"An ancient bell within their throats": Female voice and power in the novels of George Meredith

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Ross C. Murfin - Committee Chair


George Meredith takes aim at society's hypocrisy and egoism. His novels resonate with both his feminism and his conviction that society might evolve to a higher level. This transformation would depend upon a restructuring of patriarchal ideas. For Meredith, the catalyst to spur the process was the female voice.Meredith considered it essential that women become full, vocal participants in society, thus assuming their role as primary agents of advancement. Through their link with nature and affinity with the Comic Spirit, Meredith's heroines journey toward empowerment, while their female voices initiate progress and stimulate change in society. The female voice counter-balances man's egoism and helps to restore the perfect balance of the Meredithian triad: Blood, Brain, and Spirit.The female voice emerges resoundingly from a history of imposed silence, protesting social, political, and legal inequities--first influencing men's ideas and, finally, their institutions. The powerful female voice stirs the springs of society's evolution despite lacking official sanction; because women are exiled from power, however, they must change the world by getting men to change it. Thus the female voice must function indirectly to achieve empowerment in the male world.Meredith describes three methods by which the female voice indirectly effects change in patriarchal society. The first is spell-casting, as evident in Sandra Belloni (1864). The second is ventriloquism, as seen in Diana of the Crossways (1885). Perhaps the most powerful method is the third: the mysterious, primal reverberation of the female voice within the male psyche. This descent into the male mind occurs most frequently in Meredith's later novels, including One of Our Conquerors (1891).In both literature and philosophy, Meredith is a bridge between the world of the German and English romantics and that of the modernists, including Lawrence, Woolf, and Joyce. Moreover, Meredith's dense, circuitous narrative style is directly related, in both its intent and effects, to the indirect methods employed by the female voice. Meredith was as boldly experimental in his vision and methods as were those of the women whose cause he passionately espoused. His voice, like the female voice he portrayed, was resonant and original.


Language, Modern; Women's Studies; Literature, English

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