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.
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