It wasn’t planned, but in the last month I read three books in a row that dealt with the personal lives of famous authors. They were: My Life in Middlemarch, Under the Wide and Starry Sky and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. Only the first is nonfiction, the second two were well researched fictionalized accounts. It was an unexpected delight to compare the three books. Each author was received in a different way during their lifetime. Each one’s personal life affected their work in a different way. In the end each of the books was a lovely reminder that authors are just people. They make mistakes, deal with grief, and fall in love just like the rest of us.
by Rebecca Mead
There are certain books that become part of who we are. For Mead, one of those books is Middlemarch. This is a nonfiction account of her love of the book and experience with it. It is part memoir, part literary analysis and part biography of Eliot. This result is a lovely view of the importance of books in the lives of a reader.
Mead explores the context in which Middlemarch was written as she discusses its literary importance. She also talks about different commentaries and literary criticisms that have been written regarding the novel. She explores Eliot’s relationship with her stepsons and with the man who she spent her life with. Their unconventional relationship influenced the way she was perceived throughout the literary world. Eliot’s relationship later in life with a younger man actually reminded me quite a bit of her famous character Dorthea’s situation.
One important thing Mead touches on is the way books change for us depending on when we read them. I’ve had similar experiences with this in my own reading and it never fails to surprise me. I can read a book as a freshman in high school and be enamored with the rebellious teenager and their lust for life. I’ll re-read the same book five years later and identify with the older sister who is worried for her sibling. Then I’ll re-read it again after a few years have passed and be blown away by how the parents in the novel are handling the situation. I notice different parts of the story each time, I relate to different characters and experiences depending on what I’ve gone through. It thrills me to think of what I’ll find in my favorite books as I continue to re-read them throughout my life.
BOTTOM LINE: I loved Mead’s observations about both the book and Eliot. It made me think of the books that have become part of who I am. It’s also made me want to read all the rest of Eliot’s work and The Mill on the Floss is at the top of my list!