NINETEENTH-CENTURY GENDER STUDIES 

ISSUE 3.2 (SUMMER 2007)

 

Print, Image, and the Cycle of Materiality in George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil

By Joy Johnson, University of Georgia

<1>Appearing anonymously in 1859 in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, The Lifted Veil features a narrator who both dies and is writing in 1850. The midpoint of the century also marked the Great Exhibition of the positivist wonders of the Victorian age for all the world to see, a display which foregrounded the “new realm of visuality,” for which Tom Gunning identifies the photograph “as its emblem” (42). As its title indicates, this novella is intensely focused on issues of visuality and the metaphysics of perception; although its discourse is a seemingly hodgepodge mixture of science, psychology, Christian imagery, and elements of sensation fiction, such elements come together as a gothic experience of horror. The dread created by Latimer’s narrative can be located within a larger cultural matrix of new media; the titular motif not only reflects the commonplace at the time of the closeness between earth and a higher realm (Tucker 76), the story also terrorizes the reader with its replication of the disorienting experience of individual subjectivity in collision with new pseudosciences, inventions, and technologies, such as telegraphy, electricity, photography, Mesmerism, and Spiritualism.

<2>With its glass windows made possible by recent advances in technology, the Crystal Palace presented a visual world to its visitors. Not only were photographic presentations judged and displayed, the Great Exhibition itself presented a reproduction of reality within its gleaming sphere; as the American traveler William Drew observed in his Glimpses and Gatherings during a Voyage and Visit to London and the Great Exhibition in the Summer of 1851, “It is, indeed, the World Daguerreotyped. What a spectacle!” (336). In the decades following this manifestation of the great achievements of imperial Britain, however, subsequent forms of photography would demonstrate that the positivist project would continue to be haunted by specters of its own materiality, as this visual and therefore empirically “irreproachable” technology would be used as evidence to  prove the existence of apparitions. George Eliot’s anomalous contemporary setting for this novella is crucially important to its concerns with new technologies; as the recurring text of The Lifted Veil and its narrator’s previsions reveal, the ghosts of Gothic Romanticism haunted the mid-Victorian imagination.  

<3>For Latimer, being “finely organised for pain” leads not to a poetic realization, but a greater sensitivity to the images that haunt him (24). When a childhood illness seems to lead to his ability to see visions of the future, he wonders, “was it—the thought was full of tremulous excitation—was it the poet’s nature in me…?” (10). Predicating poetic capacity on a sort of fluidity of non-effort that can render the creator subject to the created, Latimer seeks to conjure the return of the prevision, an ability that would allow him a sort of “rapt passivity,” but after trying to visualize Venice in the same manner as he had seen Prague, he concludes that his experiment “was all prosaic effort” (10). Instead of a poet, he is more like a gothic heroine, suffering from a sense of imprisonment, passivity, and a sickly body; his previsions of the “Water-Nixie,” Bertha, prostrate him to the inevitability of the future (11). Suffering from angina pectoris, a heart condition which can causes its sufferers to feel suffocated or strangled in the chest-region, he refers to his passivity as the victim of the abilities from which he comes to endure—“[t]owards my own destiny I had become entirely passive”—not seeking a separation from Bertha, to whom he has bound himself by marriage, despite his hellish prevision of her (3, 19, 33).

<4>This sense of passivity builds horror throughout the text as Latimer characterizes his insight into others’ minds and describes his uncontrollable previsions, which teem with unfamiliar sights and vistas in chaotic dreamscapes:

It was as if the relation between me and my fellow-men was more and more deadened, and my relation to what we call the inanimate was quickened into new life. The more I lived apart from society, and in proportion as my wretchedness subsided from the violent throb of agonized passion into the dullness of habitual pain, the more frequent and vivid became such visions as that I had had of Prague—of strange cities, of sandy plains, of gigantic ruins, of midnight skies with strange bright constellations, of mountain-passes, of grassy nooks flecked with the afternoon sunshine through the boughs: I was in the midst of such scenes, and in all of them one presence seemed to weigh on me in all these mighty shapes—the presence of something unknown and pitiless. For continual suffering had annihilated religious faith within me: to the utterly miserable—the unloving and the unloved—there is no religion possible, no worship but a worship of devils. And beyond all these, and continually recurring, was the vision of my death—the pangs, the suffocation, the last struggle, when life would be grasped at in vain. (36)

For Terry Castle, such scenes of spectacle are an overwhelming trope of the kind of “poetic imagination” that predominated in the nineteenth century in writers who emphasized the role of delusions and illness in the poet-seer: “From the start phantasmagorical spectacle had seemed fraught with symbolic potential. The bizarre, claustrophobic surroundings, the mood of Gothic strangeness and terror, the rapid phantom-train of images, the disorientation and powerlessness of the spectator—every aspect of the occasion seemed rich in metaphoric possibility” (43, 48).(1) Latimer has a magic lantern show in his own head; his rapid visions are a fast-moving collage of outside reality that have been imprinted within his poetic imagination, which is “too feeble for the sublime resistance of poetic production” (14).

<5>As a narrator, Latimer seems to try to insinuate himself into readers’ minds through his direct appeals to “the sympathy of my fellow-men” (4), almost in the same manner in which his own mind is infected by those of others when “seen as if thrust asunder by a microscopic vision” (14). Latimer has never “unbosomed” himself to anyone belonging to his personal circle, yet he seeks sympathy from “strangers,” his readers (4). Unlike gothic texts in which readers choose to sympathize with the heroine and therefore “entrap themselves” voluntarily or feel so close to her that they assimilate themselves into her character, however, the reproductions of text within The Lifted Veil, not primarily the plight of the main character and narrator, are what fuel the novella’s sense of entrapment. The visual replication of text calls attention to its materiality, a system of reduplication that mimics photography. The same text is repeated within the previsions and the “actual occurrence;” distinguishing markers of time and place are also subverted so that within the “double consciousness” that Latimer suffers (21, 35, 42), mental and physical realities become confused.  

<6>After Latimer foresees Bertha’s hatred for him, the objects in his sight “melt away into a background of light, the green serpent with the diamond eyes remaining a dark image on the retina” (20). The words of Latimer’s previsions are repeated on the printed page, leaving an afterimage on readers’ vision, as well as their consciousness. A sort of residual visual image imprints itself into the text as well in the doubling images of the previsions and their realizations, which are so similar within the text that causality becomes confused. Latimer is so dazed by his initial experience of prevision that he ends up on the sofa, frantically calls his servant Pierre, and returns to the salon, where the same scene occurs mimetically and he again ends up on the sofa (11-12).(2) A similar process occurs in the visual reproduction of text on pages throughout the story, heightening the sense of the printed materiality of words. Bertha twice asks Latimer—“why don’t you kill yourself, then?”—first in his prevision of the scene, and again in its realization after their marriage (19, 34), and the bridge in Prague has almost the same “patch of rainbow light on the pavement transmitted through a [coloured] lamp in the shape of a star” when Latimer foresees it and then when he visits the city (9, 23); these visual repetitions of printed language materialize the transcendent stuff of thought and literalize the medium in which it must function—textuality.

<7>The structures of this text become tangled repetitions in which the distinctions between Latimer’s previsions and actual reality no longer register, as their replications rebound on the pages of his narrative. Latimer’s exact recording of the date of his death at the end of the narrative, “the 20th of September 1850,” echoes his initial words as well (3, 43). As Wolfreys explains, “On the final page the words finally appear to us apparently for the first time, redoubling themselves in the instant of their inscription” (75). The reduplication of text within the novella and its focus on visuality mimic the sort of amazement and sense of the uncanny that the new technology of photography invoked for Victorians: as a cultural phenomenon, it “seemed to undermine the unique identity of objects and people, endlessly reproducing the appearances of objects, creating a parallel world of phantasmatic doubles alongside the concrete world of the sense verified by positivism” (Gunning 43).

<8>The looping of this text not only calls attention to its ephemeral materiality, it also seems to provide another axis of time, a different sphere in which the text operates, demonstrating the power of visuality in the formation of an individual’s perception of himself and his relation to the past and future, life and death, and system of belief. Latimer’s sense of unreality in viewing Prague before having visited it replicates his experience after losing his mother’s loving watchfulness as he rode his pony and escalates to an indefinite dread of seeing, of losing or having no self in the gaze of an unloving materiality, whether it is human, city, or natural landscape (5). When the veil is lifted from Bertha’s soul, Latimer has “a vague sense of being hated and lonely—vague and strong, like a presentiment” (32). “The terrible moment of complete illumination” reveals the ephemeral triviality of Bertha’s thoughts, while Latimer is yet confronted with the materiality of her embodied form (32).(3) Furthermore, the repetition of “vague” emphasizes the unlocalizable dread in the mixture of memory and presentiment that not only Latimer’s own experience causes to blur and mingle, but is what Wolfreys calls the “shimmering” return of the text (77).

<9>The reappearance of print in the story calls attention not only to the materiality of the text itself, but the perception of materiality as a sort of spiritual experience as well. As Wolfreys argues, this “shimmering” effect causes the present moment of reading to waver “as instances of the text return. […] We see the invisible within the visible” (77). The eeriness of textually induced replication is reinforced by the emotional structures of dread and passivity towards the future that these repetitions produce in Latimer. His experience of the bridge in Prague exactly reproduces his prevision of it, undeniably confirming his other prevision of Bertha’s hatred, foregrounding the sense of dread that this reduplication invokes for him and his experience of lost subjectivity. As Gunning states in a paraphrase of the effect of the revenant print found in a short story by Villiers de L’Isle-Adam’s “The Very Image,” “it is this effect of exact duplication […] that makes the second glimpse, the double of the first, so sinister” (45).

<10>As Latimer foretells his impending death early on in his narrative, he conjures the metaphor of a Faustian pact: “It is an old story, that men sell themselves to the tempter, and sign a bond with their blood, because it is only to take effect at a distant day; then rush on to snatch the cup their souls thirst after with an impulse not the less savage because there is a dark shadow beside them forevermore.” Although Latimer denies association with the sorts of technologies that his previsions replicate, he invokes them later in this passage: “the soul’s path lies through the thorny wilderness,” no “tram-road” can provide a “short-cut.” His description of humanity’s blood-bond with “the tempter” shows the grafting of occult, technological, and Christian imagery that characterize the remnants of the Romantic imagination in the nineteenth century gothic (20-1). As G. R. Thompson states: “In a Romantic context then, Gothic literature may be seen as expressive of an existential terror generated by a schism between a triumphantly secularized philosophy of evolving good and a blind obsession with the Medieval conception of guilt-laden, sin-ridden man” (5-6).

<11>Although the reference to Christ’s testing in the wilderness highlights monotheistic spirituality as the route to truth, the path’s entanglement with the metonym of the tram-road reconnects Latimer’s discourse to positivism, while the Faustian elements of this pact for “the cup [men’s] souls thirst after” recall the similarities between this tale and Mary Shelley’s short story “The Mortal Immortal,” in which the main character drinks an elixir of immortality after becoming an assistant to the alchemist Cornelius Agrippa, despite initially running away from him “as if Satan himself tempted me” (Eliot 20, Shelley 21).(4) Both Eliot and Shelley’s tales incorporate conceptions of temptation associated with medieval alchemy and occult practices, but Eliot’s novella highlights her narrator’s sense of entrapment within the added terror of new, yet already mundane technologies. “The Mortal Immortal” captures the changing emotional states of an agonizing narrator through first person narration, as does The Lifted Veil, but “[t]he dark shadow” of Latimer’s own thoughts is replicated within the repetitions of the text, not only demonstrating the narrator’s entrapment, but ensnaring the reader as well. 

<12>Latimer’s ideas haunt him with the visuality of images printed within his mind, and these repetitions imprint ghostly negatives within the text as well. The Lifted Veil transforms the sort of maze so often present in gothic texts symbolizing the heroine’s struggle against patriarchy into a sort of rhetorical labyrinth in which both the reader and Latimer are entrapped. On the level of characterization, the narrator’s mind is porous and his thoughts and those of others flow into and out of it against his will, and on a formal level the text presents the reader with a reduplication of identical textual images. These visual repetitions present an afterimage and sense of ephemeral materiality to the reader just as his previsions entrap its “heroine” and author, Latimer. His previsions ostensibly manifest themselves as interior experiences, subjective and private, yet his prevision of Prague eerily replicates the image of Prague produced by the photographic technology that existed at the time.

<13>Latimer’s private haunting was also very much a public phenomenon. Richard Menke identifies Latimer’s prevision of Prague within the semiology of mid-Victorian photography, and in particular the image that was fast becoming “one of the city’s signature photographic images,” the “Bridge over the River Moldau, at Prague, Bohemia,” which was disseminated by the Photographic News a few months prior to Eliot’s composition of The Lifted Veil (179). He reminds us that although George Eliot would have seen this famous bridge in person during her visit to Prague in 1858, one year before the publication of The Lifted Veil, the photoglyph was so widespread that she may have been familiar with it and undoubtedly many of her readers were.(5) As Menke’s explication of the description of Prague shows, Latimer’s private vision is a snapshot of the future that also parallels a more mundane reality. In it, the materiality of the medium causing the supernatural effects, easily explained away by the process of its production, does not revoke the eeriness of its metallic shimmers, ghostly inhabitants, juxtaposed against the substantiality of its stationary fixtures, the statues.

<14>The ghostly shimmers of the textual replications of Latimer’s previsions and their correlating technological realization in the photoglyph of Prague emphasize the intuitively incongruous relation between materiality and spirituality, effectively spiritualizing materiality and materializing spirits. This sort of paradoxical dialectic is what leads Castle to deem spiritual photography an “ambiguous emblem” of her emphasis that efforts to rationalize the apparitions during the nineteenth century ultimately culminated in Freud’s inability to escape “the pervasive crypto-supernaturalism of early nineteenth century psychology” (59). In the context of the new technology of photography, another sort of change involving nineteenth century manifestations of mental ideas can be charted through haunting in The Lifted Veil—Castle’s shift from ghosts as thoughts to thoughts as ghosts—as the concept of the familiar spirit undergoes a transformation from a descriptor of the mischievous nature of woman to an object with symbolic moral value and, finally, a haunting presence in Latimer’s tale.

<15>The medieval concept of a familiar spirit as often embodied within an animal, such as a cat or dog, was rooted in biblical references in which mediums were colonized by such spirits, giving them their powers of insight and foresight. Latimer’s description of Bertha’s “elfish charming face” when he is besotted with her loses all sense of playfulness and is more markedly malevolent in the realization of his prevision of her wish that he die: “Why did she stand before me with the candle in her hand, with her cruel contemptuous eyes fixed on me, and the glittering serpent, like a familiar demon, on her breast?” (34), while in the final scene he confesses that “horror” is his familiar, seeming “of one texture with the rest of my existence” (42). Latimer’s sense of the demonic within his own consciousness dovetails with Castle’s view of the effects of post-Enlightenment attempts to explain specters from the medieval past:

The rationalists did not so much negate the traditional spirit world as displace it into the realm of psychology. Ghosts were not exorcized—only internalized and reinterpreted as hallucinatory thoughts. Yet this internalization of apparitions introduced a latent irrationalism into the realm of mental experience. If ghosts were thoughts, then thoughts themselves took on—at least notionally—the haunting reality of ghosts. The mind became subject to spectral processes. (52)

The progression of the familiar spirit in Latimer’s narrative from a mere image to illustrate a lover’s visage to a spectral thought manifest in the fabric of his existence grafts a peculiarly Victorian sense of haunting dread onto medieval conceptions of an embodied evil, demonstrating Castle’s assertion that spirits were never exorcized, only displaced.

<16>The positivist project was not only haunted by its own emphasis on visible reality in the realm of psychology, capturing spirits became a pursuit of some photographers. In his 1856 work The Stereoscope, Sir David Brewster, inventor of the kaleidoscope, had suggested that “[f]or the purpose of amusement, the photographer may carry us even into the realms of the supernatural. His art enables him to give a spiritual appearance to one or more of his figures, and to exhibit them as ‘thin air’ amid the solid realities of the stereoscopic picture” (205). Brewster’s confidence that this sort of optical effect would be used only as a curiosity exposes the inherent error in distinguishing between “solid realities” and “thin air” within pictures. Nascent photographic technology often imprinted a netherworld of reality, not a reproduction of physical sight, leading to ghostly presences in pictures. These sorts of effects led to a new form of photography, spirit photography, whose practitioners sometimes saw themselves as mediums and claimed that they used no effort or technology to produce ghostly presences in their photographs (Gunning 52-3).

<17>This amalgamation of occult phenomena and new technology is an extension of the sorts of psychical concerns associated with the magic lantern phantasmagoria that had seeped into Victorian culture at the beginning of the century and that are central to The Lifted Veil. Jennifer Tucker elucidates that spirit photography was connected to the movement of Spiritualism that arrived in Britain via the famous American medium Mrs. Hayden in 1852 (68); in both Spiritualism and its counterpart, spirit photography, its adherents and practitioners constituted different levels of belief and disbelief. Just as Spiritualism was “an amusing parlor game” to some, but “a passion” for others (68), so too was spirit photography an earnest pursuit for some and an amusing optical illusion for others. Jill Galvan’s suggestion that Latimer’s previsions are consistent with disordered memory is consistent with a skeptical Victorian attitude towards his position as a clairvoyant and Eliot’s own critical stance towards Spiritualism in her writings (243, 245), but the gothic effects of this text haunt the reader nonetheless.

<18>For adherents of spirit photography, the Crystal Palace of visuality—photography—would become the materialist means to hypostatize the ghosts of many haunted Victorian imaginations. Scientists of various disciplines and writers as well as many followers of Spiritualism would become its defenders. As Jennifer Tucker explains, many used claims of the mechanical foundations of photography and its inherent objectivity “to reinforce their contention that spirit photographs, or—broadly speaking, photographs of ghosts—were direct representations of an otherwise unseen reality” (12). She clarifies that judges’ acclaim for photography’s potential at the Great Exhibition was poles apart from the “ruckus over photography” in the two following decades: one anonymous reviewer of the London Photographic Exhibition of 1858 lamented, “To see that noble instrument prostituted as it is by those sentimental ‘Weddings,’ ‘Christenings,’ ‘Crinoline’ and ‘Ghosts’, is enough to disgust anyone of refined taste” (39). This reviewer’s disgust for spirit photography, along with other feminized pursuits parallels Eliot’s own mistrust of Spiritualists, but such skepticism does not allay the sort of eerie structures produced by the ephemeral return of the story’s text and the visual effects of spirit photography.

<19>What Terry Eagleton has called “a piece of tawdry melodrama” in the final scenes of the story can be read as a culmination of the pervasive materialism of the text in The Lifted Veil (58). The murderous intentions brewing in Bertha’s mind would certainly qualify the story as sensation fiction, but the emphasis of the previous narrative prior to Mrs. Archer’s disclosure about her mistress’s plan is on the triviality of Bertha’s mental processes. The material focus of others’ thoughts disgusts Latimer; the commodification of people in the minds of his servants, the too-minute focus of the present contingent realities of those surrounding him, and the blank, prosaic wall of Bertha’s soul are for him ephemeral, yet all too real: “the darkness [of the veil concealing Bertha’s thoughts] had hidden no landscape from me, but only a blank prosaic wall” (32, 45).(6) When the prevision of Bertha’s suggestion to him to kill himself is realized before the final scenes of the novella, Latimer deems it “a ridiculous anticlimax” (34). The ending spectacle is hardly an anticlimax, however; it suggests the ultimate horror of materiality.

<20>The science of 1850 as depicted by Eliot confirms Latimer’s forebodings about Mrs. Archer’s role as his evil genius—she reveals Bertha’s plot to kill him in this gory and vampiric resuscitation scene.(7) Although Latimer is certainly disgusted at the banality of Mrs. Archer’s petty motives and aghast at her revelation during the finale of the novella, his horror at the dynamics of the situation itself is also very relevant. Mrs. Archer is a revivified body, a speaking corpse; like the text itself, she utters stories from beyond the veil separating death and life. Jill Galvan claims that Mrs. Archer’s revelation shows how “the flow of blood is roughly tantamount to the flow of information” (242). Following Galvan’s reading of Bertha as a double for Latimer, albeit a more prosaic, less insightful version, the blood infused into her body parallels the thoughts that have penetrated Latimer’s mind, so that she becomes a sort of dead medium.

<21>Mrs. Archer’s role as revenant medium is echoed on a formal level by the replication of the text. The opening of the story, which is also its conclusion, dwells on the inevitable death that is not yet come, but that Latimer sees as “Darkness—darkness—no pain—nothing but darkness: but I am passing on and on through the darkness: my thought stays in the darkness, but always with a sense of moving onward…” (3). This darkness comes from Latimer’s present sense of embodied perception but his previsions push the material constraints of visuality. At his death, his spectral words “I know these figures I have just written” repeat the text’s own doubling and confining materiality (43). Thus the repetition of the date, the 20th of September, 1850, is the realization of a sort of prevision for readers; the date marks the beginning and the end of the text, underscoring its endless cyclical reduplication. At the moment we know of Latimer’s death, he reaches us from beyond the grave; the text recycles his initial words.

<22>The textual recycling that Latimer’s previsions entail confines temporality within a two-dimensional surface that presents potential infinity as a hall of textual mirrors, and yet never escapes its own materiality. As Latimer states, “Our sweet illusions are half of them conscious illusions, like effects of colour that we know to be made up of tinsel, broken glass, and rags” (30). The final scene reconstitutes the taboos of materialism, while spiritualizing materiality, a process that was also enacted by a bizarre subset of spiritual photography: pictures of subjects oozing “ectoplasm.” As Gunning clarifies: “Ectoplasm was a term given by French occultist Dr. Richet to a whitish, malleable substance that oozed from the orifice of mediums. The appearance of this mucous-like substance gave séances an oddly physiological turn, as normally taboo processes—bodily orifices extruding liquidy masses—were accepted as evidence of spiritual forces” (56). The taboo substances of life recurring in spirit photography underscore its paradoxical concerns with ghostly materials and material ghosts. Underneath the replicating structures and shimmering print of The Lifted Veil as well, the text continually resuscitates its own materiality for the reader to acknowledge.

<23>The discernible presence of the dead in spirit photography is thus another prison of materiality for a culture obsessed with the visual: if manifestations of dead loved ones confirm their continued existence, then spirits remain entrapped within physical reality. Despite her skepticism towards Spiritualism, Eliot’s construction of a continually looping text in The Lifted Veil undercuts the dichotomy between separate spiritual and physical realms. Instead of a mind being entrapped within a “body, too tenacious a cage for a soul which thirsts for freedom” as is the case for the narrator of “The Immortal Mortal,” with the end of the narrative emphasizing the promise of release “from this dim earth to a sphere more congenial to [the] immortal essence” of the soul (32), Latimer is a narrator entrapped within his own text.

<24>In displaying the horror of human banality, The Lifted Veil also terrorizes the reader with its replication of new sciences and technologies. If we look at this novella at the intersection of belief and technology—spirit photography—we can examine its spectral textuality, perhaps what compelled Eliot to characterize it as “schauderhaft” (qtd. in Flint 455).(8) Menke’s claim that rapid advances in photography and physiology “promised to capture the flows of life, to make the ephemeral into something permanently legible” can be applied to spirit photography as well (173). If Victor Frankenstein’s experiments in creation enacted the horror of thoughts materializing, through its emphasis on the visual and textuality, The Lifted Veil presages Dracula, unveiling the dread of being trapped in a sort of netherworld of materiality, a vampiric space of repetitions and reproductions.

Endnotes

(1)Although Castle focuses her discussion mostly on symbolist and modernist writers: “Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, the Goncourt brothers, Loti, Lautréamont, Nerval, and later still, Yeats, Pound, Apollinaire, Eliot, and Artaud” (48), George Eliot’s novella is an anomaly to her canonistic realism and can be read as a proto-modernist text haunted by gothic Romanticism in a trajectory that would include works such as Henry James’s Turn of the Screw and Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness. K. M. Newton explores a slightly different form of George Eliot’s proto-modernism in the mythic underpinnings of Daniel Deronda in his article “George Eliot as Proto-Modernist.”(^)

(2)As Richard Menke points out, the print of Latimer’s initial previson repeats itself even in the banal speaker tag, “‘Well, Latimer, you thought me long,’ my father said…” (Eliot 12). Menke uses the repetition of the text here to underscore a threat of his argument about realism in The Lifted Veil: “As a patently textual effect, the seamless reproduction of Latimer’s experience helps to unsettle any fantasy of realism’s textual transparency” (194).(^)

(3)For an analysis of the layers of metaphor in The Lifted Veil and their effect on Eliot’s theory of sympathy, see Thomas Albrecht’s deconstructionist-inflected reading, “Sympathy and Telepathy: The Problem of Ethics in George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil.” For Albrecht, the visual metaphor veiling the unveiling of Bertha’s soul to Latimer underscores her position as other: “If Bertha in her otherness is more like a text than like a visual object, Eliot implies, Latimer cannot literally see into her. She cannot literally be unveiled, only metaphorically. Thus Eliot calls the epistemological authority of Latimer’s visions into question” (447).(^)

(4)Gilbert and Gubar compare Shelley’s narrator, Winzy, to Eliot’s Latimer in The Madwoman in the Attic. The similarities are striking; Winzy’s “immortality, […] like Latimer’s clairvoyance, is a ‘gift’ that is experienced as a curse. In addition, his Bertha shares more than a name with Latimer’s: both are wealthy orphans, haughty and teasing coquettes who drive their male admirers mad with jealously” (458).(^)

(5)Susan Reynolds discusses Eliot’s visit in relation to The Lifted Veil in her brief article, “‘The Most Splendid City in Germany?’: George Eliot and Prague.”(^)

(6)Latimer deplores his servants for their “half-contemptuous pity; for this class of men and women are but slightly determined in their estimate of others by general considerations, or even experience, of character. They judge of persons as they judge of coins, and value those who pass current at a high rate” (33). The language of commodification occurs throughout the novella. For a discussion of the text in relation to George Eliot’s stance to the literary marketplace, see Martin Willis’s “Clairvoyance, Economics and Authorship in George Eliot’s ‘The Lifted Veil.’”(^)

(7)Kate Flint explores contemporary science in relation to her emphasis that Eliot’s novella“challenges that often-assumed Victorian drive toward making things visible” in her article “Blood, Bodies, and The Lifted Veil” (472). (^)

(8)Carroll Viera’s analysis of Eliot’s view of Goethe “as a moral artist who focuses on the redeeming features of human nature” in relation to the emphasis on visiuality in The Lifted Veil is noteworthy considering Goethe’s theories on optics and color, as discussed by Jonathan Crary (Viera 760).(^)

 

Works Cited

Albrecht, Thomas. “Sympathy and Telepathy: The Problem of Ethics in George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil.” ELH 73 (2006): 437-63.

Brewster, Sir David. The Stereoscope: Its History, Theory, and Construction, With Its Application to the Fine and Useful Arts and to Education. London: J. Murray, 1856.

Castle, Terry. “Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie.” Critical Inquiry 15 (1988): 26-61.

Crary, Jonathan. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1990.

Drew, William A. Glimpses and Gatherings during a Voyage and Visit to London and the Great Exhibition in the Summer of 1851. Augusta, ME: Homan and Manley, 1852.

Eagleton, Terry. “Power and Knowledge in ‘The Lifted Veil.’” Literature and History 9 (1983): 52-61.

Eliot, George. The Lifted Veil / Brother Jacob. Ed. Helen Small. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

Flint, Kate. “Blood, Bodies, and the Lifted Veil.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 51 (1997): 455-473.

Galvan, Jill. “The Narrator as Medium in George Eliot’s ‘The Lifted Veil.’” Victorian Studies 48 (2006): 240-48.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.

Gunning, Tom. “Phantom Images and Modern Manifestations: Spirit Photography, Magic Theater, Trick Films, and Photography’s Uncanny.” Fugitive Images: From Photography to Video. Ed. Patrice Petro. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. 42-71.

Menke, Richard. Telegraphic Realism: Victorian Fiction and Other Information Systems. Stanford: Stanford UP, forthcoming 2007.

Newton, K. M. “George Eliot as Proto-Modernist.” Cambridge Quarterly 27 (1998): 275-86.

Reynolds, Susan. “‘The Most Splendid City in Germany?’: George Eliot and Prague.” Contemporary Review Apr. 2003: 228-31.

Shelley, Mary. “The Mortal Immortal.” The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women 1800-World War II. Ed. A. Susan Williams. New York: Carroll and Graff, 1992. 20-32.

Thompson, G. R. “Introduction.” The Gothic Imagination: Essays in Dark Romanticism. Pullman, WA: Washington State UP, 1974.

Tucker, Jennifer. Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2005.

Viera, Carroll. “‘The Lifted Veil’ and George Eliot’s Early Aesthetic.” SEL 24 (1984): 749-67.

Willis, Martin. “Clairvoyance, Economics and Authorship in George Eliot’s ‘The Lifted Veil.’” Journal of Victorian Culture 10 (2005): 184-209.

Wolfreys, Julian. Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, Gothic, the Uncanny and Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2002.