"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, November 13, 2023

MIDDLEMARCH -- MY LIFE IN MIDDLEMARCH. A look at a classic with the help of a memoir.

Back In July I decided the time had come, I would finally read Middlemarch, George Eliot's magnum opus. To make this decision more palatable I joined a read-along hosted by Nick @One Catholic Life where I agreed in concept to read a chapter a day. At that rate I would finish the book on October 22nd. No one held my hands to the flame. I knew what I was signing up for. And I also knew I would be on a big trip during the middle of that time period so would have to double up on my readings on either end to ensure I finished on time. I also doubted I'd take the book with me on the trip since it is a big tome of a thing and space in the suitcase was precious. So I began. I had an inauspicious start, instantly getting off track with my daily reading. But after a week of doubling up I got back on schedule. I realized why Nick recommended reading just a chapter a day, though, as some of the chapters were 30 pages long (or seemed that way) and reading two of them was a chore. Sigh. I kept reminding myself that I was the one who chose to read this book. And read it I did, all 784 pages of it. I confess I got very little joy from it, too, that is until maybe the last 200 pages or so when all the plot points started to coalesce. I realized that I finally cared what happened to all the characters. By book's end, I was determined to give it a 3-star rating -- too long; too many characters; trite situations and concerns; discussions about politics and laws I know nothing about from history; etc. -- but I held off on my rating until I had a chance to look over the memoir My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead.

Rebecca Mead grew up in an English Coastal town and first read Middlemarch as a seventeen-year-old, hoping to use it to enhance her chances of getting into Oxford University. Throughout her life as a journalist, and later a mother, she found herself rereading Middlemarch, a novel which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people." She found the novel offered something that modern life and other pieces of literature didn't. My Life in Middlemarch was Mead's paean to Middlemarch.
In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece--the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure--and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself. (Publisher)
As I listened to the audio version of My Life in Middlemarch, I found much more to admire in Middlemarch than I found on my own reading of it. Having never attended a literature class outside of high school I often feel handicapped when it come to my understanding of literary themes and techniques. I appreciated how Mead not only dissected Middlemarch and other works by Eliot, but gave us a rather thorough biography of the author herself. Knowing more about Eliot helped me understand the characters and the setting of Middlemarch better.

For example, Middlemarch is not only the title but also the setting of the novel. The small community is fashioned after the town of Coventry in Warwickshire, in the Midlands of England. George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans who was raised in the Midlands. Eliot/Evans spoke/wrote about the importance of the place where one was raised. It is a place which holds a special place in memory because it was during those bright formative years when the memory was made. Apparently her later novel, The Mill on the Floss, exemplified this importance of place to Eliot even more than this novel.

As Mead looked at the life of George Eliot she kept returning to Middlemarch to show how it speaks to many stages of one's life. "Middlemarch itself might be seen as capturing the poetry of girlhood, the poetry of love and marriage, the poetry of maternity, or motherhood, and the poetry of duty" (265). Through the lens of her book, Mead found herself more open to the complex connections between people.

In the end I found myself willing to upgrade my rating of Middlemarch to 4-stars. And I rated My Life in Middlemarch with 5-stars. Afterall it was the nonfiction work by Mead that opened up the fictional world of Middlemarch for me.

The Nonfiction November, Week 3 prompt deals with the topic of pairing fiction and nonfiction. I hope I have done justice to importance of this pairing of the nonfiction with the novel to enhance understanding and enjoyment.


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