My Life in Middlemarch is described as a memoir, a reflection of the relationship between Mead and Middlemarch throughout Mead’s life. It promises to explore the effects that a novel has on a reader over time, and how it is that one’s favorite book changes and informs oneself through experiences. It does not deliver.
Mead’s scholarship is excellent; her commentary on the significance of Eliot’s personal and professional life is well-informed and persuasive without becoming sentimental. Her writing is outstanding. However, perhaps out of too much deference to her favorite book, she refrains from adding enough personal information about herself and how it is precisely that Middlemarch informed her thinking and development to make this a compelling memoir. Aside from a few circumstantial details and comparisons, there is very little of Mead in the book. In scholarly work, this is the goal; in memoir, it is the opposite.
For this reason alone, it is disappointing. As an accessible introduction to literary criticism of Eliot’s work and times, it is a successful accomplishment. As an exploration of the intimate relationship between reader and work, there is far too little attention to the author.