The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

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Introduction

(Short Stories for Students)

George Eliot’s novella ‘‘The Lifted Veil’’ was first published in 1859. Eliot had written ‘‘The Lifted Veil’’ between the publication of her first novel Adam Bede, and that of her second novel, The Mill on the Floss. Eliot’s publisher was hesitant to publish the story, because it was nothing like Adam Bede, for which she had gained critical acclaim. He was concerned that this tale of horror would be bad for her literary reputation, but reluctantly published it in a literary journal, albeit anonymously.

‘‘The Lifted Veil’’ concerns themes of fate, extrasensory perception, the mystery of life and life after death. Eliot’s interest in these themes stemmed partly from her own struggles with religious faith, as she was an extremely devout Christian as a child and young adult who later renounced Christianity completely. She also felt that she herself, like Latimer, the main character in ‘‘The Lifted Veil,’’ had extrasensory powers of perception, which she referred to as ‘‘double consciousness.’’

While Eliot came to be considered one of the greatest novelists of the 19th Century during her lifetime, ‘‘The Lifted Veil’’ is one of her lesser-known stories, probably because it is so different from the realist novels for which she is so well known. Yet, while is does not seem to match the rest of her ouevre, ‘‘The Lifted Veil’’ does fit squarely into the Victorian tradition of Gothic horror stories, which began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and included Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1895). Such works of fiction were precursors of modern horror movies, such as Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, and Nightmare on Elm Street, as well as modern horror fiction, such as the novels of Stephen King.

Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

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.

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.

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...

(The entire section is 1,021 words.)