George Meredith was the progeny of navel outfitters in Portsmouth. His mother died when he was five, and his father went into bankruptcy when he was ten. He was schooled in Neuwied, German, which he went to at the age of fourteen. He returned to England at the age of sixteen and was then apprenticed to a London lawyer. It was not to his taste, and he soon left the law for journalism. He began to write poetry at this time. In 1849 he married the widow Mary Nicolls, daughter of satirical novelist Thomas Love Peacock. Mary was nine years his senior. The marriage ended badly when, in 1858, Mary abandoned her husband and five-year-old son. This incident would provide Meredith with the inspiration to write his third novel The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, which was his first important novel. It also served as inspiration for his book of poetry Modern Love. He wrote nineteen novels, the best known being Rhoda Fleming, The Adventures of Harry Richmond, The Egoist, and Diana of the Crossways. In his later life, he received many honors. He became President of the Society of British Authors, a position formally held by Alfred Tennyson, and in 1905 was made a member of the Order of Merit by Edward VII. He died in 1909 at his home at Box Hill, Dorking.
His income as an author being uncertain, he added to it by being a publisher's reader. He became highly influential due to the important publishing house of Chapman and Hall. He became friends with many members of the literary world, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, Leslie Stephen, William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing, and J.M. Barrie. He was honored by contemporary writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the Holmes story The Boscombe Valley Mystery, when Holmes says to Watson, "And now let us talk about George Meredith, if you please, and leave all minor matters until to-morrow." Oscar Wilde said of him, "Ah, Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illuminated by flashes of lightning."