Places: The Egoist

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1879

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedPatterne Hall

Patterne Egoist, TheHall. Home of Sir Willoughby Patterne, the “egoist” of the title. Using a technique more common to drama than to the Victorian novel, George Meredith sets virtually every scene of the novel somewhere on the grounds of Patterne Hall. Sir Willoughby’s country estate is not merely his home; he considers it a kind of earthly paradise where he and others wise enough to follow his lead can escape the vexations of the modern world. After leaving the hall for a three-year tour of the Continent when he was jilted, Willoughby has returned to settle down, bringing friends and acquaintances to Patterne Hall to impress them with his wealth and wisdom.

Described at various places in the novel as both a fortress and an aerie, Patterne Hall serves as Willoughby’s Garden of Eden, in which he can pursue idiosyncratic pleasures. The grounds of the estate are spacious and variegated, consisting of woods, farm lands, and several cottages in which tenants and other dependents live. Sir Willoughby’s second fiancé, Clara Middleton, is at first taken with the magnificence of the hall but eventually finds it is a prison in which she is likely to become trapped if she marries Willoughby. Much of the novel is taken up with her struggle to be released from her engagement and leave Patterne Hall. Clara finds it difficult to escape, however; her friends and family believe her engagement to Willoughby is a coup for her, since her father has wealth but only minor social status. The notion that the hall is a kind of heaven on earth is reinforced when Willoughby punishes his cousin and ward, Crossjay Patterne, in a manner he finds most appropriate and harsh: he banishes him from the estate. Meredith makes the hall a symbol of its owner: As other figures feel trapped at Patterne Hall, Willoughby is likewise a man trapped in his own self-absorption.

Railway station

Railway station. Railway stop to which Clara rushes in her attempt to free herself from Sir Willoughby. Frustrated in her attempts to get him to call off their engagement, Clara plans to escape to London to visit a friend. Willoughby’s close friend Colonel De Craye finds her at the train station and persuades her to return to Patterne Hall; their conversation makes it clear that Clara feels trapped in her relationship with Willoughby.

Laboratory

Laboratory. Room in Patterne Halle that Willoughby uses as a retreat whenever he wishes to escape social pressures at Patterne Hall. He affects to be a man of science, but the laboratory seems more a refuge where he can tinker with experiments. His claim that women are incapable of understanding science is a convenient ruse to keep the many women who visit the hall from following him into this inner sanctum.

Dining hall

Dining hall. Center of much of the social activity at Patterne Hall. Meredith uses occasions such as luncheons and dinners not only to further the plot but also to bring together various characters for discussions of politics, social relationships, religion, science, and matters pertaining to culture and civilization. In the dining hall, Sir Willoughby is able to dominate conversations and thereby display his exceptional self-centeredness.

BibliographyHandwerk, Gary J. “Linguistic Blindness and Ironic Vision in The Egoist.” Nineteenth Century Literature 39, no. 2 (September, 1984): 163-185. Handwerk discusses the irony of the relationship between self-knowledge and language.Hill, Charles J. “Theme and Image in The Egoist.” University of Kansas City Review 20, no. 4 (Summer, 1954): 281-285. Reprinted in The Egoist, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 518-524. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Hill reads the novel as a document in Meredith’s campaign to encourage men to support women’s emancipation.Mayo, Robert D. “The Egoist and the Willow Pattern.” English Literary History 9 (1942): 71-78. Reprinted in The Egoist, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 453-460. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. This significant article explains how Sir Willoughby Patterne is identified with the unrealistic conventionalism of the willow design as it is so charmingly described by Charles Lamb in his essay “Old China.”Sundell, Michael C. “The Functions of Flitch in The Egoist.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24, no. 2 (September, 1969): 227-235. Reprinted in The Egoist, edited by Robert M. Adams, pp. 524-531. New York: W. W. Norton, 1979. Sundell discusses how Adam Flitch, the coachman at Patterne Hall who was dismissed as a result of Willoughby’s brutal egoism, symbolizes the perennial servitor.Williams, Carolyn. “Natural Selection and Narrative Form in The Egoist.” Victorian Studies 27, no. 1 (Autumn, 1983): 53-79. An enlightening study of the impact of Darwinism on the novel.
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