Posts From Author: my life in middlemarch

Reading 2014

Being a collection of disordered thoughts on new writing from the last year or so. There were lots of books about books. I enjoyed Rebecca Mead‘s My Life in Middlemarch (Crown Publishing, 2014) and Joanna Rakoff‘s My Salinger Year (Knopf, 2014), which both fused literary criticism and autobiography into what Joyce Carol Oates called, reviewing Mead, “bibliomemoirs.” “The book was reading me, as I was reading it,” wrote Mead of Middlemarch, locating George Eliot’s greatness in her broad imaginative sympathies. Mead’s is a lovely book, mixing biographical detail about Eliot with an introspective analysis of how her work might be read and re-read on the journey through life (review here). Rakoff’s book, meanwhile, is more straightforwardly autobiographical, recounting the author’s first job in publishing, in which she became a sort of gatekeeper for J.D. Salinger. Until then, she’d not read him (“I was not interested in hyper-articulate seven-year-olds who quoted from the Bhagavad Gita”); but before long, she’s hooked. After a century of literary modernism, its central characters continue to haunt the pages of new work. Kevin Jackson‘s Constellation of Genius: 1922 – Modernism Year One (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013) is novelly conceived, taking 1922 day by day, dropping […]
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Middlemarch Revisited: Rebecca Mead on the Life of a Classic

It’s funny that Middlemarch, a place name that could scarcely sound more English, should be without lexical precedent in the maps of its homeland. As Rebecca Mead informs us in her lovely book My Life in Middlemarch (Crown Publishing, 2014), there aren’t any other towns in England suffixed “-march.” Yet its cadence is perfect (particularly to Midlands ears like my own). “It implies that the book,” says Mead, “with its subtitle, ‘A Study of Provincial Life,’ will be concerned with that which is absolutely pedestrian and ordinary. Provincialism — geographical, emotional — will be at its heart.” What’s not pedestrian is Mead’s rather wonderful book on the subject. Mixing biography and autobiography, literary criticism and social history, she arrives at something that, in the end, approaches the profundity of Middlemarch‘s own famous final lines. At the heart of Mead’s Life is a notion of existence, at its best, as an ever-enlarging sphere of sympathy. Prized above all is the capacity, acquired through time and imagination, to appreciate that while “we each have our own center of gravity,” yet “others weigh the world differently than we do […] The necessity of growing out of such self-centeredness is the theme of Middlemarch.” Often, as she retraces Eliot’s […]
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