Life, Wisdom And ‘Middlemarch’

Life, love and “Middlemarch.” Rebecca Mead on why she can’t stop reading George Eliot’s great Victorian novel.

A portrait of the British novelist George Eliot at age 30, by Alexandre-Louis-François d'Albert-Durade. (Creative Commons)

A portrait of the British novelist George Eliot at age 30, by Alexandre-Louis-François d’Albert-Durade. (Creative Commons)

George Eliot was a woman.  A Victorian.  A rebel.  Her great book, a novel,  was “Middlemarch.” 1874.  It went deep, deep into the lives of provincial English men and women.  Their marriages.  Their dreams and ambitions. Their failings and delusions and small triumphs.  It’s a Victorian-era book of wisdom on life and love.  A century later, Rebecca Mead made “Middlemarch” a kind of personal Bible for life.  A guidebook on how to live.  How to see and empathize with others. This hour On Point:  New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead on George Eliot and living with Middlemarch.

— Tom Ashbrook


Rebecca Mead, staff writer at The New Yorker. Author of “My Life in Middlemarch” and  “One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding.” (@Rebeccamead_NYC)

From Tom’s Reading List

Boston Globe: ‘My Life In Middlemarch’ By Rebecca Mead — “Mead illustrates how the reversal of the 19th-century marriage plot for which ‘Middlemarch’’ is famous is inextricably linked to Eliot’s personal experience of a long lasting, committed union as a state of happiness that far outpaced the seemingly all-consuming tribulations of young love. This state of equal partnership is mirrored in Mead’s life, and it’s no wonder that this ‘home epic’ speaks to her and has continued to appeal to generations of readers, regardless of gender.”

Salon: How great books shape us — “There’s a lot more going on in ‘Middlemarch’ than that, but the two bad marriages are what you notice if, like Mead, you’re a brainy young woman who wants to make something of herself and whose knowledge of life comes mostly from books. Eliot herself — born Mary Ann Evans, the daughter of a Midlands estate manager — was once just such a girl, and many readers first encounter ‘Middlemarch’ when they’re making the same sort of life decisions that confront Dorothea and Lydgate. ‘My Life in Middlemarch’ follows both Eliot and Mead as they obtain their educations and take their hard knocks from the world, while Mead explores which parts of Eliot’s life and social circle may have inspired parts of the novel.”

The New Yorker: George Eliot’s Superfan — “As I read Main’s copious correspondence I found myself alternately appalled and moved by the glimpses it offered into the life of this sad, shadowy man. There was something alarming, almost stalker-like, in his attentions. Over and over again he wrote Eliot long, effusive letters, then followed up with a demand for reassurance that his effusion had not given offense, then offered apologies for his neediness. On one occasion he told her, ‘I should like to see you in your home, but I think I should myself choose to be unseen the while—if that could be. I could not be disappointed in you, but you might easily be disappointed in me.'”

Read An Excerpt Of “My Life In Middlemarch” By Rebecca Mead

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