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I first read Middlemarch, which many critics consider the greatest novel in the English language, when I was seventeen. The novel tells the interweaving stories of several residents of a provincial town in the Midlands; but to describe it this way is a bit like describing Everest as a really tall, ice-covered mountain. In its psychological acuity and generosity of spirit, in the deftness of its humor and immensity of its intelligence, Middlemarch offers everything we go to books for. It’s awesome, in every sense of the word.
I’ve gone back to it every five years or so since, and every time I see something new. When I was an anxious, aspiring teenager, it seemed to be all about the anxieties and aspirations of youth. In my twenties, stumbling through misbegotten love affairs, it seemed to be about the meaning of love and marriage. In my thirties, establishing my career as a writer, the novel seemed to offer cautionary insight into how one might or might not achieve one’s ambitions. By the time I was forty, conscious of the doors of youth closing behind me, the book seemed to offer a melancholy insight into the resignations of middle age.
So revisiting Middlemarch by writing a book about it was also way of reckoning with the life I had lived so far: of looking at the choices I had made, the paths I had taken, and considering the alternative lives I had left unlived. For it, I read the diaries and letters of George Eliot, the book’s author, who was born Mary Ann Evans in 1819; I visited the places she had lived, and I read about the lives of people who had been close to her. Having started out as the humble daughter of a provincial land agent, Eliot transformed herself into one of the dominant intellectual forces of her era—first as an editor and critic for the most important London periodicals, and only later as a novelist. “One has to spend so many years in learning how to be happy,” she wrote to a friend when she was just twenty-four. She did find happiness: in love found late, and in a vocation discovered in maturity. “I feel very full of thankfulness for all the creatures I have got to love, all the beautiful and great things that are given to me to know, and I feel, too, much younger and more hopeful, as if a great deal of life and work were still before me,” Eliot wrote in 1861, when she was forty-one. Her greatest work was still before her: Middlemarch was ten years in the future.
I hope that I have written a book that can be read by people who haven’t read Middlemarch—though I also hope that my book will make those readers want to discover George Eliot’s masterpiece for themselves. I wanted to write a book that would speak to any passionate reader. Often, reading is thought of as escapism: we talk of “getting lost” in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and as I wrote My Life in Middlemarch I found that the novel spoke to me differently than it had during any of my earlier readings. Going back to Middlemarch gave me the chance to look at where I was in my life, and to ask myself how I had got there—and to think, with a renewed sense of hopefulness, about where I might go next.
It's taken me months to read this book--I've been stretching it out, not wanting it to end. Rebecca Mead writes beautifully about her life and that of George Eliot, and how books... Read morePublished 9 days ago by M. Maxwell
Although I have been a Dickens fan since I read David Copperfield in high school, my interest in fiction has been varied and sporadic over the succeeding 50 years. Read morePublished 27 days ago by Book Monster
What a pleasure this book is! It so easily wears its deep research and understanding of Eliot’s masterpiece, of Eliot herself, and of the world she inhabited that reading it felt... Read morePublished 29 days ago by B. Fay
I loved this book! Mead brings George Eliot to life for me, and her love of her subject comes through beautifully. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Ellen J Greenspan
I thoroughly enjoyed My Life in Middlemarch, which I listened to as an audio book immediately after finishing the audio book Middlemarch. Read morePublished 1 month ago by lunarchi
I greatly enjoyed this book. I agree with other reviews that this is very much a biography of George Eliot. But it is also more than that. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Francis C. Donnelly
I will admit that part of the reason I finally read Middlemarch this summer is because I knew this book was coming out. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Melody
This summer I re-read George Eliot's masterpiece, "Middlemarch", and followed it up by reading Rebecca Mead's superb book, which deepened my understanding and appreciation... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Thomas J. Mulak
Rebecca Mead read Middlemarch at the age of 17, majored in English in college, became a writer, and reread the novel later in her life. Read morePublished 3 months ago by C. Peterson