Not bad, is it? It's Meredith's 'writing chalet', built in the grounds of his home, Flint Cottage on Box Hill. He would spend hours in the chalet, in a fug of tobacco smoke, writing, pacing about and conversing with his characters at length. And in Flint Cottage, on this day 100 years ago, he died.
Meredith loved Box Hill - 'I am every morning at the top of Box Hill,' he enthuses, '- as its flower, its bird, its prophet. I drop down the moon on one side, I draw up the sun on t'other. I breathe fine air. I shout ha ha to the gates of the world. Then I descend and know myself a donkey for doing it...' He was forever walking the Surrey hills and downs, even into old age, and in his work he rhapsodises frequently over the Surrey landscape - here, for example, in Diana of the Crossways: 'Through an old gravel cutting a gateway led to the turf of the down, spring turf, bordered on a long line, clear as a racecourse, by golden gorse covers, and leftward over the gorse the dark ridge of the fir and heath country ran companionably to the south west, the valley between, with undulations of wood and meadow sunned or shaded, clumps and mounds, promontories, away to the broad spaces of tillage banked by wooded hills, and dimmer beyond and farther, the faintest shadowiness of heights, as a veil to the illimitable. Yews, junipers, radiant beeches, and gleams of service-tree or the whitebeam, spotted the semicircle of swelling green down black and silver...'
When he died, Meredith was heavy with honours - President of the Society of Authors (in succession to Tennyson), Order of Merit - and very much a (if not the) Grand Old Man of English letters. But he was an unlikely candidate for G.O.M. status. Little of his work was truly popular, some of it was scandalous, and most of it tended towards the freakish and difficult, borne aloft by sheer fizz and gusto and language intoxication into realms where it was often not easy to follow his thread, if there was one. 'His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning,' said Oscar Wilde, and that's about right (Wilde also described Meredith as 'a kind of prose Browning' - adding, typically, 'but then, so is Browning'). Meredith's reputation declined quite rapidly after his death, and he is unlikely ever to be very widely read again - his prose is too much, far too much, for readers used to the steady undemanding plod of contemporary fiction.
But then there's the verse. For myself, if I had to save just one work of Meredith's from being thrown out of the balloon, it would be Modern Love. This great 'mock sonnet' sequence inverts the traditional use of the sonnet as a proclamation of love, using it instead to trace the course of a relationship collapsing in bitterness, grief and mutual recrimination. The sequence is of course partly autobiographical - Meredith lost his wife (who was Thomas Love Peacock's daughter) to the painter Henry Wallis, who famously painted Meredith as Chatterton in The Death of Chatterton. Modern Love is, I think, rather wonderful - technically brilliant and full of beauty and intense sadness. Who could resist a work that begins like this -
'By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:
That, at his hand's light quiver by her head,
The strange low sobs that shook their common bed
Were called into her with a sharp surprise,
And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes,
Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay
Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away
With muffled pulses. Then, as midnight makes
Her giant heart of Memory and Tears
Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat
Sleep's heavy measure, they from head to feet
Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,
By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
Upon the marriage-tomb, the sword between;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.'
- and ends, 50 sonnets later, like this -
'Thus piteously Love closed what he begat:
The union of this ever-diverse pair!
These two were rapid falcons in a snare,
Condemned to do the flitting of the bat.
Lovers beneath the singing sky of May,
They wandered once; clear as the dew on flowers:
But they fed not on the advancing hours:
Their hearts held cravings for the buried day.
Then each applied to each that fatal knife,
Deep questioning, which probes to endless dole.
Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life! -
In tragic hints here see what evermore
Moves dark as yonder midnight's ocean force,
Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse,
To throw that faint thin line upon the shore!'