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  • Sean O'Toole (a1)
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  • Published online: 18 May 2011

Despite a rich and varied critical heritage, reception of George Meredith's 1879 novel The Egoist has tended to rely on the author's Essay on Comedy as a key to unlocking the novel's many mysteries. Written just two years earlier as a lecture for the London Institution, the Essay would seem an apt place to start. A blueprint for Meredith's attempt to offer a revitalizing corrective for the tedium of everyday life, that “monstrous monotonousness” of convention and complacency that enfolds us (The Egoist 5; Prelude), the Essay helps explain, and thus rehabilitate, the novel's apparent oddities: its fragmentary and discontinuous narration, dynamic conception of character, and infamous, ostentatious stylistic eccentricities, to name but the most obvious anomalies. The parallels between the Essay and the novel are well rehearsed by critics; indeed, this connection has served both the novel and critics well, generating a range of forceful and illuminating readings. It must be said, too, that the critical tendency to see The Egoist as an outgrowth of the Essay represents a significant improvement over the main thrust of contemporary reviews of the novel, in which the four most frequently used words were “affectation,” “obscurity,” “artificiality,” and “weakness” (I. Williams 11; Lucas 3).

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William A. Cohen Embodied: Victorian Literature and the Senses. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Print.

Nicholas Dames . The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Ernest Jones . “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.” American Journal of Psychology 22.4 (Oct. 1911): 477527. Print.

Marcel Mauss . “Techniques of the Body.” 1934. Trans. Ben Brewster . Economy and Society 2.1 (Feb. 1973): 7088. Print.

Patricia O'Hara . “Primitive Marriage, Civilized Marriage: Anthropology, Mythology, and The Egoist.” Victorian Literature and Culture 20 (1992): 124. Print.

Rick Rylance . Victorian Psychology and British Culture, 1850–1880. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick . Tendencies. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. Print.

Donald Stone . Novelists in a Changing World: Meredith, James, and the Transformation of English Fiction in the 1880's. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1972. Print.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
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