The Lifted Veil is George Eliot’s novella about the role of sympathy in the setting of human society. Throughout the story, the reader learns of Latimer’s ability to both hear the thoughts of others and to see into the future, his intense fascination with the mysterious but cruel Bertha, and the pain/dissatisfaction he receives from his gift. But, Eliot never specifically hints at the true nature of the “lifted veil” mentioned by the title. Here are a few of my theories (I don’t necessarily believe in all of them, they are just ideas that arose in my mind while reading the novella).
- Latimer’s gift of extrasensory perception: in the broadest sense, the lifted veil could refer to Latimer’s ability to see into the minds of other people, able to espouse the idea of sympathy that Eliot gives much weight to in Mill on the Floss. After Latimer first recognizes his amazing ability, he “sent my thoughts ranging over my world of knowledge, in the hope that they would find some object which would send a reawakening vibration through my slumbering genius” (11). In this sense, he refers to his ability as something that will “reawaken” him, or life the veil from his normally unsympathetic eyes. While the reader eventually finds out this is not true, it is still the most comprehensive notion of Eliot’s lifted veil.
- The moment when Latimer is finally able to see into Bertha’s mind: Latimer recalls this scene as “The terrible moment of complete illumination” (32). After spending most of the story completely intrigued by Bertha, on finally seeing her true nature, the veil lifts from his eyes and he sees her for who she truly is, perhaps not a completely savory person.
- Archer’s dramatic revelation after returning from the death: In perhaps the craziest scene in the novel, a blood transfusion brings both Mrs. Archer back from the dead and the revelation that Bertha had been planning on poisoning Latimer. However, Latimer, in his usual style, states that “horror was my familiar, and this new revelation was only like an old pain recurring with new circumstances” (42).