lthough The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) is not George Meredith's most successful novel, it undoubtedly marks the beginning of an experimental route that defines its author's creative universe. This creative universe, which expresses the problematic and multifarious reality of the end of the Victorian age, employs some characteristic forms and techniques that make Meredith's writing obscure and difficult. In particular, his narrative structures create a text that redoubles and proliferates within itself.
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel shows a complex narrative organization where it is possible to find different texts and stories within the frame of the main text and story ("frame-text" and "frame-story"). In other words, a sort of mise en abyme, or a "text-in-the-text" structure, establishes a strong link of specularity between the frame-text and the other texts inscribed in it. However, each of them deals with the verbal representation of the following macro-sequence:
- euphorical beginning
- unexpected event
It goes without saying that the point of view is extremely dynamic. At the first level of the frame-story, it is the extradiegetic narrator who dominates the narration of Richard Feverel's ordeal, a sort of unavoidable Bildung for the system to work. To this, one must add at least four metatextual and metadiegetic levels, with the result of an inevitable amplification of the dramatic story of Richard on the one hand, and of an ironically repetition of the same, though on a different stylistic level, on the other hand.
The first and most analyzed of these metatexts is The Pilgrim's Scrip, "a collection of original aphorisms" by Sir Austin Feverel; the second is the poetry written by Richard himself and by Diaper Sandoe (with whom Sir Austin's wife eloped, just as Meredith's wife did with one of his friends, the painter Henry Wallis); then, Clare Forey's diary, and finally, the many letters the characters send each other, among which the one by Lady Blandish to Austin Wentworth assumes great significance as it is the closure of the novel itself. The relations of these texts with the frame-text are either explicative and thematic; while the corresponding narrators perform all the narrative functions their role requires, that is to say, in Gérard Genette's terms, they perform narrative, metanarrative, metadiegetic, communicative, testimonial and ideological functions.
Abstract of "'What he has done cannot be undone': una lettura di The Ordeal of Richard Feverel di George Meredith", RSV (Rivista di Studi Vittoriani), II, 3 (January, 1997)
Last modified 2000