The Egoist by George Meredith

By George Meredith

Virginia Woolf acknowledged of The Egoist: ‘Meredith will pay us a very best praise to which as novel-readers we're little accustomed ... He imagines us in a position to disinterested interest within the behaviour of our kind.’ during this, the main dazzlingly highbrow of all his novels, Meredith attempts to light up the pretensions of the main strong classification in the very fortress of protection which its contributors have outfitted. He develops to their logical extremity his principles on egoism, on sentimentality and at the energy of comedy. Meredith observed egoism because the nice enemy of fact, feeling and growth, and comedy because the nice dissolver of artifice. The Egoist is the intense expression of his recurrent subject: the defeat of egoism by way of the ability of comedy.

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With apparent disdain for romanticism, in ‘Hamlet and His Problems’ Eliot conceives of a technique that serves as the foundation for his poetics of impersonality – the objective correlative. As he explains, ‘the only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an objective correlative; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked’ (789).

When studying the poem or fiction, the archetypal critic, like the formalist, assumes that the art object represents a special space, one that is more or less selfcontained, and in some fashion outside the strictures of history or personage. But Frye differs from some formalists in his understanding of literature as permanent and universal, applicable to and connected with human life throughout time. ‘The true father or shaping spirit of the poem is the form of the poem itself,’ Frye explains in Anatomy of Criticism (1957), ‘and this form is a manifestation of the universal spirit of poetry, the “onlie begetter” of Shakespeare’s sonnets who was not Shakespeare himself’ (98).

Eliot’s tradition is exclusive and hierarchical and does not account for the many other cultural forces that might make a popular novel or rock lyric or situation comedy as important in the creation of a given text as Dante’s Inferno. Aren’t all of the forces the artist experiences important in the culminating art object? Eliot responds with a resounding ‘no’ and asserts that if we approach a poet with his idea of tradition in mind, ‘we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously’ (784).

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