Title: The Amazing Marriage
Author and Title: George Meredith. The Amazing Marriage
First Edition: London: Archibald Constable, 1895. 2 volumes, cr. 8vo., 12s.
Summary: Serialized in the American Scribner's Magazine (January to December 1895). The first three chapters are attributed to “Dame Gossip,” who provides the backstory of the main narrative and occasionally intervenes throughout, dispensing commentary on Romance and psychological realism. Carinthia Jane and Chillon John Kirby, the children of a notorious elopement, depart from their childhood home in Austria following the death of both their parents. Chillon prepares for a military career in England and intends to leave his sister under the care of their miserly uncle, Lord Levellier. When Carinthia, who dotes on her brother and wonders whether she might join him as an army nurse, asks how she might be less of a burden on Chillon, he suggests that she marry and be a blessing on a husband. The Kirby siblings meet and assist an injured Gower Woodseer on their way to Baden, where Chillon looks forward to meeting his romantic interest, the gorgeous Henrietta Fakenham. It happens that Woodseer, although the son of a shoemaker and Methodist preacher in Whitechapel, falls in with the Earl of Fleetwood, the richest bachelor in England, by virtue of his talent for aphorism and professed philosophical bent. Woodseer is bedazzled by the Countess of Fleetwood, Livia Fakenham (also cousin to Henrietta and widowed stepmother to Lord Fleetwood, although nearly his age), and leaves the party before a crucial ball scene Henrietta relates to Chillon in a letter. Transfixed by the wildish Carinthia, whom he had spotted performing an acrobatic feat in the woods, Lord Fleetwood proposes on impulse and thereby releases Henrietta, whom he had been courting unsuccessfully, to marry Chillon. In a turn of events encouraged by the amorous couple, Carinthia marries Lord Fleetwood in England two months later despite his having regretted his offer. Carinthia, lovestruck and unaware of her husband’s change of feeling, is taken to a prize-fight on the day of her wedding and subsequently abandoned at an inn under the care of Madge Winch, the boxer Kit Ines’s sweetheart. Madge and her sister are known to Woodseer’s father, who is summoned with his son, newly arrived in England, to the Winches’ green-grocery in Whitechapel, where the new Countess of Fleetwood has removed in search of her husband’s London residence. Carinthia, whom London gossip dubs the Whitechapel Countess, pursues her husband in vain, although she refuses to retire to his Kentish estate, Esslemont, until they meet. Carinthia ultimately decamps to his property in South Wales upon the birth of their son. She ministers to the distressed miners in the region and befriends Owain Wythan and his wife Rebecca, an invalid, winning universal favor for the kindness and courage she demonstrates before Lord Fleetwood, when he visits, by baiting a rabid dog and tending to a bitten child. Fleetwood develops reservations about his previous contempt for his wife, whom he had partly scorned out of malice for losing Henrietta to Chillon, but Carinthia diplomatically asks for an independent allowance and her choice of residence. She worries that Fleetwood has designs on their son and guards her rooms in his presence. Carinthia’s affection has returned entirely to her brother, forced to sell out of the army in order to cover family debts and sustain his pampered wife, and rumored to have met with a professional misfortune engineered by Lord Fleetwood. With Carinthia planning to accompany Chillon on a military campaign to Spain, Fleetwood makes his decisive attempt to win back his wife, whose character he has come to respect and whose integrity humbles him. Fleetwood’s crisis of confidence had been precipitated by the suicide of Ambrose Mallard, a friend fallen victim to jealousy over the Dowager Countess Livia. Fleetwood settles a fixed sum of money on his stepmother, whose expenses he regularly defrays, on the condition that she marry, but Gower Woodseer, the anticipated groom, proposes to Madge Winch instead. Carinthia almost relinquishes her ambition in order to guard her sister-in-law, whose habits expose her to romantic advances, when Henrietta moves to join the siblings on the Continent following an accident that disfigures part of her face. Carinthia enjoys a successful career beside her brother, whom she nurses on the way back to England two years later, when she learns that Fleetwood has joined the Catholic priesthood. After three years of virtual widowhood, Carinthia receives word of her husband’s death and, six months later, marries Owain Wythan in fulfillment of Rebecca’s consensual prediction. (JT)
References: BL; EC; Sutherland
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