George Meredith's 'Beauchamp's Career': Politics, Romance and Realism

Michael Wilding


In 1868 George Meredith's friend Commander Frederick Maxse stood as a Radical candidate at the Southampton election, and was defeated. G. M. Young wrote in his introduction to the World's Classics edition of Beauchamp's Career that "Meredith did not learn his politics from Maxse, but the experiences they shared in the Southampton canvass gave him an insight into the nature of the political animal, whether candidate or elector, which would make Beauchamp's Career, even if it were nothing else, a document-and a most far-sighted document-for the political history of its time." Meredith had gone to Southampton to help Maxse in his campaign, and the grounding in this experience is obvious in the novel, not only in the physical description of the town of Bevisham and its environs, the harbour (Southampton water), the island (Isle of Wight) and the yachting, but also in the central figure of Beauchamp. We need not agree with Siegfried Sassoon that "Beauchamp is Maxse", but the similarities are clear enough-both Maxse and Beauchamp moving from military careers (and retaining their military titles) into radical politics.

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