by Diane Johnson ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 1972
'Earthly love speedily becomes unmindful but love from heaven is mindful for ever more' it was to have said on her tombstone. No one knows where her grave is now."" Where lies Mary Ellen Meredith, once beautiful, passionate, free-spirited? ""The books of George Meredith in fine bindings line shelves"" but they are certainly unread today. Ah yes, art is long but life is short. Even, GREATER LIVES. Thomas Love Peacock's, he was Mary Ellen's fond father, or Byron's or Claire's, or Shelley's who along with Meredith hover on the outskirts here. What is remembered best from that time recorded by the author as ""Biographer"" in its own words but from a contemporary frame of liberating reference is the ambit of camisoled and corseted virtue in which women lay about on sofas ""with headache"" or after endless childbirths however cold (and cold it was) the connubial bed, if they were not busying themselves with the domestic rounds -- their aspirations as suppressed as their desires. For a while it would seem that Mary Ellen would have her Willful way -- marrying young the handsome sailor who drowned when she was pregnant; marrying again at 27 the 20 year-old also handsome and talented George with whom she wrote, in tandem. But then he was so dyspeptic (she was fond of grand cuisine) and she had all those miscarriages and they had all those debts -- until she ran off, ""mad"" he would claim, with the painter (of Chatterton) and had his child out of wedlock and then became sick -- and sicker -- aware that ""there is a dreary satisfaction in knowing one can lose no more."" A sad story, an immorally moral tale, perhaps only a memento (Diane Johnson is the novelist) with the Biographer as demure imitator and commentator who has artfully synchronized the contemporary materials of all these LESSER LIVES. They will include of course Meredith's Modern Love celebrating the disharmonious ""union of this ever-diverse pair"" and Mary Ellen's Commonplace Book wherein you will find that ""the wicked are in earnest and the good are lukewarm."" A restorative, charming pastiche.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972
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