The enduring appeal of Middlemarch, 200 years after George Eliot’s birth

When American poet Emily Dickinson was asked what she thought of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, he answered: “What do I think of honor?” Virginia Woolf described it as “one of the few English books written for adults.” And England’s AS Byatt says that can be argued Middlemarch it is the greatest British novel – ever.

First published in 1872, Middlemarch George Eliot – born Mary Ann Evans – established herself as one of the most famous writers of the Victorian era.

To mark the second anniversary of Eliot’s birth, Author & Company revisits a 2014 conversation with three Middlemarch interesting facts about the constant appeal and conclusion of the book.

Rebecca Mead is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of My life in Middlemarcha combination of history, fiction and memoir that ponders the book’s constant questions.

Nancy Henry an editor of the 2019 edition of The Cambridge companion to George Eliot and the author of The Life of George Eliot: A Critical History.

Francine Prose a novelist, essayist, short story writer. He wrote about it Middlemarch in his books, What to read and why a Read Like a Writer.

Objection to being bound

Nancy Henry: “Eliot was a very smart boy. He had a kind of school where he ate and he taught himself. He taught himself languages.

“Here is a young woman of great imagination in this provincial environment. Middlemarch that is, trying to figure out how to escape that environment, which is exactly what he did. “

Every time I come back, my emotional response grows and my perception of the images changes and my understanding of myself changes as well.– Rebecca Mead

Rebecca Mead: “I already read it Middlemarch when I was 17 a I know full well what Dorothea Brooke is like. A man who longs for a serious life, because I am a young man who loves a serious life. I understand very well the experience of living in a provincial town, because I am in a provincial English town.

“It really spoke to me that year. I’ve gone to read it about every five years since then. Every time I come back, my response grows. in the mind and the way I see the characters and the way I see myself in it has changed. the relationship with it will also change.”

Rebecca Mead, Francine Prose and Nancy Henry join Eleanor Wachtel to discuss George Eliot’s classic Middlemarch. (Doubleday Canada, HarperCollins, Wiley-Blackwell)

Accepting the problem

Francine Prose: “You can’t change your life the way you think and hope your life will turn out. Middlemarch about that. You have no idea how to get that kind of feeling about the future.

“I think it’s important to be humble. When you’re young, you have your ideas and you think you can achieve those ideas. And you may find it hard and difficult.” of realizing those ideas.”

Mead: “It’s a book that suggests that disappointment is the result of most of our actions. It has this melancholy abandonment and sense of life not fully realized – desires not fully fulfilled.

“It’s a very mature book in that sense of accepting the inevitability of failure and what it means to live with what happens. It gives a tough ending.

Henry: “Story is mainly about knowledge. All kinds of knowledge, psychology or first flesh, but also knowledge of each other – and the knowledge that the storyteller of each kind has .

“For example, what happened at Dorothea’s wedding was that she got the knowledge of her husband that she really wanted that she didn’t have. It’s a kind of revelation.”

A portrait of George Eliot at 30 by the Swiss artist Alexandre-Louis-François d’Albert-Durade. (Alexandre-Louis-François d’Albert-Durade/Wikimedia Commons)

Understanding

Language: “I hate the word timeless but I tried to use it. Middlemarch and you see yourself in it, and it gives you a wonderful feeling and sense of humanity. There are some things about human life that don’t change much regardless of time and place. “

Mead: “When I think of Dorothea when I was young, I’m probably disappointed that she didn’t do more. The ambition and ambition of youth. I’m happy with the way she lived. epic journey that we all – many of us – will participate in at some point in our lives, or our entire lives.”

Henry: “I was very familiar with the character of Tertius Lydgate when I started my career and moved to a provincial town as an assistant professor. I didn’t know anyone. I read Middlemarch and I just thought, ‘I need to be aware of local politics.’ It was a tragic story that I read in several ways. Lydgate was someone who did not achieve what he set out to achieve, and what he achieved, and he knew it.

It gives you a strange and beautiful feeling that there is such a thing as human nature. There are some things about human life that don’t change much regardless of time and place.– Francine Prose

“That’s the most terrifying thing about logic – this man had flaws in his mental skin that allowed him to make the choices he made and the deals he made. Of that in the beginning, which I think is a wonderful thing to do in a novel.”

Panellists’ comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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