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‘My Life in Middlemarch’: Can life imitate fiction?

Brooklyn author Rebecca Mead. Photo by Elisabeth C. Prochnik

 

Brooklyn BookBeat: Brooklyn Author To Read in Fort Greene, Park Slope

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“I loved 'Middlemarch', and I loved being the kind of person who loved it,” writes Brooklynite Rebecca Mead in her new book, “My Life in Middlemarch,” published last week by Crown. In this insightful work — part memoir, part biography, part literary criticism — Mead, a staff writer for The New Yorker, revisits the great English novel that figured so prominently in her personal growth to reveal how fiction can help us understand our personal realities. 

In a recent New York Times book review, Joyce Carol Oates refers to “My Life in Middlemarch” as a “bibliomemoir — a subspecies of literature combining criticism and biography with the intimate, confessional tone of autobiography.” Oates describes Mead's work as a "beguilingly straightforward, resolutely orthodox and unshowy account of the writer’s lifelong admiration for George Eliot and for ‘Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life’ in particular.”  

Mead’s text is unpretentious and enthralling: she is analytical yet intimate as she guides her readers through her discovery and understanding of “Middlemarch” — a journey that began when Mead was an antsy 17-year-old living in a small English coastal town. Itching for adventure, Mead identified with Eliot’s protagonist, Dorothea Brooke, who yearns for more meaning in her life. 

In establishing a connection with Eliot’s text and characters, Mead began not only to appreciate “Middlemarch” as a novel, but also to admire it as a way of life. Her friends had similar responses to the books that inspired them; Mead writes, “Books gave us a way to shape ourselves — to form our thoughts and to signal to each other who we were and who we wanted to be. They were a part of our self-fashioning, no less than our clothes. In my case, these were draping layers of black, antiquated lace and silk acquired at thrift shops […I] ringed my eyes with thick black eyeliner […] I inwardly hoped that my dress threw my intelligence into relief.” 

Mead’s relationship with “Middlemarch” continued to develop beyond her teenage years. She returned to the text numerous times after gaining admission to Oxford and eventually pursuing a career in journalism in the U.S. During several romantic relationships and even when she married and started her own family, Mead sustained an affinity for “Middlemarch,” learning something new with each reading and continuing to draw parallels between the novel and its author and her own life. 

Decades after her journey through "Middlemarch" had first begun, Mead — then in her forties — resolved to focus her writing on a subject that had fundamentally shaped her life. Once again, she revisited Eliot’s novel, while simultaneously researching the author herself, to create the uniquely hybrid text that became “My Life in Middlemarch.” While Mead’s book is no doubt an in-depth exploration of one particular novel, it resonates with anyone who can share in the delight of having a favorite and life-changing experience with a book.

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Mead will celebrate the launch of “My Life in Middlemarch” on Feb. 5 in Fort Greene, appearing at Greenlight Bookstore in conversation with fellow Brooklyn author Adelle Waldman, whose recent novel “The Love Affairs of Nathanial P.” has garnered critical acclaim. Mead will then appear in Park Slope on Feb. 13, reading from her book at Community Bookstore alongside writers Kathryn Schulz and Kate Zambreno.

* * *

The Feb. 5 event will begin at 7:30 p.m. Greenlight Bookstore is located at 686 Fulton St. in Fort Greene.

The Feb. 13 event will begin at 7 p.m. Community Bookstore is located at 143 7th Ave. in Park Slope.

February 4, 2014 - 9:00am


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