Rediscovering Middlemarch in Middle Age

A new book in brief
More
Crown

“There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.” George Eliot could have written that. Instead, Rebecca Mead did. She first read Middlemarch nearly three decades ago, when she was an “anxiously ambitious girl from a backwater town” in southwest England. As she proceeded on to Oxford and then to New York and The New Yorker, marriage, and motherhood, she kept rereading it. Along the way, she learned what she has discovered Eliot learning, too: it takes a kind of mature ease to write seriously—yet without sanctimony—about the quest to see beyond the blinkered self.

Folding memoir into a blend of literary biography, journalism, and criticism, Mead keeps ego and epigrammatic moralism under admirable control. She’s wry about her own early, total identification with Dorothea Brooke, Middlemarch’s heroine, so full of earnest striving. She’s also wise about the painfully pretentious letters written by the teenage Mary Ann Evans (Eliot’s real name).

Mead’s middle-aged rediscovery of Middlemarch—and her insights into Eliot’s rich middle age—is not to be missed. Her portrait of Eliot’s love for George Henry Lewes (“the ugliest man in London,” someone in his literary circle called him) couldn’t be more astute. She’ll even make you empathize with Dorothea’s ill-chosen husband, the “sad, proud, dessicated” Mr. Casaubon. When you put down Mead’s book, you’re likely to be lured back to Eliot’s. You’ll be surprised by how much you, and the novel, have grown.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ann Hulbert is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees coverage of books and culture.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Ghost Trains of America

Can a band of locomotive experts save vintage railcars from ruin?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Video

How Is Social Media Changing Journalism?

How new platforms are transforming radio, TV, print, and digital

Video

The Place Where Silent Movies Sing

How an antique, wind-powered pipe organ brings films to life

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In