Review: The Lifted Veil

Most of you have probably read something by George Eliot or are familiar with her works. Which ones come to your mind first? Is it The Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch, or Adam Bede or Silas Marner? But George Eliot also wrote The Lifted Veil, a novella that was for some time regarded as the black sheep of her works, as it deals with the pseudosciences. At first it wasn’t published at all, and then only buried between other shorter works of Eliot. It was only in 1924 that The Lifted Veil was published on its own. Embarrassingly enough I haven’t read any Eliot (except for excerpts in lit classes) and so when I found this one on bookmooch, I thought a novella published by Virago couldn’t be the worst place to start reading Eliot. And it wasn’t, although it’s an admittedly odd place to start.

The Lifted Veil tells the story of Latimer, a young man with a poet’s sensitive soul but not the necessary talent. After an illness, Latimer starts having visions and in one of them he sees a young pale woman with fatal eyes. Soon after, he meets her for real in the exact circumstances predicted in his vision. The woman turns out to be his brother’s fiancée, Bertha, and Latimer developes an unhealthy fascination with her.

This novella is written in the tradition of the gothic story. Latimer has visions of the future, accurate ones, and he also develops the ability of reading people’s minds. He has easy access to the feelings and thoughts of the people around him, but Bertha inner-life remains a mystery. Latimer’s obsession with Bertha mainly stems from this inability to read Bertha’s mind and he imagines a warm and good person under her coldness and distance. Latimer is prone to romanticizing life and resents the scientific education that was forced on him. He prefers to enjoy nature without knowing the mechanics behind the flow of water etc. In Bertha, he is confronted with a mystery and he both fears and desires her. Latimer’s fascination with Bertha reminded me of the hypnotizing gaze of a snake, and her fatal and cold eyes are emphasized on numerous occasions. Bertha’s veiled thoughts are too tempting for Latimer even though he experiences more visions of her that warn him. And then the veil is lifted . . . !

This is a very gloomy but atmospheric gothic story. I was exasperated with Latimer but Bertha and the clairvoyance were fascinating. I won’t go into all the symbolism of danger and female sexuality here as it would be too spoiler-y (but would love to discuss with those who’ve read The Lifted Veil!). If you have an hour to spare, do give Eliot’s gothic story a try, it’s about 65 pages and available online.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

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21 thoughts on “Review: The Lifted Veil

    1. Oh yay, I thought I was the last person on the planet to read Eliot 😉 It’s short and suspenseful, so a really good place to start!

  1. I haven’t read any George Eliot yet (except for an excerpt from The Mill on the Floss in English Lit class) but I have a copy of The Lifted Veil (in italian) waiting on my shelf…I got it for free from a friend of my aunt last year. 🙂

  2. The story sounds very interesting and quite unlike the other books by George Eliot, as it deals with pseudosciences and has Gothic elements in it. I have read “Silas Marner” by Eliot, which is a book that, if I remember correctly, belongs to the Age of Realism (it certainly has the gloominess of realistic literature) and actually speaks strongly against superstition. So it would be interesting to read this piece of work by Eliot as a contrast.

    1. Apparently she had a lifelong interest in the psudosciences but I’ll have to read Silas Marner, you’ve made me curious 🙂 And yup, her novels all belong to realism. Let me know what you make of this novella 🙂

      1. Yes, I am going to print the novella out (I am really old-fashioned, I do not like reading books or novellas on the screen) and then read it.:-)
        “Silas Marner” was, for me, one of the books that needs to be read without too many breaks inbetween (like the Russians we talked about). I am curious about your opinion!:-)

  3. Thanks for the wonderful review, Bina! I can’t wait to read ‘The Lifted Veil’! The description of the eyes of the woman in the vision reminded me of a National Geographic photograph of a girl from Afghanistan (who had bewitching eyes) who was later tracked down by the reporter after many years (I am sure you would have read about this – if you are interested, you can find the article here – http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text)

    1. Glad you liked it, Vishy. The eyes are reminiscent of Lucrezia of borgia, I think a painting inspired Eliot to write Bertha 🙂

      I know the photo you refer to, what eyes! They are really haunted but that gaze is so creepy (adorn you ´r walls with famous National Geographic posters- no way! 😉 ).

  4. I read this a few years ago and it’s definitely an odd ‘Eliot’. It really frustrated me. I’m not sure if it was Latimer, who I kept wanting to punch in the face (and I’m not violent!) but I love how Bertha (the name gets such a poor reputation) oozes power. My first Eliot was Silas Marner and I found it so-so but that was a long time so perhaps its time for another go. I did love Mill on the Floss though.

    1. I wanted to punch Latimer, too! 🙂 (though I’m a very impatient person)

      Haha, well Bertha, the name, somehow reminds me of chickens. Is there a story about one with that name? It’s actually a nice name but sounds much too harmless for the woman in Eliot’s story.

      Will have to try Mill on the Floss!

      1. Haha, chickens! I don’t know if there is story about a chicken name Bertha but the madwoman in Jane Eyre is also named Bertha. 🙂

  5. Hmmm…. Bertha seems to be described as a fatalistic lure within Latimer’s prophetic dreams and eventual meeting. Destined to be his downfall perhaps… Will look for this one at the library next.

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