Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Lifted Veil (#RIPXIV)

"For I foresee when I shall die, and everything that will happen in my last moments."

Latimer, the narrator of George Eliot's The Lifted Veil, is, to borrow sci-fi terminology, a precog: he sees (some) events of the future in complete detail. His first vision he treats with scepticism; it is of him standing on the Charles Bridge in Prague at a future date and he considers it at first just a daydream. But then it happens exactly as he foresaw it and he comes to trust that these visions are his real future. Like all accurate visions of the future it turns out to be a double-edged sword.

Latimer is dreamy and poetic, though not, he says, a poet: "You will think, perhaps, I must have been a poet, from this early susceptibility to nature. But my lot was not so happy as that." Indeed, he doesn't seem to do much in his life, but he has an income, he doesn't need to. When we first see him, he's a young man of twenty or so; he has an older half-brother Alfred who's engaged to Bertha Grant. Bertha is beautiful and blonde, witty in company, but perhaps just a bit empty. At least, Latimer is unable to see into her. (As he claims he can with others.) He falls in love with her anyway, or maybe because of his inability she seems mysterious; in any case he never believes Bertha is in love with his brother. They marry, after Alfred dies in a hunting accident.
"[This inability to see into her] only brought me more completely under her power: no matter how empty the adytum, so that the veil be thick enough." 
The lifting of the veil--the revelation of that hidden chamber at the back of the temple--is the climax of the story.

It's an odd piece and unlike most of the rest of George Eliot. It dates from 1859, the same year as her first novel Adam Bede, and appeared in Blackwood's. I wondered to what extent Latimer's uncertainty as to his future, his indecision about his artistic calling, represented George Eliot herself. 

Also I believe it's the only work of George Eliot narrated in the first person, and the aura is that of a Gothic novel, unlike the rest of her fiction. (Especially the spooky ending, which I won't reveal.)  

But it does have at least one element in common with other works by George Eliot. Rosamond Vincy has nothing on Bertha Grant. The wisdom of George Eliot? Boys, don't marry that blonde!


  1. my word! i thought i'd read most of Eliot but i've certainly never heard of this one... sci fi by GE: who would have imagined! reality takes some strange turns...

    1. This one doesn't seem to have been included in anything during Eliot's lifetime as far as I can tell, just once in the magazine. It takes up about 40 pages in my collected Eliot, stuck in with Scenes of Clerical Life and Silas Marner. The volume has another story called Brother Jacob, which I haven't read yet and seems to be even more obscure.

  2. Sounds like a fun read. I've only read Middlemarch and (apart from the beware of blondes message LOL) this seems to be a million miles apart! Who knew?

    1. It's very different from Middlemarch, or really from anything else of Eliot's I've read. Weird and maybe not a masterpiece but still kind of fun.