The essential thing to know about this book is that it is not a guide to Middlemarch in the style of exam pass notes, but rather an appreciation of a novel that in some senses depicts an entire community, an entire way of life. If you have not read Middlemarch, you may find spoilers in this book, but overall it is for all those who love the biggest novel by George Eliot. It also has a biographical element in that it takes a loose view of Eliot’s life through the places she lived and worked in, as well as the significance of visiting certain people who may have unwittingly provided inspiration for Middlemarch characters.
Mead uses her own life experiences to understand and illustrate various points in the novel, especially when she is able to visit the house in which Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans as she was born in 1819, spent a significant period of her life. The name George Eliot reflects the unconventional life which she chose to live. Her partner, George Henry Lewes, was a married man with sons when they met. He was unable to get a divorce, and he and Eliot’s unconventional lifestyle affected her career. There are many touching sections in this book, especially in respect of her relationship with Lewes’ sons. Mead speaks of how her reactions to finding the actual notebooks and texts that Eliot handled created new links with the novels that she wrote. The villages that Eliot and Lewes visited, the inspiration geographically and emotionally for her writing, is reflected in elements of Mead’s own life, as she gains understanding of the novels.
I thought that this book worked because I too love Middlemarch, and my reading of it is definitely enhanced by this book. It is not wildly exciting and I am not sure that there are any great academic insights into the text itself, but this is a heartfelt book of appreciation for a novel which is big in every respect. If you have read and liked Middlemarch you will find much to inform, interest and inspire you in this book, and it will appeal even more. You will also discover much about Eliot’s life and other work from this book, and Mead’s own journey alongside her legacy.
Over the next few days I hope to be adding some blog tour stops for some classic novels, and a new novel which I am greatly enjoying. Internet access is a little trying, so please bear with me if I am not posting at dawn!