Meredith: Marriage, Courtship, and Divorce
In his lifetime George Meredith was married twice and both of his marriages influenced the way that he represented women, love and marriage in his writing.
Mary Ellen Nicholls
- Drawing of Mary Ellen Meredith (1858) By Henry Wallis
- (Image from The Victorian Web, 11 July 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012)
George Meredith met Mary Ellen Nicholls (née Peacock) in 1846. Mary Ellen was the daughter of writer Thomas Love Peacock and the sister of Edward (Ned) Gryffyd Peacock, a friend and colleague of George Meredith. She was previously married to Captain Edward Nicholls Jr. who drowned only months after they were married in 1844; she was twenty-three and pregnant with their daughter Edith. When she met Meredith, she was twenty-five and he was eighteen. Meredith, Nicholls, Ned Peacock and other collaborated to publish Monthly Observer, a literary magazine .
The Marriage of George and Mary Ellen
George and Mary Ellen married on August 9, 1849, and Mary Ellen gave birth to their first and only child, Arthur on June 11, 1853 . Overall, George and Mary Ellen’s marriage was an unhappy one. Although they were both intelligent, educated, well-read individuals, they were also both high strung and easy to anger. This period was relatively early in George’s writing career and his writing was not bringing in much money. The resulting financial hardships put even more strain on their marriage . In 1858, Mary Ellen left George for the painter Henry Wallis. George knew of the affair and of Mary Ellen’s intent to leave. While he didn’t place the blame for their failed relationship entirely on her, he never forgave Mary Ellen for the shame she brought on her family when she left him and their son . George and Mary Ellen never reconciled, even when she returned after she had been abandoned by Wallis and George retained sole custody of Arthur; although the Custody of Infants Act had been in place since 1839 and allowed mothers to petition for custody of her children, it didn’t apply to women who committed adultery . George exercised his right to keep mother and son separate, only allowing Arthur to visit Mary Ellen when she was on her deathbed in 1861 . Although they remained separated, George and Mary Ellen never obtained a divorce so Mary Ellen died as Mary Ellen Meredith .
The Marriage of George Meredith and Marie Vulliamy
George Meredith swore off all romantic relationships with women for six years, until he met Marie Vulliamy and proposed to her in May of 1864 .
George was put through a rigorous interview process by Marie’s father, Justin, before he would give them his blessing. George had to disclose all the intimate details about his failed marriage with Mary Ellen as well as information regarding his financial affairs. Additionally, he had to fill out an eleven-point questionnaire covering information such as his date of birth, the date of his marriage to Mary Ellen, Arthur’s date of birth, the circumstances of his separation from Mary Ellen, and the circumstances of her death . However, Marie went into the marriage financially secure so they never face the same financial hardships that burdened the marriage of George and Mary Ellen .
Marie and George had a happy and uneventful marriage that lasted for twenty-one years until Marie took ill and died on September 17, 1885. They had two children: William Maxse and Marie Eveleen .
Literary Works Influenced by George Meredith’s Marriages
George Meredith’s marriage to Mary Ellen is alluded to in Modern Love, The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son, and Love in the Valley . Works believed to have been inspired by George Meredith’s marriage to Marie include Faith on Trial, Change in Recurrence, and Hymn to Colour .
– UVic Engl 386/2012W
 S.M. Ellis, George Meredith: His Life and Friends in Relation to His Work (London: Grant Richards Ltd., 1919), 58.
 Ibid., 60.
 Ibid., 90-91.
 Robert Esmonde Sencourt, The Life of George Meredith (London: Champman Hall Ltd., 1929), 61-62.
 Caroline Sheridan Norton, The Separation of Mother and Child by the Law of “Custody of Infants” Considered, (London: Roake and Varty, 1838), 68.
 Sencourt, The Life of George Meredith, 62.
 David Williams, George Meredith: His Life and Lost Love (London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1977), 72.
 Ellis, George Meredith: His Life and Friends in Relation to his Work, 93.
 Williams, George Meredith: His Life and Lost Love (London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd., 1977),71-73.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 76.
 Sencourt, The Life of George Meredith, 62.
 Ellis, George Meredith: Hist Life and Friends in Relation to His Work, 280-281.