Rebecca Mead is an English-born, Brooklyn-based, New Yorker staff writer. I met her recently when she visited Toppings bookshop in Bath to talk about her new book The Road to Middlemarch. Rebecca’s book explores her fascination with George Eliot’s great novel, which started when she first encountered it at the age of seventeen, and has accompanied her through her life, growing, changing, developing, revealing new aspects, as Rebecca’s own life and experience have changed.
‘Reading [Middlemarch]’, she writes, ‘does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself. There are books that seem to comprehend us as much as we understand them, or even more. […] This kind of book becomes part of our own experience, and part of our own endurance. It might lead us back to the library in mid life, looking for something that eluded us before.’
Rather than a work of literary criticism, the book is a blend of biography, memoir, travel, and reflection that defies easy classification. Here’s a very short extract to give a flavour of the book and its pleasures:
My favourite image of Eliot and [her partner George] Lewes is provided by a neighbour who used to see them out walking Pug, and reported, Mrs Cadwallader-like: “They were both very unattractive people to look upon, and they used to wander about the neighbourhood, the biggest pair of frights that ever was, followed by a shaggy little dog who could do tricks.” The censorious glimpse from behind the net curtains is a peculiarly English phenomenon, and I derive delicious pleasure from the two Georges’ carelessness about the judgement delivered by smaller minds and smaller hearts than their own.