A life in Middlemarch: A Writers & Company conversation

media clip

First aired on Writers & Company (3/16/14)

George Eliot was -- and is -- one of the most praised writers of all time, and her book, Middlemarch is often considered one of the all-time greatest works in English literature. At the time of its publication, in 1871-72, George Eliot was generally "recognized as the greatest living English novelist." When American poet, Emily Dickinson was asked what she thought of Middlemarch, she responded: "What do I think of glory?" The 19th century historian, Lord Acton declared that George Eliot was greater than Dante. English novelist A.S. Byatt says that it's possible to argue that Middlemarch is the greatest English novel. Period. And Martin Amis and Julian Barnes think so too.

Middlemarch is so popular and beloved that a new book has just been written about reading (and re-reading) it. Rebecca Mead loves Middlemarch and has spent a life time returning to the novel over and over again. This experience is the focus of Mead's latest book, My Life in Middlemarch.

"[Middlemarch] has an incredible depth and maturity of vision that grows with you as you age," Mead said. "Writing about Middlemarch was a way of reckoning with what I had done already and thinking about what else I might go on to do. This book had meant so much to me and had been a companion to me throughout my life."

Mead isn't alone. In a recent episode of Writers and Company, Eleanor Wachtel wanted to better understand the power and complexity of George Eliot's classic. She invited Rebecca Mead to the studio and, alongside George Eliot's biographer Nancy Henry and American writer Francine Prose, they discuss what it means to live in Middlemarch.

Listen to the complete episode in the audio player above.