The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot – review | George Eliot

T saidrecent years have seen an increase in non-fiction books about the origins and endings of ancient mythology, and, like life writing, for then writing the lives of the books can be historical, biographical, autobiographical, essayistic. or a combination of all of them. Michael Gorra in 2012 Image of the Novel It may lead to this new field, an academic combination of scholarship, literary criticism, social history, and a travel novel, as Gorra returns to Henry James’s writing. The Portrait of a Lady. This year promises the benefit of similar projects, with a focus on creating classic documents that are “accessible” to modern people, including Read Danteby Prue Shaw; Contribute to War and Peace, by Tolstoy scholar Andrew D Kaufman; and Kevin Birmingham Worst book: the battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, coming out this summer. There are others in the works, including New Yorker contributor Daniel Mendelsohn, about reading The Odyssey with his sick father, while I recently published a book about the genesis of The great gatsbyso I have something to do with this game.

And here comes a thought called style The Road to Middlemarch, a personal reflection on Eliot’s great work and ideas received by Rebecca Mead, a British journalist living in New York City. The book began as an article for the New Yorker, a staff writer for Mead, and that style transformed the finished version: beautiful, thoughtful and readable, written with clarity and tender love as a form of Eliot’s benevolent wisdom. , while omitting some of Eliot’s astringents. Mead is determined to make Virginia Woolf’s story, which she famously described as “one of the few English novels written for adults” accessible again, in a culture where the definition of adulthood has changed. more than 150 years since. Middlemarch it was published. Eliot said in his book “A Study of Provincial Life”, and that his interest in ordinary lives was similar to Mead’s interest in ordinary readers, the general idea of ​​the novel, Mead said, “is Middle marchers of us all”.

The Road to Middlemarch related to Mead’s own life in the most profound and intellectual ways: especially the retelling of George Eliot’s life. Mead offers intimate spaces, moments Middlemarch became his guidebook. He first read her as a serious 17-year-old, immediately identified with “a young woman’s desire for a big, successful, and rich life”. This closeness does not tempt him to disrespect Eliot’s heroine, Dorothea Brooke, although Mead’s admiration for Eliot’s novel is, if not critical, unwarranted. Middlemarch It was not to everyone’s liking: some readers found Eliot’s tone condescending, always attaching an educational aspect. But Mead is having none of it: her book is an unapologetic apology for loving the books we love. His relations with Middlemarch She grew up with her life: for example, she saw analogues in her own role as stepmother to three sons in George Eliot’s love for the children of her partner George Henry Lewes. Most of all, however, Mead considers the intellectual will, the most important element of literature in the development of the life of the mind.

Indeed, he goes so far as to say that Middlemarch, the city of thought, is “the place of reason, the state of common sense”; It is therefore surprising that he should concern himself with the ordinary details of Eliot’s life as a writer and woman, considering the various aspects of Middlemarch. because he might try Mead’s love), although marginal aspects. like Fred Vincy in their time in the spotlight. Focusing on knowledge and emotional connections, Mead defends readers who think about words and authors against accusations of ignorant or arrogant reading. He understands the problems: “this is the nature of fiction – where do I see myself here? – not how a student reads, and can be limited to his solipsism.” But Mead saw it in Middlemarch It’s a type of intelligence that he likes, “its breadth, its sensitivity, its importance, its intelligence, its depth of thought”. Content, Mead argues, is a useful and necessary form of reading: “it is the source of pleasure, and the speed of reading” for ordinary readers. He wants to see the image in the “totally pedestrian and ordinary”, although it is the only one that Mead directly stated that his project assures “the naive reader that I live and I want to close”.

Well, although one should not admit that there are very different “special” and “normal” readers. Mead delivers with a light touch; for those who do not know Middlemarch and Eliot is good, there’s a lot to see. Some people may find it a little educational but a lot of fun – while others may like the language of the story itself, which is shorter than expected from the literary tribute. That said, Mead can’t be blamed for leaving Eliot to write his book for him, and he certainly did his homework, visiting archives and mystery-mongering hand-in-hand. five of 150 years ago.

Ultimately, if Mead defends our right to read as we choose, he believes we are blessed by choosing great books. In this he is in full accord with Eliot, who declared: “If Art does not increase the love of man, it does no justice.” But Mead reminds us that Eliot’s educational focus was not limited to culture: “One must spend many years in the study of happiness,” he once wrote. Mead concludes: “There are books that understand us as we understand them, or not. But who is the medicine and who is the teacher? These tributes are accused by some as parasitic, there are fewer works on important things. But criticism is always charged with parasitism – with derivative, dependent, debased. Some of us can argue that instead of criticizing the relation to the great literature: good criticism, does not seek to destroy its host, but to help to grow in different ways, to change and change in changing worlds. Or, for Extending Mead’s metaphor, we might say that good gardeners are good observers, grafting, weeding, and recording our world’s limited resources to historians. If Mead helped Middlemarch in bloom for the new readers, as it is true, then he did more.

Sarah Churchwell is the author of The Careless: Murder, Violence and the Invention of The Great Gatsby.

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