George Meredith, Governesses, Neckties, and Friends: New Meredith Letters
Keywords:George Meredith, Fetherstonhaugh family, Victorian literary circles, Victorian novel, reverse migration
George Meredith (1828-1909), novelist and poet, is noted for his views on the entitlement of women to equality with men, yet his behaviour as father to Marie Eveleen (Mariette) shows him as extremely protective of her – a characteristic contradiction. For a period of about nine months, Madame Susan Ponsard (née Fetherstonhaugh, 1834-1917) was employed as Mariette’s governess. At first enthusiastic about Madame’s suitability for the job, Meredith found her too exuberant and dispensed with her services after she became ill, though their relationship continued to be cordial. Two of the three new letters published here are addressed to Madame, the other to one of her four sisters. They have an erotic metaphorical undercurrent, treating with the traditional association of love and death. Further, the letters give access to Meredith’s circle of friends, among whom all five of the Fetherstonhaugh sisters figured, most prominently Frances Jane (1839-1924, first married to Albert Sitwell, then to Sidney Colvin). The Fetherstonhaugh family migrated to Australia in the 1850s –father, mother, three sons and five daughters. All the daughters eventually made their way back to Europe, where various connections with Meredith were made. These relationships constitute one of his few associations with Australia.
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