Despite a long-standing acknowledgment of the evolutionary chracter of George Meredith's poetry and fiction, and a more recent delineation of the specifically Darwinian elements of The Egoist (1879), the relationship between that novel and Darwin's The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) has been overlooked. Both works focus on the evolutionary development of the human moral sense and on the process of courtship between the sexes, but Meredith's novel links these issues while Darwin's book keeps them separate. Through his characterization of Sir Willoughby Patterne, Meredith shows that "civilized" egoism is a sign of moral reversion most likely to occur during courtship, and he critiques Darwin's discussion of sexual selection in humans, exposing its inconsistencies and in particular challenging its portrayal of female choice. While modern feminist critics have rightly identified problems with the novel and the theory of comedy that governs it, Meredith's attack on Darwin's culturally powerful view of the sexes endorses a postion on "the woman question" close to John Stuart Mill's, and the novel's problems are best seen as part of this attack rather than as naive self-contradictions of Meredith's feminism.
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