A short summary of The Egoist by George Meredith

The Egoist: A Comedy in Narrative is a novel by George Meredith, published in 1879 in three volumes. The Egoist is Sir Willoughby Patterne, rich and handsome, with a high position in the county, but blind to his own arrogance and to the needs of the women he loves. Laetitia Dale, an intelligent young woman has loved him for many years, and his vanity has been flattered. But she accepts the proposal of dashing Constantia Durham. However, she soon discerns Sir Willoughby’s limitations and elopes with the officer Harry Oxford, bringing Willoughby his first humiliation. Soon he discovers the qualities he requires in Clara Middleton, the daughter of an elderly scholar, whose passion for wine overwhelms even his affection for his daughter. Clara, bewitched by Willoughby’s charm and surroundings, becomes engaged to him, but rapidly perceives his intention of directing and moulding her; her attempts to free herself from the engagement form the main theme of the book. Clara envies but cannot emulate Constantia’s escape, and Willoughby struggles frantically against an incredible second jilting. Clara is meanwhile seeing more and more of Vernon Whitford, a poor and earnest young scholar, who lives at Patterne and is tutor to young Crossjay, son of a poor relation, an officer of the marines. The spirited Crossjay is finally the means of Clara’s release, for he unintentionally overhears Willoughby seeking a way out of his humiliation by proposing to Laetitia Dale, a proposal which she, with sad dignity, refuses. So Willoughby finds himself trebly mortified. However, his persistence finally wins the reluctant Laetitia, and Clara marries Vernon Whitford.

E. M. Forster discussed the book in his lecture series Aspects of the Novel, using it as an example of a “highly organised” plot.

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