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.