Friday, September 10, 2010

Review: Diana of the Crossways, by George Meredith

Pages: 415

Original date of publication: 1885

My edition: 1980 (Virago)

Why I decided to read: browsing on Ebay

How I acquired my copy: Ebay, June 2010

Diana of the Crossways is a novel that was closely modeled on the life of Caroline Norton, a Victorian feminist who famously separated from her husband, later having an affairs with a rising politician.

George Meredith was a close friend of Norton’s and so this novel portrays Caroline (renamed Diana in this book) in an extremely sympathetic like—sometimes too sympathetically. To protect her reputation, I suspect Meredith took a lot of the scandal out of Diana’s story—really, to the detriment of the book, since Caroline Norton had an extremely fascinating life. As a result, Meredith manages to make Diana’s story uninteresting, to the point where I just didn’t care much about the story or characters. It’s too bad, because George Meredith has a lot of material to work from.

Instead, he spends a lot of time in this book dissecting his main character and the motives for her decisions. Meredith also extracts a lot from the writing of “Diana,” which got a bit tedious after a while; and the book is overtly feminist in a lot of places (for example, at one point Meredith—not Meredith writing as Diana—predicts that one day women will be encouraged to have professions, which is no big deal nowadays but back then must have seemed preposterous). However, the novel highlights the position that women had in Victorian society, which is sometimes interesting. On the other hand, George Meredith’s writing style is very, very hard to read, which is probably why this novel, and why this kind of novel, has become deeply unfashionable.

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