Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead

I first read Middlemarch in 2011, and by the last page, I greatly regretted not having read it earlier. But it's never too late for great literature, and Mead's book is another reminder that with each review, a book can grow and change -- just as a person does: 

Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading 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 just as much as we understand them, or even more. There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.

I've worked through most of Eliot's catalog since getting hooked on Middlemarch, but it's inevitable that I'll pick many of them up again: it is her studies in little disappointments, and the way we harness or move through them, that have been one my greatest motivators in the past few years. As Mead underscores, there is much value in even seemingly insignificant moments and motions: 

This notion -- that we each have our own center of gravity, but must come to discover that others weigh the world differently than we do -- is one that is constantly repeated in the book. The necessity of growing out of such self-centredness is the theme of Middlemarch. ...[Eliot's] aspiration was not for literary immortality -- though she got that -- but for a kind of encompassing empathy that would make the punishing experience of egoism shrink and dwindle. She believed that growth depends upon complex connections and openness to others, and does not derive from a solitary swelling of the self. She became great because she recognized that she was small.