In My Life in Middlemarch
, New Yorker
writer Rebecca Mead's stirring paean to what many consider the greatest English novel, life and art, fact and fiction intermingle, influence, and illuminate each other. The nature of infatuation and enduring love, the tension between familial ties and professional ambition, the value of "small, beneficent actions," the thwarting of youthful idealism and the consolations of maturity: George Eliot's Middlemarch
explores them all in ways that have guided Mead throughout her life. In her idiosyncratic blend of biography, literary criticism, and memoir, Mead reads Middlemarch
as a novel that teaches us how to be sympathetic and offers touchingly humane insights into its brilliant yet vulnerable author. Mead is similarly compassionate toward her own younger selves as she presents them in her self-portrait: an ambitious and rebellious teenager in rural England who identified with Middlemarch
's ardent and aspiring Dorothea; a young journalist in New York embroiled in misguided love affairs and yearning, like the novel's characters, for a "substantial, rewarding, meaningful life"; and a happily married 40-something mother and stepmother who takes inspiration from Eliot's satisfying later-in-life love affair and stepmotherhood. Even as Mead's book celebrates Middlemarch
's "range, its wit, its seriousness, its erudition, its deep feeling," it exemplifies such virtues itself. Like her beloved Eliot, Mead speaks "with an authority and a generosity that [is] wise and essential and profound." Anyone who believes that books have the power to shape lives and that "our own lives can teach us how to read a book" will respond with fascination and delight to Mead's evolving appreciation of the richness and relevance of Eliot's masterwork.