The Road to Middlemarch review – Rebecca Mead’s most important thoughts on a masterpiece | Literary criticism

IIt would be absurd to argue that historians have run out of ideas; Samuel Johnson’s short list, to take one leader, is growing stronger with each passing year. However, I can’t understand what a bunch of books are about books; I’ve read three in the last two months. The most recent of these is by Rebecca Mead, a writer at the New yorkwho adapted an essay he had written about his love of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch in a hymn full of praise in the bulk of the story, a little criticism, and a little drop of note. Yes. What I’m trying to say is that if there’s anything new in this book, I’ll be damned if I find it.

But this is not fair. Mead did not decide to throw a stone into the calm pool of Eliot scholarship. An avid reader, it is his belief that when a person is truly “captured” by a book, it is not like an escape from life but an important aspect of life itself: “There are some books that understand us as much. as we understand them, or more. There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, as root of the tree.” Mead first read Middlemarch in his youth in the seaside town where he wanted to escape (“Oxford is the immediate goal, but anywhere will do”). He struggled – he could not believe in the “correctness” of such an idea, and he sought to see himself with the wisdom he found in its pages – and he always returned to since then, each visit has been enriched by his experiences. and by memories that stir. In the chaos of Brooklyn, it takes him back not only to the English lands of his childhood, but to the “strength and imagination of the beginnings”. His power over her was profound. He thinks – er, crikey – that Middlemarch his character is “learned”.

Wanting to provide a connection to those who have Eliot’s views on the same provincial life, he began to open the themes of the story of marriage, desire and family responsibility and connect to his great problems and difficulties. refer to the author’s life, and his own life. As a result, it was inspired, because everything that Mead combined his material with a great skill and a story that was always visible and beautiful at times. A long description of a section of Middlemarch followed by an argument and then he considers the motivation for the marriage of Dorothea Brooke and her adulterous academic husband, Edward Casaubon (perhaps Mark Pattison, the rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, and his wife Emilia Francis), and Eliot’s. The relationship with his Scottish host is like a stalker, Alexander Main (as a concession to his epistolary, Eliot allowed him to edit the name mawkishly. Wise, Wise, and Pleasant Sayings, in Prose and Verse, Selected from the Works of George Eliot.), or the writer’s feelings about the sons of his friend, George Henry Lewes (Eliot did not meet Lewes until he was, by Victorian standards, middle-aged, and Mead cites his “unexpected” family as a primary source Middlemarchthe “tensile” strength). All this is interspersed with visits to places close to Eliot – to Nuneaton, near where he was born, to Coventry, where he later lived with his father – and some scenes in Mead’s personal life: flying to and from Oxford. to New York; a love gone astray; marriage and motherhood.

The Road to Middlemarch a very true book. He uses his serious nature as a good Sunday, rarely laughs, and thanks to this, it feels bad to criticize him, even if you, like me, love Middlemarch. But I’d be lying if I said it told me. Who is it for? If a writer is to rely entirely on the scholarship of others—Mead owes much to Eliot’s historian Rosemary Ashton, among many others—then he must bring something else in the library: a new angle, a disdain and, perhaps, appropriate. , a remnant of nature. When I read it, I really liked the irony and honesty of Geoff Dyer, whose book on DH Lawrence is amazing (and I hate DH Lawrence). The content of the memoir The Road to Middlemarch too sweet to be nothing; His travels are very colorful and vivid (it is not surprising that the transformation of Coventry, or the Strand in London, where Eliot lived in his youth, is now covered with pizza chain). Above all, Mead was more than grateful for his favorite author at times. “I think it’s a shield,” he wrote at one point — and, boy, did he mean it. Later, he quoted from a letter Eliot had written on his honeymoon in 1879 (to the horror of many, Eliot had married John Walter Cross, a friend of 20 years of his youth, soon after the death of Lewes), in which the author complains of “disgusting. strict Belgians with baboonish children” with whom he is forced to share a carriage. Disgusting? Different? Baboons? Mead was disappointed. He was, he wrote, “surprised and troubled to see Eliot so poorly at times like this”. is it? Leaving aside the fact that it’s refreshing to hear Eliot sounding like a normal person rather than a paragon of morality, it’s hard not to worry about Mead at this point. The Lord knows what he thinks about writers with complex personalities: Dickens, Larkin, Patricia Highsmith. Can he read? Virginia Woolf had to rush to the salt.

His reading of Middlemarch friendly, kind and intelligent. Wisdom lies in his recognition of the weaknesses and strengths of Dorothea, Rosamond, Mary, Ladislaw, Fred and others; I admired his refusal to judge, to see the light and the shadow until Casaubon (Mead is true to insist on the growth of the elderly, the more he sees to the fear in Dorothea’s unfortunate husband and pomposity). In other words, this reminds us of the wisdom of their creator, at least in terms of what he put on the page. But it is not wrong that Eliot fancies himself a real owl of virtue, kindness and reason. Middlemarch it is the best of him, not a facsimile of his spirit.

To read the novel as if it were a manual, although I have often been guilty of it myself, one should be careful. Isn’t it a fantasy of the fear-mongering argument that says a book can’t be enjoyed unless the reader “likes the pictures”? I admire Mead’s passion, his chutzpah: there is courage in presenting a masterpiece like this. But sometimes he does Middlemarchit’s a lot of stories, much less than that.

Rebecca Mead is speaking at Foyles in Cabot Circus, Bristol, as part of the Bristol festival of ideason Thursday 20 March

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