I haven’t read Eliot for a long time, and I wonder whether a re-read would send her up or down the list. I was a big fan in my teens and twenties, and was greatly influenced by her social and political ideas, particularly in Middlemarch. I have a horrible fear that the older me would roll my eyes and go ‘Bitch, please’ every other page, but let’s hope not. The Mill on the Floss is the one I’d turn to first, because it’s much the best constructed and tightest of all Eliot’s books, and has the most appealing heroine in the shape of Maggie Tulliver. Maggie’s intellectual and emotional struggles drive the plot, and despite her wackier moments (eg a peculiar devotion to Thomas à Kempis) she’s got a lust for life that some of Eliot’s stuffier heroines lack. The book’s also very funny, particularly when aunt Jane Glegg is on the scene. The ending is a bit daft, perhaps, but it does allow for one of the best last lines of all time. Odd to reflect on the fact that Mary Ann Evans, among others, had to pose as a man to break into the world of fiction. How times have changed.