I first read Middlemarch October of last year. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead is a wonderful companion to this magnificent work. Virginia Woolf famously said that Middlemarch "was one of the few novels written for grown-up people". Mead fascinatingly and insightfully explains what Woolf mean by using the term "grown-up" instead of adults. I had never before pondered this matter and I found Mead's conjectures very convincing. In her very important essay "Notes on Camp" Middlemarch is the only novel Susan Sontag places in the category of "High Art". One of the basic dictums of the reading life is that reading a great work of literature is a different experience as one advances in life. I saw this so clearly when I recently reread King Lear for the first time since I got out of school decades ago. Now I have three adult daughters of my own and I cannot help but relate the play to my relationships with them.
Everyone really into reading, Mead tells us, has one book that they hold to through their lives, reading it differently as the years go by. (Mine would be Gravity's Rainbow and if I had read it younger, maybe Proust's In Search of Lost Time.) Middlemarch is Mead's book. She kind of tells her own life through the ways her experience of Middlemarch changed as she read it over as she advanced from her late teenage years, through her first romance, jobs, education. She also tells us a lot about the life of George Eliot, her romances, her work, and above all how she became George Eliot. Mead lets us see the very deep,wisdom of Middlemarch. Middlemarch is a book about marriage, among much else but it is not just about the matrimonial chase of Austin's world, it is about marriage in various stages.
There is a lot to be learned about the social and business side of being a famous writer in Mead's book. She takes us inside George Eliot's homes and walks the English countryside with us while talking about what was happening in her life during her various readings of Middlemarch. She compares her own life, her relationships to those of the author and lets us see how the two cross illuminate.
My Life in Middlemarch is truly a wonderful reading life book helping us see how great literature can expand our inner world and see deeper into life. It also shows how reading a wonderful book is just a great experience how it can be a lifetime of revererbitation.
My next Gerorge Eliot work will be her often called semi autobiographical work The Mill on the Floss and I look forward to benifiting from the many insights Mead offers in this early work.
Mead talks a lot about her husband in this book and somehow I think my having read his book on Stefan Zweig, Impossible Exile - Stefan Zweig at the End of the World by George Prochnik , made this part of Mead's book more meaningful for me.