Meredith, George - The Ordeal of Richard Feverel [extract]
Type of Spiritual Experience
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son is a partially autobiographical work. A man is abandoned with an infant son by his wife and brings up the child according to a strict scientific system designed to insure that the boy will accept his father's social, political, and ideological beliefs, and will ultimately select an ideal mate who will prove faithful.
However, the son eventually rebels against the debilitating and stifling environment created by his father and marries a woman of the lower classes.
The novel contained a great deal of irony at the expense of both the characters and the conventions of Victorian society. Many reviewers read the work as an attack on science or scientific systems in general.
The novel also lost many readers when Mudie's lending library refused to circulate it because it depicted extramarital sex. Thus, after promising early sales, the novel fell both in critical and public regard.
Following the failure of The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Meredith entered into a complex relationship with his readers, attempting, according to Ioan Williams, "to reconcile his artistic purpose with the demands of the reading public." As a consequence none of his later novels really match this one for strength of feeling.
A description of the experience
GEORGE MEREDTTH. From The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859; Everyman edn., 1954), ch. xlii, pp. 461-2.
A pale grey light on the skirts of the flying tempest displayed the dawn. Richard was walking hurriedly. The green drenched weeds lay all about in his path, bent thick, and the forest drooped glimmeringly.
Impelled as a man who feels a revelation mounting obscurely to his brain, Richard was passing one of those little forest-chapels, hung with votive wreaths, where the peasant halts to kneel and pray. Cold, still, in the twilight it stood, raindrops pattering round it. He looked within, and saw the Virgin holding her Child.
He moved by.
But not many steps had he gone ere his strength went out of him and he shuddered.
'What was it? He asked not. He was in other hands.
Vivid as lightning the Spirit of Life illumined him. He felt in his heart the cry of his child, his darling's touch. With shut eyes he saw them both. They drew him from the depths; they led him a blind and tottering man. And as they led him he had a sense of purification so sweet he shuddered again and again.
When he looked out from his trance on the breathing world, the small birds hopped and chirped.