– The Washington Post

Two years ago, Mary Gordon wrote that “a certain woman remembered what was going on in her life when she read ‘Middlemarch,’ the way Americans find their did when John F. Kennedy was shot.” Or when the twin towers fell.

Susan Sontag, for example. “I turned 18,” she wrote in “In America,” “and a third of the way in tears because I knew I wasn’t just Dorothea” – George Eliot’s delusional heroine – “but. a few months ago, I married Casaubon,” the dry dog ​​cake that Dorothea’s husband deceived himself into marrying, because none of the “good men yes, it is noble saints to endure.”

Rebecca Mead, whose new book, “My life in Middlemarch, “which came out on Tuesday, she was 17 when she first read it, eager to associate herself with what Virginia Woolf called “one of the few English books written for grown-ups.” his ode to “the one book I never stopped reading” in the 30 years since is only mildly autobiographical; standing next to Eliot, only a fool would attempt to pull himself up a lot.

So what is it about this book that has held so many of us in thrall for decades? That’s what convinced my roommate Michelle Brafman, a journalist, “if I’m the kind of person who puts up one of those posters of where their kids go to the school in their car, my say ‘I’m a George Eliot. man’ ? Did he convince Washington lawyer Andrea Paterson that he did the right thing in leaving that PhD program? And to Unexpectedly Alice Bach, the female Bible teacher, who lived in the Catholic Worker house on the Bowery for the last year of Dorothy Day, was almost as Dorothy as Dorothy who formed her mind. need money?

“It kind of blows my mind,” says my college friend Lynn Joyce Hunter, a therapist, “because he knows me better than I know myself, and he knows that even if he thinks Disney we want to marry kings, we really want to. marry men who help us understand the universe; of course” Dorothea will marry Casaubon.

“My Life in Middlemarch,” by Rebecca Mead (AP/AP)

You know a Dorothea Brooke or two, I bet, even if you haven’t read Mary Ann Evans’ book published under a pseudonym in 1871: Miss Brooke “loved the strong and large,” wrote his creator, “and. quick to embrace what he believed to be traits. Hence, “he might seek to kill , to return, and then to die after all in a quarter he sought not. .”

In fact, he had “other thoughts of fasting like a Papist, and of staying up at night to read old theological books!” He was a scholar, yes, and to be an heir, but men have a reason to keep it going: “Maybe a woman will wake you up one fine morning with a new idea for using his income hinders . . . the keeping of saddles: let a man think twice before he endangers himself in such a relationship.”

In Sunday’s New York Times book review, Joyce Carol Oates praises Mead’s bow as her favorite book, but quips: “There is something limiting if not solipsistic about thinking about a place. once in a lifetime story.” Then he pointed to “Ulysses” and “Crime and Punishment.”

Mead, who was unharmed, joked in an interview that he wanted to be known as it was found Read Joyce and Dostoyevsky, thank you. But you’ll only see Vermeer’s work once and then say “Okay, cross that work off the list?” Or see a single act of “Hamlet” and think, “Well, now ‘to be or not to be’ is a question asked and answered?”

Harvard psychiatrist Robert Coles isn’t kidding when he writes that Eliot out-thought Freud by 30 years; His knowledge of human nature is amazing. As Margaret Meyers, a DC writer and author who places yellow mums on Eliot’s grave in London’s Highgate Cemetery every year, says, “When someone writes a book Better yet, I’ll read it” and enjoy it. Until then, “I don’t think anyone would argue that George Eliot was the greatest intellectual novelist of the 19th century. But on a personal level, many of us feel that this book is up to date. to find us, we are saints without reason.

In fact, Eliot takes Dorothea’s willingness to do things more seriously than any other novel I can think of. But for me, his exploration and interpretation of morality make reading “Middlemarch” a life’s work. Not a list of Eliot’s works and works, but a habit of trying to see the world from the point of view of people we don’t understand or like.

“Middlemarch” makes the case by constantly changing its perspective: When we can no longer think about Casaubon, he goes and shows us the world from behind his sunken eyes. Those who think that Eliot is punishing all the beribboned blonds by his treatment of Rosamond may have forgotten that Rosamond was the one who made Dorothea happy, by declaring that Dorothea was the Ladislaw loved.

There’s a line in Shirley Hazzard’s “The Transit of Venus” – “if you’ve seen enough, antipathy isn’t too strong” – and Eliot’s work doesn’t allow it to be static. Eliot repeatedly insists that we see the world from the point of view of characters we might initially think of as stupid or evil.

It is important that he does that for 800 pages as well; in the end, we’ve made the experience easier and then look at it again. It’s common to think that a book can make us better people, but when Mead says “you work he should read ‘Middlemarch’ to be a very successful man” was the main joke.

“My Life in Middlemarch,” which I love, not only follows Mead’s various experiences from “Middlemarch” at various times in his life, but his own attempts to better understand Eliot. , whose book he left behind. and whose pen he holds. “Thank you for not thinking it’s scary,” he told me.

Who am I? When I first read “Middlemarch,” in college, it wasn’t for a lesson, but because I knew my writing teacher and teacher were wrong just now. I loved him, but I don’t know how he could say without some wiggle room that “Middlemarch” is the best book ever written in the English language, complete. Then I looked up from page 799 and I felt that, in my thoughts and concerns, my good looks and my hot temper were also understood.

And all this from the quill of a woman in a foreign country and century I felt connected not only to Eliot, but to that “woman type” that I knew was out there.


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