• Imported from USA.

    Rebecca Mead on writing My Life in Middlemarch

    I first read Middlemarch, which many critics consider the
    greatest novel in the English language, when I was seventeen. The
    novel tells the interweaving stories of several residents of a
    provincial town in the Midlands; but to describe it this way is a
    bit like describing Everest as a really tall, ice-covered
    mountain. In its psychological acuity and generosity of spirit,
    in the deftness of its humor and immensity of its intelligence,
    Middlemarch offers everything we go to books for. It’s awesome,
    in every sense of the word.

    I’ve gone back to it every five years or so since, and every
    time I see something new. When I was an anxious, aspiring
    teenager, it seemed to be all about the anxieties and aspirations
    of youth. In my twenties, stumbling through misbegotten love
    affairs, it seemed to be about the meaning of love and marriage.
    In my thirties, establishing my career as a writer, the novel
    seemed to offer cautionary insight into how one might or might
    not achieve one’s ambitions. By the time I was forty, conscious
    of the doors of youth closing behind me, the book seemed to offer
    a melancholy insight into the resignations of middle age.

    So revisiting Middlemarch by writing a book about it was also
    way of reckoning with the life I had lived so far: of looking at
    the choices I had made, the paths I had taken, and considering
    the alternative lives I had left unlived. For it, I read the
    diaries and letters of George Eliot, the book’s author, who was
    born Mary Ann Evans in 1819; I visited the places she had lived,
    and I read about the lives of people who had been close to her.
    Having started out as the humble daughter of a provincial land
    agent, Eliot transformed herself into one of the dominant
    intellectual forces of her era—first as an editor and critic for
    the most important London periodicals, and only later as a
    novelist. “One has to spend so many years in learning how to be
    happy,” she wrote to a friend when she was just twenty-four. She
    did find happiness: in love found late, and in a vocation
    discovered in maturity. “I feel very full of thankfulness for all
    the creatures I have got to love, all the beautiful and great
    things that are given to me to know, and I feel, too, much
    younger and more hopeful, as if a great deal of life and work
    were still before me,” Eliot wrote in 1861, when she was
    forty-one. Her greatest work was still before her: Middlemarch
    was ten years in the future.

    I hope that I have written a book that can be read by people who
    haven’t read Middlemarch—though I also hope that my book will
    make those readers want to discover George Eliot’s masterpiece
    for themselves. I wanted to write a book that would speak to any
    passionate reader. Often, reading is thought of as escapism: we
    talk of “getting lost” in a book. But a book can also be where
    one finds oneself; and as I wrote My Life in Middlemarch I found
    that the novel spoke to me differently than it had during any of
    my earlier readings. Going back to Middlemarch gave me the chance
    to look at where I was in my life, and to ask myself how I had
    got there—and to think, with a renewed sense of hopefulness,
    about where I might go next.