Personal Middlemarches

Rebecca Mead in the New Yorker -- "In the subsequent decades, just about every love affair I had was refracted through “Middlemarch.” I spent far too much of my twenties helplessly, if resentfully, in love with a preoccupied man nearly two decades my senior—a distinguished professor who studied the classics and once told me that one of his greatest fears was to discover that he was Casaubon. It might have been like marrying Pascal, but the professor eventually decided that I was not fit to receive a proposal of the type that Casaubon, in an excruciatingly stilted letter, offers Dorothea: “I have discerned in you an elevation of thought and a capability of devotedness, which I had hitherto not conceived to be compatible either with the early bloom of youth or with those graces of sex that may be said at once to win and to confer distinction when combined, as they notably are in you, with the mental qualities above indicated."

"Some years later, I gave an otherwise well-read boyfriend a copy of “Middlemarch,” on the principle that if he wanted to understand me he needed to read this; two years later, he still had not cracked its considerable spine, which should have made our parting less painful than it was. Soon after we broke up, he—of course—got around to reading it, and told me how much he admired the climactic scene of Will and Dorothea, hitherto kept apart by the terms of Casaubon’s will and by their own discretion, clutching each other’s hands, at last, as a thunderstorm rages. I find this the book’s one overwrought note, and his admiration confirmed that things would never have worked between us. When I did eventually marry, at the age of thirty-seven—older even than Eliot when she eloped with George Henry Lewes, the exuberant, omnicompetent critic who became her beloved companion for the next quarter century, despite being married to someone else—it was to a man who prized “Middlemarch” as much as I did, and whose name, by what I hope is only happy coincidence, is George."