It is the middle of winter, a very snowy, cold winter here, and for some reason, my reading has turned from reading actual books to reading books *about* books!
When a book resonates within us, when we experience a chord of identification with an author, it *does*affect us. In “My Life in Middlemarch”, Rebecca Mead admits her fascination and identification with George Eliot and the lifelong effect that Eliot’s novel “Middlemarch” has had on her. The author gives several conclusions to answer questions such as, How much *does* literature affect our lives and our own choices? what kind of insights can we gain by reading authors that are gifted with insights into human personalities and personal choice?
Mead makes parallels to her own life and not only has done meticulous research on George Eliot’s own life, but has visited the places where Middlemarch was written, where George Eliot lived, and has even touched her journal and examined her manuscripts at the British Library.
“In reading her works and her letters, and learning about her life and the lives of those near to her, it becomes clear to me that she could not have written this novel without her individual contact with sorrow. And as I continue to read and think and reflect, I also realize that she has given me something else: a profound experience with a book, over time, that amounts to one of the frictions of my life. I have grown up with George Eliot. I think Middlemarch has disciplined my character. I know it has become part of my own experience and my own endurance.”
At times I have to admit, I did find this analysis of Eliot’s most admired novel to be a bit dry and maybe a little overdone. That being said, there were many parts of this book I really enjoyed. In just one example of her writing about Eliot, Rebecca Mead examines the premises of Eliot’s “Middlemarch” within the confines of marriage, and states that the interaction within a marriage is what teaches us about life itself:
“In Middlemarch, Eliot shows her reader that marital incompatibility is not simply a matter of one person being misunderstood by another – which is certainly how it can feel, when one is aggrieved and resentful – but that incompatibility consists of two people failing each other….This notion – that we each have our own center of gravity, but must come to discover that others weigh the world differently than we do – is one that is constantly repeated in the book. The necessity of growing out of such self-centeredness is the theme of Middlemarch.”
“My Life in Middlemarch” is not solely about the book (“Middlemarch”) itself. Rebecca Mead also talks about Eliot’s other novels, and isn’t too inhibited to give out spoilers (“The Mill on the Floss” is one example where the reader will find out the ending), so if you like surprise endings, don’t read Mead’s book first. She also examines Eliot’s own personal life.
“In looking out upon them, small figures in an enlarging vista, Dorothea comprehends the next step she must take on her own journey. We are called to express our generosity and sympathy in ways we might not have chosen for ourselves. Heeding that call, we might become better. Setting aside our own cares, we might find ourselves on the path that can lead us out of resignation.”
Because “Middlemarch” itself is such a great book, so full of insight into human nature and life, Rebecca Mead’s analysis is sometimes a bit ‘literary’ (even for me! : ) I had to read some sentences more than once to understand what she was trying to say. However I did enjoy this book and it helped me appreciate George Eliot’s creativity, intelligence and sheer talent, even more.