The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot

Rebecca Mead

The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot
Text Publishing Co
29 January 2014

The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot

Rebecca Mead

What would happen if I stopped to consider how Middlemarch has shaped my understanding of my own life? Why did the novel still feel so urgent, after all these years? And what could it give me now, as I paused here in the middle of things, and surveyed where I had come from, and thought about where I was, and wondered where I might go next?

At the age of 17, Rebecca Mead read Middlemarch for the first time, and has read it again every five years since, interpreting and discovering it anew each time. In The Road to Middlemarch she writes passionately about her relationship with this remarkable Victorian novel-loved by so many-and explores how its characters and their stories, along with George Eliot’s own life experiences, can answer some of our fundamental questions about life and love.

Written when Eliot was 51, Middlemarch has at its centre one of literature’s most compelling and ill-fated marriages, and some of the most tenderly drawn characters-their most intimate struggles, their ambitions, dreams, and attachments. Mead interweaves her own reflections on adolescence, relationships and marriage to explore how Middlemarch teaches us to be grown-ups, and to value the limitations of our ordinary lives. The Road to Middlemarch is not only a sensitive work of deep reading and biography, but a guide to living well today.


I’ve read Middlemarch twice, once as a teenager and once as an adult. Although I loved it the first time, it was the second reading that convinced me this was to be my favourite novel. Rebecca Mead reads Middlemarch every five years and each time finds more to admire. There is something truly remarkable in Eliot’s ability to create an epic story that still has such resonance today, despite the fact that the characters are confined to a provincial English town during a short period of time in the early 1830s.

The complicated genius of the author is something that Mead set out to discover along her road to Middlemarch. The subtitle is ‘My Life with George Eliot’, and certainly Mead uses reflections from her own life to explore her deeply personal relationship with the book, but this never feels like an indulgent autobiography; it’s almost as if it’s impossible to discuss the novel in any depth without conveying what it means to the reader. Nor does Mead shy away from discussing criticisms of both the book and its author; her research uncovers some letters written by Eliot that she finds difficult to read for their ‘embarrassing pretentiousness’. But it’s Mead’s close analysis of the book that I most enjoyed, from pages and pages examining a single paragraph to speculation about which acquaintances of Eliot’s might have inspired particular characters.

Although I suspect the reader will get more from Mead’s book if they have read Middlemarch at least once, it will certainly inspire others to revisit its pages. I think it’s time I got started on my third reading.

Kara Nicholson

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