apart from corrupt influences and institutions and be a model, a great Hope, for mankind in his country house at Raynham Abbey.

“‘Women,’ says the The Pilgrim’s Scrip, ‘are, by nature, our staunchest Conservatives. We must look on them as Bulwarks of Society.’”

Such as they can have no part in this experiment. Nothing is spared: a nursemaid is dismissed for shedding tears over the child; his sister and her only daughter are eventually packed off to the seaside to prevent feminine attachments; all schools are out of the question; Richard is, in short, raised apart and alone for many years except for his cousin Clare, until she got too close to womanhood, and, later, a single friend reluctantly engaged by Sir Austin, Ripton Thomas. Ripton is our all-too-typical boy companion, comparisons getting more interesting as time passes.

Meredith sketches most of his characters broadly and without great psychological depth, but they leave vivid impressions and are mined for humor in all but the darkest moments of the novel. Darwin’s 'On the Origin of Species' was published in the same year, but Meredith already scoffs at Sir Austin, a scientific humanist, for attempting to defeat nature by forming his son to an impossible mold. He rejects the influence of women because of his own troubles with his wife and refuses to budge from his vision of perfection, or admit a single misstep. The first half of the book deals with Richard's early years and, time and again, even when Richard's inclination is to do the ‘right’ thing, his father lectures him past profit, creating resentment and enforcing a stubborn self-righteousness.

The rest of the family serve the plot, but carry home Meredith’s satire better. My favorite was an aged great aunt termed “The Eighteenth Century” whose only purpose left in life is to leave her money to her great nephew. Delightfully, in the original version of the novel, a pack of women, on discovering the author of the ‘Pilgrims’ Scrip’ to be Sir Austin descend on Raynham. In praising and arguing his work, they attempt to convert him. Together they are a cross-section of upper and middle class women of the era. He succeeds in frustrating them until only the widowed Lady Blandish remains as a follower and confidant, an important check. There are many, more important, characters I could run through, but the greatness of this novel isn’t about memorable characters or its plot - though it is still an original one - its in the writing.

Meredith’s prose veers from the correct, disinterested reporting and gentle humor of Trollope, to the bright, pastoral beauty of courtship, to prose mirroring psychological distress:

Mrs. Doria Forey:

“She was the elder of the three sisters of the Baronet, a florid, affable woman, with fine teeth, exceedingly fine light wavy hair, a Norman nose, and a reputation for understanding men, which, with these practical creatures, always means, the art of managing them.”

Richard and Lucy’s trysting ground:

“For this is the home of the Enchantment. Here, secluded from vexed shores, the Prince and Princess of the Island meet; here like darkling nightingales they sit, and into eyes, and ears, and hands, pour endless ever-fresh treasures of their souls.”

On death:

“He dismissed the night-watchers from the room, and remained with her alone, till the sense of Death oppressed him, and then the shock sent him to the window to look for sky and stars. Behind a low broad pine, hung with frosty mist, he heard a bell-wether of the flock in the silent fold. Death in life it sounded.”

Metaphor is stretched and the narrative voice changes at will to better serve Meredith’s purpose-of-the-moment. There is farce, social comedy, wringing of hands, confusion and tragedy that stops the novel in its tracks. I shed a tear or two, and no kittens were involved. The most rampant misogyny of the book is countered by the events of the novel and it was clearly meant to be provocative and heightens Sir Austin’s pretensions. Run-of-the-mill misogyny will have to wait until the 20th century to be rectified, Meredith wasn’t as forward thinking as all that, but in his own way he was a champion.

The novel can be a difficult read in sections where the prose gets dense, push on through!, this is one well worth the effort. Richard Feverel and those around him are marked by their experiences and Meredith for all his satiric intent created a memorable tragic romance ( )
1 voter ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Certainly one of the most important and artistically adventurous British novels of the 19th Century. ( )
  PatrickMurtha | Feb 15, 2016 |
375. The Ordeal of Richard Feveral A History of a Father and Son, by George Meredith (read 30 Jul 1950) I began reading this book on July 12, 1950 and on that date said: ""The outstanding example of the Victorian novelist. I can't see how I can like him, but everybody should read at least one of his novels and from what I can learn this is the best one to read. Point Counter Point is the best work I have read so far this year. It is in no danger of being displaced by what I am reading now.". On July 18 I said: "Reading slowly in Ordeal. It's so silly.." On July 28 I said: "Haven't read in Richard Feveral for a long time." I finished the book on July 30 but made no further mention of it in my diary. ( )
  Schmerguls | Nov 6, 2011 |
"What a great book it is, how wise and how witty! Others of the master's novels may be more characteristic or more profound, but for my own part it is the one which I would always present to the new-comer who had not yet come under the influence. I think that I should put it third after "Vanity Fair" and "The Cloister and the Hearth" if I had to name the three novels which I admire most in the Victorian era." --Through the Magic Door, pg. 158-159.
  ACDoyleLibrary | Jan 22, 2010 |
One of the great novels, and one of the greatest of the under-rated classics. Quite funny, with quirky prose and a great deal of imagination behind the novel's construction. The author's first "realistic" novel, a comedy of manners and education. ( )
  wirkman | Feb 21, 2007 |
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Nom de l'auteur(e)RôleType d'auteurŒuvre ?Statut
George Meredithauteur(e) principal(e)toutes les éditionscalculé
Hill, JamesArtiste de la couvertureauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
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The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) concerns Sir Austin Feverel's misconceived attempts to educate his son Richard according to a system of his own devising. Embodied in Sir Austin's anonymously published 'The Pilgrim's Scrip', the system is based on theories of sexual restraint and finds little favour with Richard.Although the wider Victorian reading public was not amused, the novel won a cult following.

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