My Life in Middlemarch is a difficult book to categorize and an unusual effort. It is part memoir, part literary criticism, part literary history and biography, part thoughtful examination. Its focus is on George Eliot’s greatest novel, Middlemarch.
New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead muses about what the novel, her favorite as it is mine, has meant to her during different periods of her life, how different parts of the novel and different characters have spoken to her and how her sympathies with characters and comprehension of the novel’s themes have changed as her life was in its varying stages. She also examines events in Eliot’s own life—how they and the people she knew may have contributed to her works.
This book is about all things Middlemarch. Mead visits the towns and homes where Eliot resided and places where she may have set the novel. She reports on the ways that literary criticism of the novel changed over time—how it was immediately popular and then fell out of favor in later years to be rehabilitated, partially by the appreciation of Virginia Woolf. The book provides interesting insights into the novel and into Eliot’s life and possible thought processes as she wrote the novel.
For those who have not read Middlemarch, the book still may hold some interest, but a lot will be lost. To those who have read and loved it, you will probably, like me, be compelled to pick it up again and reread it. I’ll be doing that soon.