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242 × 165 × 30 mm
280 pages
20 illustrations
12 Oct 2020

The Midlife Mind Literature and the Art of Ageing Ben Hutchinson

The meaning of life is a common concern, but what is the meaning of midlife? With the help of illustrious writers such as Dante, Montaigne, Beauvoir, Goethe and Beckett, The Midlife Mind sets out to answer this question. Erudite but engaging, it takes a personal approach to that most impersonal of processes, ageing. From the ancients to the moderns, from poets to playwrights, writers have long meditated on how we can remain creative as we move through our middle years. There are no better guides, then, to how we have regarded middle age in the past, how we understand it in the present, and how we might make it as rewarding as possible in the future.

‘Part autobiography, part confessional and part bibliotherapy . . . an animating series of conversations with a rich company of authors . . . Hutchinson has deployed his questing, querying, imaginative mind to further his own growth, and in doing so he has given us all a welcome nudge to do likewise.’ — Literary Review

‘Hutchinson has reached middle age (forty-three) and uses his own experience of aging and what some famous writers have said about midlife to explore its meaning. He first sets the cultural context (it turns out that the 'midlife crisis,' like Philip Larkin’s 'sexual intercourse,' began as a concept in the 1960s), drawing on philosophers ancient and modern but especially on Michel de Montaigne, who withdrew from political and social life at the ripe old age of thirty-eight to compose his famous essays. Hutchinson then skillfully invokes a wide range of creative writers, including Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, George Eliot, Henry James, TS Eliot, Samuel Beckett, and Simone de Beauvoir, for their experiences and views. It consoles him that some of the finest works of art have been produced in middle age.’ — Irish Times

‘In this elegantly essayistic book Ben Hutchinson contemplates the central stretch of our human existence. Personal as well as learned, conversational but braced, it ranges widely through European cultures (Dante to Beckett, Montaigne to Beauvoir) and reminds us that being caught in the middle, with or without a crisis, can produce opportunities as well as restriction. Its great distinction is to respond to both with wise and warm-hearted understanding.’ — Andrew Motion, Homewood Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University and author of 'Ways of Life: On Places, Painters and Poets'

‘Weaving granular readings of major literary renderings of midlife with reflections on his own, Ben Hutchinson’s The Midlife Mind is more than another book ‘about’ middle age. Mobilizing the qualities of irony and self-awareness for which it advocates, it is an elegant and absorbing performance of middle age as a preferred mode of writing and living.’ — Josh Cohen, Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London, psychoanalyst and author of 'Not Working: Why We Have to Stop' (2019)

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Ben Hutchinson is Professor of European Literature at the University of Kent. His many books include Comparative Literature: A Very Short Introduction (2018).

Prologue: The Incremental Inch

1 Crisis and Grief: The Invention of Midlife
2 The Piggy in the Middle: The Philosophy of Midlife
3 Halfway up the Hill: How to Begin in the Middle
4 A Room at the Back of the Shop: Midlife Modesty
5 Getting On: The Tragicomedy of Middle Age
6 Perpetual Incipience: The Midlife Gap Year
7 Realism and Reality: The ‘Middle Years’
8 ‘The Years that Walk Between’: Midlife Conversion
9 Lessons in Lessness: Midlife Minimalism
10 From the Prime of Life to Old Age: How to Survive the Menopause
11 Streams of Consciousness: Middle Age in a New Millennium

Epilogue: The End of the Middle
Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements