The Lifted Veil
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The Lifted Veil is a novella by George Eliot, first published in 1859. Quite unlike the realistic fiction for which Eliot is best known, The Lifted Veil explores themes of extrasensory perception, the essence of physical life, possible life after death, and the power of fate. The novella is a significant part of the Victorian tradition of horror fiction, which includes such other examples as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).
The unreliable narrator, Latimer, believes that he is cursed with an otherworldly ability to see into the future and the thoughts of other people. His unwanted "gift" seems to stem from a severe childhood illness he suffered while attending school in Geneva. Latimer is convinced of the existence of this power, and his two initial predictions do come true the way he has envisioned them: a peculiar "patch of rainbow light on the pavement" and a few words of dialogue appear to him exactly as expected. Latimer is revolted by much of what he discerns about others' motivations.
Latimer becomes fascinated with Bertha, his brother's cold and coquettish fiancée, because her mind and motives remain atypically closed to him. After his brother's death, Latimer marries Bertha, but the marriage disintegrates as he recognizes Bertha's manipulative and untrustworthy nature. Latimer's friend, scientist Charles Meunier, performs a blood transfusion from himself to Bertha's recently deceased maid. For a few moments the maid comes back to life and accuses Bertha of a plot to poison Latimer. Bertha flees and Latimer soon dies as he had himself foretold at the start of the narrative.
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Latimer might seem completely unlike most of George Eliot's other characters due to his supposed "psychic" abilities. Regardless, he reflects Eliot's continual interest in the frequent failure of human sympathy and communication. His repulsion at the self-interested natures of other people may appear overdone and somewhat naive, and he has impressed some critics as one of Eliot's least likeable creations. Bertha is similar to some other Eliot creations, such as Rosamund Vincy in Middlemarch—both are beautiful, narcissistic women who hold a fascination for certain men, to the great regret of these men later.
The story demonstrates Eliot's interest in contemporary science and pseudoscience, including physiology, phrenology, mesmerism and clairvoyance. While today's readers might smile at the idea of a simple blood transfusion bringing the dead back to life, Eliot manages this scene with impressive style and force. She handles Latimer's vision sequences with a similar drive and attention to detail.
Literary significance and criticism
This odd[opinion] tale (by Eliot's normal standards) has fascinated some critics[weasel words] exactly because it departs so far from her usual hyper-realistic technique.[original research?] Latimer's first-person narrative, a lone example in the Eliot canon, allows the novelist to play with causality and chronology in the story, with the narrative ending where it freakishly[opinion] begins.
As Eliot's only venture into what would nowadays be called science fiction, the story might look rusty[opinion] and even laughable[opinion] in some of its supposedly scientific details. But the sharply drawn portrait of Latimer, gifted and cursed and at last hunted down by inescapable fate, gives the tale enduring appeal.
Adaptations in other media
In 1948 the story was adapted for an episode of the syndicated radio program The Weird Circle.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Text of The Lifted Veil (Oxford University Press edition, 1921) at Project Gutenberg
- Summary and criticism of The Lifted Veil