Middlemarch by George Eliot is a novel I have started and abandoned multiple times in my life, but this turned out to be the year when I finally read it cover to cover, all 900 and some odd pages! I'm a much more seasoned reader than I was the last time I attempted it, but it still took me a good, long while. This time was different as well because I came a cross a book called My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead, and I thought to myself, if this woman can love Middlemarch as much as I love Pride and Prejudice, I certainly ought to give it a go! I ended up reading both, starting one before my California trip and finishing the other after our New York Trip, but although it was quite a time commitment, it was truly well worth it.
"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
-the final sentence of Middlemarch
The whole time I was reading Middlemarch, I was in complete awe of Eliot's command of the human experience. Labeled a "Study of Provincial Life," it perfectly depicts the breadth of humanity in terms that make the characters relatable, even today. The author has such a strong command of characters that you recognize them and completely buy into the reality she creates. And what's more, it's as if Eliot herself acts as the omniscient narrator, and her pearls of wisdom offered as commentary on the story are true to life and so incredibly perceptive.
I will say that this is not a book to read if you're looking for romance- it's really the opposite of the "marriage plot," and instead of being an escape, it often demands personal introspection. And don't even think about watching the 1994 Middlemarch miniseries in an attempt to get the gist of the book without reading it--it tries to force romance that it isn't there and completely misses the genius of George Eliot in the process!
So I ended up loving Middlemarch, but it's 900 pages long--I couldn't really expect anyone else to read it based on my recommendation just so I could have someone to discuss it with. That's why I am so glad I read My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead as soon as I was finished.
It felt like I had my own little book club with Mead and Eliot and we became friends through the process of "discussing" the book together. The author writes in a way that is autobiographical of her own life, discussing her reactions to the book and its influence on her life, but she also includes sufficient biographical information about George Eliot to add meaning to Middlemarch and answer questions about her influences and inspiration. Here are some of the insights Mead shares that resonate perfectly with how I felt reading the book AND how I feel as a reader:
"Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself... There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree."
"She makes middlemarchers of us all."
"...and as all our loves, realized or otherwise--all our alternative plots--go to make us who we are, and become part of what we make."
"This notion--that we each have our own center of gravity, but must come to discover that others weigh the world differently than we do--is one that is constantly repeated in the book. The necessity of growing out of such self-centeredness it the theme of Middlemarch"
"Even so, all readers make books over in their own image, and according to their own experience. My Middlemarch is not the same as anyone else's Middlemarch; it is not even the same as my Middlemarch of twenty-five years ago. Sometimes, we find that a book we love has moved another person in the same ways as it has moved ourselves, and one definition of compatibility might be when two people have highlighted the same passages in their editions of a favorite novel."
Have you read it? And if not, are you considering it now?
What is your defining classic?