My Life in Middlemarch

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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.
My Life in Middlemarch
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!


Brona said...

I have this book on my TBR pile...but it shares that honour with quite a few other worthy books!!

Should I reread Middlemarch before reading this? Take into count that it is nearly 20 yrs since I read it.

JoAnn said...

Since I read Middlemarch earlier in the year, this is probably the perfect time to try this book!

LindyLouMac said...

I might look out for this one as Middlemarch is an all time favourite novel of mine. Thanks for drawing this to my attention Melissa.

Emma Litttlefield said...

I'm reading Middlemarch for the first time at the moment so I can read this book as I've heard good stuff about it. Your post has made me more keen to finish.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona - It definitely helps if Middlemarch was a recent read, but in my opinion the points she's making are general enough to be appreciated no matter what.

JoAnn - That really is perfect.

LindyLou Mac - You'll feel right at home with this author!

Emma - Perfect timing!

Anonymous said...

I'm reading Middlemarch right now! (For the first time) you are the second person who's mentioned Mead's book favorably. Looks like I'll have to pick it up when I'm done. :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - It would be a great follow-up read to Middlemarch!