The Lifted Veil

by George Eliot

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724

Latimer is the first-person narrator of ‘‘The Lifted Veil,’’ as well as the main character. The story begins, as he informs the reader, exactly one month before his death. ‘‘Before that time comes,’’ he explains, ‘‘I wish to use my last hours of ease and strength in telling the strange story of my experience.’’ The story thus comes as the confession of a dying man who entrusts his lifelong secrets to the reader’s sympathy. ‘‘I have never fully unbosomed myself to any human being,’’ he says.

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Through a flashback structure, Latimer tells his ‘‘strange story,’’ beginning with childhood, when he first discovered that he had what he refers to as ‘‘superadded consciousness.’’ A sickly, unscholarly and dreamy child, Latimer is dominated by his father’s wish to expose him to all of the subjects he hates most: math, science, etc. At the age of 19, recovering from a long illness, Latimer finds that he is capable of envisioning an event before it actually occurs. He first experiences this ‘‘clairvoyance’’ moments before meeting his older brother, Alfred’s soon-to-be fiancee, Bertha Grant. When, moments after his vision, the exact same scene is played out in reality, Latimer is so struck with the sight of Bertha that he faints.

As Alfred’s impending marriage to Bertha grows more and more certain, Latimer becomes utterly romantically fixated on her. Bertha, for her part, seems to enjoy teasing and flirting with Latimer, while maintaining a cool distance from him. One day, Latimer has a vision many years into his own future, during which Bertha, now his wife, suggests, with hatred in her voice, that he commit suicide. Yet, despite this presentiment of a horribly doomed marriage, Latimer is not swayed from his desire for Bertha. When Albert fall off a horse and dies, Latimer is left to marry Bertha himself.

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As Latimer had foreseen, he and Bertha, once married, develop a deep hatred of one another. Once Bertha’s mystery has been dispelled, and Latimer sees that she is shallow, selfish and hateful, he completely looses interest in her. Bertha, for her part, no longer the object of Latimer’s devotion, seeks the company of other men, spending most of her time socializing outside their home. Latimer, now completely alienated from all human society, spends these years alone in his house. Once Bertha’s mystery is dispelled, Latimer’s life no longer has meaning, and he spends his time anticipating with dread the encounter he had foreseen before their marriage, in which she suggests that he go ahead and kill himself. Yet, when this scene finally occurs, years later, Latimer finds that it is thoroughly anti-climactic, and not a turning point or crisis in his life at all, but merely one more in a lifetime of cruel and horrible encounters with his wife.

When Bertha hires a new maid, Mrs. Archer, to the household, Latimer senses that he is beginning to loose his power to perceive the thoughts of other people. Furthermore, Bertha and the new maid seem to be conspiring together over some secret endeavor. Eventually, however, Latimer perceives that Bertha and the maid have begun to hate one another. Yet, when the maid, an older woman, grows sick, Bertha maintains a solicitous vigilance over her sick bed.

One night, Charles Meunier, an old grade school friend of Latimer, whom he hasn’t seen in years, pays a visit to the household. As it becomes evident that the maid is just hours from death, Meunier, a world renowned medical doctor, asks Latimer if he may try an experiment on the corpse, as soon as the old woman is dead. When the time comes, Meunier conducts a transfusion of his own blood to that of the newly dead Mrs. Archer. The corpse then comes to life, opens its eyes, points an accusatory finger at Bertha, and confesses that she had been hired by Bertha to poison Latimer. The corpse then falls back to its permanent death.

This revelation having been made, Latimer and Bertha go their separate ways, she to remain in England, and he to travel throughout Europe. During these years, Latimer, increasingly ill, is made to suffer with the foreknowledge of the circumstances of his own death. Upon completing the final pages of his story, Latimer gives himself over to ‘‘the scene of my dying struggle.’’

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