MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH by Rebecca Mead.
New York: Crown Publishers. 2014. Hardcover $25.00. ISBN: 978-0-307-98476-0.
This book is on our “new” shelf in the library, purchased by my predecessor (who, I might add, has great taste in books).
George Eliot and her work have fascinated me for years. I’m not as familiar with her work as I am of many other classic authors, although my grandmother gave me a collection of her work published in Boston by Estes and Laurant in 1887. I’m the most familiar with THE MILL ON THE FLOSS, which was part of a large, complex literature paper I wrote in high school called “Lost Girls.”
MIDDLEMARCH was an influential book for Rebecca Mead, something she read and re-read at different stages in her life. Her revisitation of the text and her pursuit of what was behind the text is an absorbing book that gives us insight not just into Marian Evans (aka George Eliot) and her unconventional (at the time) but deeply satisfying relationship with George Lewes, but on why the book continues to resonate today.
Ms. Mead goes beyond some of the rather sniffy biographies of Eliot, questioning the intents and agendas of those who’ve written about Eliot and her family, friends, lovers. That’s part of what makes this book so satisfying — there are elements of both literary detection and psychological exploration on the wider social context, rather than simply accepting what someone else wrote as “truth”. It may have been that individual’s truth, but that’s different than “the” truth about an issue. She draws on biographies, letters, diaries — and her own experience of visiting important places in Eliot’s life and work.
Her personal experience of reading and re-reading the book and wanting more speaks to those of us who connect to books and are fascinated at the way life infuses work and work infuses life. Every writer has a different formula, and sometimes that formula is different from book to book. But when a book resonates, a reader wants to find those connections, and intimately experience what the author felt when writing the book. Some of that will always remain conjecture — even actors cannot fully “be” another individual, although they can inhabit that persona and communicate it.
At the beginning of spring, I decided that I was going to read my way through my grandmother’s editions of George Eliot, to get a new perspective on the works as an adult, and to gain a deeper understanding. I read several biographies of the woman, and got interested in some of her correspondence with one of my personal heroines and inspirations, Harriet Beecher Stowe. This book came along at the right time for me, because it reaffirms my desire to read and/or re-read all of Eliot’s work, and to continue playing with the idea that began germinating about a piece (most likely a play) having to do with Eliot, Stowe, and Charlotte Bronte.
Mead’s journey with MIDDLEMARCH not only illuminated the book (and Eliot) for me, but furthers my inspiration to continue working on a piece connected to Eliot. Which further demonstrates how Eliot’s work continues to resonate, and why she remains of value as both woman and writer.
You can find this book at Marstons Mills Public Library, in Marstons Mills, MA, or order it through the CLAMS network or Interlibrary Loan System. Or, of course, you can buy a copy. I initially checked it out as part of getting to know the library’s collection, but I’m definitely investing in my own copy.