The Ordeal of Richard Feverel Author:George Meredith The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (published in 1859 and revised in 1878 and 1897) is Meredith’s first major novel and follows the progress of its eponymous hero from the age of fourteen into young manhood. It may be read as a novel about ideology, about systems, both explicit and implicit, and about the texts that inscribe them. Taking as its... more » model the bildungsroman (an increasingly popular fictional form in an era preoccupied with the individual, which characteristically charted a youth’s growth into manhood and maturity) it proceeds to subvert the expectations set up by this form. Instead of journeying towards the truth of self-knowledge (with the faith in the distinction between true and false that this implies), Richard Feverel’s metaphoric journey is a journey to nowhere.
The Ordeal portrays the attempt on the part of Richard’s father to mould his son into a model of manhood, an enterprise that ends in disaster. Sir Austin Feverel, abandoned by his wife, applies a ‘System’ to the upbringing of his son. Richard breaks free of the System when he meets Lucy Desborough, the kind of woman envisaged by Sir Austin as a bride for him on all but two counts: she is socially ‘beneath’ the Feverels, being the niece of a local farmer and, perhaps more significantly, she has been discovered by Richard himself, independently of the System and ahead of its schedule. Richard marries Lucy secretly, but after his father becomes aware of the marriage he is increasingly distressed by the latter’s refusal to accept her. At this point he leaves Lucy, apparently to seek Sir Austin’s approval, and is ordered to wait in London. In the meantime he sets about the rescue of his mother, and this quest becomes associated with a larger quest to rescue ‘fallen women’. He enters into a liaison with Bella Mount, a demi-mondaine, a development which has been encouraged by a Lord Mountfalcon who has designs on Lucy. Richard is overwhelmed by shame at his sexual betrayal of Lucy and prolongs his absence from her. Lucy gives birth to a son, which leads to a reconciliation with Sir Austin. Informed of these developments, Richard returns to Lucy but discovers Lord Mountfalcon’s intentions (which have actually been sublimated into a platonic relationship). He insists on challenging him to a duel and is seriously wounded. For Lucy this is the final ordeal: she becomes ill with a cerebral fever and dies. Richard is left a broken man with a motherless son to bring up: a clear parallel with Sir Austin at the opening of the novel. The plotted action of this novel is, therefore, distinctly wayward and perverse: there is apparently no development, no discovery of truth but instead a final image of Richard lying ‘silent in his bed - striving to image her on his brain.’ --
Sue Zlosnik, Manchester Metropolitan University« less