chapter  3
35 Pages

Manly conduct

Meredith and the culture of improvement
ByAlice Crossley

In his personal life, George Meredith was extremely fond of parcelling out unsolicited advice, on issues ranging from education, marriage, health, travel, and etiquette, to those acquaintances and family who formed the majority of his correspondents. Meredith's writing draws upon recognisable aspects and authorial stratagems of the literature of advice explicitly as well as in more tangential fashions. Conduct literature therefore not only codifies middle class respectability, but is also embedded in the aspirational character of the culture of improvement. Advice literature is a useful lens through which to consider Meredith's writing, and a shared interest over subject matter offers an opening into the dynamic relationship between Meredith's work and examples of the conduct genre. Meredith's novels, then, appear to draw upon, or parallel, the themes and formal rhetoric of advice literature popular at mid-century. Meredith does, at times, expose the limits of this generic self-help ethos in his novels.