My Life in Middlemarch, the Return -The Toast

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url-12I gave you a brief break from our ongoing journey in pursuit of My Life in Middlemarch. That break is now over. Get back to My Life in Middlemarch, slatterns. No! We’ll go into it easily, I’d love to just talk about the first three chapters. Let’s!

Now, last time, we talked about gawky, bookish adolescences. (Which may not have been all of you, incidentally! Perhaps some of you were poised and stylish and enjoyed drinking malteds with a bevy of would-be lovers and hangers-on.)

I’m excited, though, to get into one of my very favourite parts of My Life in Middlemarch, which is the story of George Eliot herself. Her life is utterly and completely fascinating, and I hope you felt the same way.

The biographical portion of the book begins, for all intents and purposes, with the 22 y/o Eliot making one of the defining choices of her life, and I love how Mead handles it stylistically, first talking about the church interior at Coventry where Eliot and her widowed father had moved in 1841, and a particularly grim 15th century nave painting that set the tone for churchgoers:

The image of the ultimate judgment being delivered upon those ordinary, anonymous people would have confronted Eliot every Sunday, when she entered the church on her father’s arm.

Until that Sunday when she didn’t. On the second day of January in 1842, not even a year after moving to Coventry, Mary Ann Evans declined to accompany her father to church. Two weeks later she again did not attend the service. “Went to church in the forenoon Mary Ann did not go to church,” Robert Evans wrote in his diary.”

I love the quiet cataclysm there! And what’s wonderful, too, in these passages, is how Mead returns to her idea that Middlemarch is, in some ways, a book about young people for older people, in her decision to move swiftly to Eliot’s own reflections on this time in her life, even though Mead finds them overly self-critical:

In 1869, the year she started writing the story that would end up being Book Two of Middlemarch, Eliot described her conflict with her father to Emily Davies, the founder of Girton College, the first women’s college at Cambridge. She said that she regretted how she had conducted herself during those months, when tensions were so great between herself and her father that instead of speaking directly to him she was reduced to writing from her study upstairs to his office downstairs. Davies recalled that Eliot “dwelt a little on how much fault there is on the side of the young in such cases, of their ignorance of life, & the narrowness of their intellectual superiority.”

Oh, God, nothing ever changes. Surely none of us feel bad about THAT sort of thing, right? And we haven’t even discussed her “marriage”/partnership to Lewes yet! Please talk about George Eliot’s life with me.

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