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The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot by Rebecca Mead

There is something magical that occurs when the right book, an inspiring teacher, and an exact moment in one’s life all come together in perfect congruence. For me, that book was Pride and Prejudice, first read when I was sixteen in my History of Literature class, taught by a teacher who was passionate about her subject and more so about this book. I have loved Jane Austen ever since, and have fallen in love with her characters time and time again. It was a book that proved that, at my core, I am a true romantic – this at a time when I was a typical, angst-ridden, willful teenager. Perhaps it was Elizabeth Bennett’s own willfulness that caught my attention, the familiarity of her opinionated ways, while Jane Austen’s prose introduced me to a different time and place that, in spirit, I have still not left.

The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot is Rebecca Mead’s telling of the book that touched her life in the way that Austen’s classic impacted on mine. It is three stories rolled into one: Mead’s, Eliot’s, and the characters in Middlemarch. It is an interweaving that has been deftly handled, paralleling the many aspects of the lives of these real and fictitious people.

Through the course of The Road to Middlemarch, Mead expresses the ins and outs of how Middlemarch has affected her, over the years (her first reading of Middlemarch was at seventeen), and at different times in her life. Alongside her personal accounts, she also shares with her readers details of George Eliot’s life, and how Middlemarch – a novel that was never intended to be written – fit into it. Further, Mead relates elements of Middlemarch back to her own, and Eliot’s life stories. A difficult task, this is an intricate intertwining of lives that has been faultlessly and exquisitely executed.

However, the details of neither Mead’s experience, nor Eliot, nor Middlemarch are what stands out to me. Not even the excellently written narrative was the thing that had me excited about this book. No! What I loved about The Road to Middlemarch was its tale of how completely and utterly a book can impact on someone’s life, and how such an impression will remain throughout that person’s life. As Mead illustrates, our relationship with a particularly influential book will evolve alongside us, such that each time we open it, different aspects will resonate with us…different elements/words/characters/moments will catch our attention. Such is the power of literature, and such was the power of Middlemarch for Mead.

Mead writes that “novels are places in which authors explore their own subjectivity.” In The Road to Middlemarch, she explores her own subjectivity, and shares, incredibly honestly and eloquently, her own experiences with this classic of English literature. To appreciate this memoir, you need not have read Middlemarch (although you may, as I am, be inspired to do so), and you need know nothing about George Eliot. If you have ever been touched – changed – by a novel, you will appreciate this book.


TITLE: The Road to Middlemarch

AUTHOR: Rebecca Mead

PUBLISHER: Text Publishing

RRP: $40


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