“The Lifted Veil” George Eliot
(Pseudonym of Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans) English novelist, short story writer, essayist, poet, editor, and translator.
The following entry presents criticism of Eliot's short story “The Lifted Veil” (1859) from 1910 through 2003.
Regarded as a Gothic tale combined with elements of science fiction, “The Lifted Veil” chronicles the story of a doomed man endowed with extrasensory perception. Although he has foreseen his own murder, he is unable to change his fate. Initially rejected by Eliot's publisher, John Blackwood, “The Lifted Veil” was eventually published in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in 1859. Blackwood considered the story to be inferior to Eliot's novel Adam Bede, which was published five months earlier, and for that reason he convinced Eliot to publish the story anonymously. Overlooked at the time of its publication, in recent years “The Lifted Veil” has garnered increasing critical attention.
Plot and Major Characters
Told from a first-person perspective, “The Lifted Veil” begins as the narrator, Latimer, anticipates his death one month away, which he has seen in a vision. He reflects on his miserable childhood: his father's rejection, his brother Alfred's scorn, his pervasive loneliness, and his own unsuccessful creative attempts. Sent to Geneva to finish his education, Latimer forms a friendship with another outcast, a gifted boy named Meunier. When Latimer falls seriously ill, his father comes to take him home; it is at this point he has his first psychic experience—he has a vivid and accurate vision of the city of Prague, which he has never visited. From this point, he is afflicted with involuntary telepathic powers—able to hear the petty, cruel, and disturbing thoughts of the people around him—which leaves him afraid and increasingly isolated from human contact. The only person's mind that is impenetrable to him is that of Bertha, Alfred's beautiful fiancée. He is fascinated by her and jealous of his brother. When Alfred dies in a riding accident, Latimer inherits his money and property and marries Bertha. After several months of marriage, Latimer is finally able to read Bertha's mind, and he is shocked to learn that she hates him and wishes for his death. As a result, his telepathic power fades. His misery is alleviated for a brief time by a visit from his successful friend, Meunier. During the visit, Bertha's maid, Mrs. Archer, dies and is momentarily revived by Meunier—just long enough for her to confess Bertha's plans to poison Latimer. With this disclosure, his telepathic powers return and he separates from Bertha. As the story ends, he awaits his death on September 20, 1850.
Critics have often discussed autobiographical aspects of “The Lifted Veil,” viewing the story as a reflection of Eliot's own fears, alienation, doubts, and feelings of guilt. They note several similarities between Eliot and the protagonist of her story, Latimer; for instance, like her character, Eliot was estranged from her father, as well as her sister and brother. Moreover, commentators assert that Eliot's chief preoccupations show up in “The Lifted Veil,” particularly her interest in science, psychology, double consciousness, and extrasensory powers of perception. Others find a connection between Bertha's inscrutability and Eliot's use of anonymity and pseudonym, which she was considering ending around that time. Feminist critics perceive Latimer's extrasensory gifts and isolation as an extension of the woman's traditional role in the home, in which women often exhibit a honed intuitive sense and feel oppressed and trapped. In another feminist perspective, the malevolent character of Bertha has been interpreted as a symbol of female sexuality; because she considers her union with Latimer as soul-deadening, loveless, and without passion, Bertha's plot to murder Latimer has been regarded as an attempt to reclaim her vitality and sexuality. The story is also viewed as a symbolic expression of Eliot's struggle with the dynamics of the creative process. Some critics have approached the story from a scientific perspective, placing it in context with the medical, psychological, and scientific theories of Eliot's time, especially in relation to the Victorian views on knowledge. In fact, the limitations and danger of scientific knowledge is regarded as a major thematic concern in “The Lifted Veil.”
”The Lifted Veil” was initially rejected by Eliot's publisher, John Blackwood, because of its gloomy subject matter and the revivifying scene near the end of the story. He considered the tale to be an aberration in Eliot's literary oeuvre and convinced her to publish the story anonymously. Subsequent critics received the story with little enthusiasm and it was largely disregarded in critical surveys of Eliot's fiction. In fact, it was omitted from the Chronology of George Eliot's Life and Works in the prestigious British Library centenary exhibition in the early 1980s. Yet around that time, critics began to rediscover “The Lifted Veil.” Commentators began to discuss the story as an essential part of Eliot's development as a philosophical novelist and evaluate the place of “The Lifted Veil” in her literary oeuvre. Critics have investigated the influence of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the tale and have assessed the story within the tradition of Gothic women's fiction. Today “The Lifted Veil” is recognized as a notable story that provides insight into Eliot's life and thematic concerns.