Rebecca Mead Discusses Middlemarch and My Life in Middlemarch

Friday, March 28, 2014

Many of our book club authors have listed Middlemarch as among of their favorite and most influential novels, so for our March selection, the Lopate Show Book club is reading George Eliot’s masterpiece, which is often called the greatest English novel. It deals with the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, morality, and human aspiration and failure. Rebecca Mead joins us to talk about what makes the classic novel so great, and to discuss her book, My Life in Middlemarch. Mixing biography, reporting, and memoir, Mead explores Middlemarch’s important place in her own life, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written.


Watch this video of Rebecca Mead talking about other favorite books and authors and about what its like to be a staff writer for The New Yorker.


Rebecca Mead

Comments [13]

Estelle from Brooklyn

Michael from NYC:

Go read Middlemarch. That should change your perspective.

Mar. 28 2014 01:00 PM
Will Coley from Sunnyside, Queens

When I read Middlemarch in college, this sentence stuck out to me and I memorized it: "It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold." I can still recite it by heart.

Mar. 28 2014 12:51 PM
Estelle from Brooklyn

I heard that Austen never wrote a scene without women present. Eliot often did.

Mar. 28 2014 12:50 PM

Christopher Hitchens said there is more morality in George Eliot's work than "in all four Gospels" - that said, please describe Eliot's own leaving religion behind (and yet her investigation of Judaism in Daniel Deronda).

Mar. 28 2014 12:43 PM
Robin Hardman from Ridgewood, Queens

I read Middlemarch in college and have read it at least twice since. It is always top on my list when people ask for favorite books, and there are scenes forever engraved in my otherwise-forgetful middle-aged brain. No time to go into detail now, but I've always thought it somehow captured the meaning of life. I know that's grandiose, but there it is.

Mar. 28 2014 12:41 PM
michael from NYC



Mar. 28 2014 12:37 PM
Monica from Chappaqua, NY

Hello Rebecca:

Thank you, thank you, I have read Middlemarch twice and each time the take away is a greater helping for me in my life's journey.
Do you think that had Elliot written this book under her real name that it would have had the critical acclaim that it has received?

I also thank you for your book and the careful research and in-depth analysis of and of Elliot's life. Another comment-relative to "Elliott not having children" to me her books and Lewis' children were her children. Here she transferred her caring and maternal instincts.

I love Middlemarch and My Life n Middlemarch, thank you, you have sent me onto my third reading of Middlemarch, and I look forward to your next book.

Thank you.

Mar. 28 2014 10:02 AM

Anne - loved your comment

Leonard - I hope you ask her about the influence of Jane Austen. I loved how the book acknowledged that it was there (and you can see it), but how Middlemarch turns the whole marriage and happily ever after plotline completely on its head.

Mar. 25 2014 01:04 PM
Anne Mendelson from North Bergen, NJ

Dear Rebecca Mead,

Not knowing what to expect from your book, and having in my time encountered an awful lot of Silly Lady Novel-Readers proffering "George Eliot, Girl Novelist" and "Dorothea Brooke, Girl Heroine" raptures meant as critical assessments, I was deeply grateful for your clear-headed approach. Like you, I've often weighed my own "home epic" experiences or intellectual muddles against those posed in "Middlemarch," and against situations that George Eliot must have wrestled with in her own life. How easy it would be to throw together a lot of self-indulgent gup about yourself and Miss Evans/Mrs.Lewes/Mrs. Cross/George Eliot -- and how steadfastly you've avoided that course. Many thanks.

There is one thing that I wish you'd made more of in "Middlemarch," and its author's life: religious experience. Nothing is more extraordinary about Marian Evans/George Eliot than the intellectual courage with which she renounced the foundations of Judeo-Christian belief after having been rigorously argued out of them. But to dismiss her early convictions as immature, unattractive priggishness strikes me as a great mistake. George Eliot could never have thought her way into characters like Dinah Morris (in "Adam Bede") or Mordechai ("Daniel Deronda") if the Bible-reading experiences of her semi-Methodist young self hadn't taken true, deep root in her imagination. To me, "Middlemarch" is a deeply and honorably secular book that still retains a keen imaginative sense of the search for transcendence -- a quest still clothed in remnants of her earlier search for salvation. Maybe that's why her portrayal of Nicholas Bulstrode is so painfully telling.

Anne Mendelson

Mar. 24 2014 07:58 PM
Marshall from Carlstadt, NJ

I read your book cover to cover over the weekend, and as a male reader I especially liked what you said at the top of page 171: "Who is to say that a middle-aged man, given the free space for imaginative sympathy that a great work of literature provides, might not identify with a naive young woman within its pages?" I have read "Middlemarch" twice--first as a student in college and again after a 25-year interval--and both times I have found it to be poignant and personally illuminating.

Mar. 17 2014 08:34 AM

Without "Middlemarch," there would be no Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, or William Faulkner.

Mar. 14 2014 05:57 PM
Steve Sears from Bloomfield, New Jersey

Kressel --

I am 160 pages in and loving it!

A question for Rebecca --

How are you? Wonderful book. How long did it take to write the book, from conception to final draft, and what was most fun, harkening back to Eliot's days and retracing her steps (and in some spots, yours), or detailing to the reader Eliot's own "Middlemarch" novel? What was most invigorating?

Thank you,

Steve Sears

Mar. 13 2014 09:40 PM
Kressel from Monsey, NY

So, has anyone else started yet? It's actually a page-turner. Some of the narrative can get slow, but the dialogue keeps it moving.

Mar. 06 2014 09:31 AM

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