I found myself surprised by the lack of supernatural elements(in the modern sense) in The Lifted Veil. The fantastic events are grounded in the basis of the scientific knowledge of the period. What we realize now to be incorrect (blood transfusions reviving the dead) or pseudoscientific (phrenology) is presented as legitimate and factual. The manner in which the science and the supernatural were intermingled reminds me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Supernatural themes are pushed aside by the attempt at scientific realism. The realism, however, is limited by the author’s reticence to include concrete science (weather due to lack of interest or lack of knowledge) in favor of a more literary work. Critic Kate Flint reports that Eliot had a, “relentless desire to get at more extensive and satisfactory evidence,” but she does not focus on the science in the novella (Flint 460).
For a novella concerned with supernatural and (pseudo)-scientific principles The Lifted Veil is unusually focused on the body. Latimer constantly reminds us of his physical shortcomings. The phrenologist, Mr. Letherall, assesses these inadequacies based purely on the dimensions of young Latimer’s head and facial features. Scientific insight is limited to the character of Charles Meunier, who drops in rather conveniently to provide the deus ex machina moment of revivification and the subsequent revelation of Bertha’s treachery. Bertha, whose, “thoughts and emotions were an enigma,” is described purely in physical terms which change over the course of the story’s events (Eliot 29). It is not made clear if the change in Bertha’s demeanor is due to her getting fed up with Latimer or because Latimer stops being ignorant of her character. The vision where he sees her, “selfish soul laid bare; no longer a … secret,” is the basis of this conundrum.(Eliot 21). Is Latimer so oblivious to the truth of his vision due to love or is he desperately hoping against the truth of his fateful pre-cognizance?
The Lifted Veil also uses emotional language when describing non-physical elements. Once again, this is an odd choice for a text based in scientific advancements yet it fits perfectly for Latimer’s poetic narration. The attempts at scientific language are coloured with poetic language. One such example of this is when Latimer notes that, “illusions are half…conscious illusions, like effects of colour…made up of tinsel, broken glass, and rags (Eliot 30).” He has never fully internalized the science and math that his father forced upon him in his youth and continues to speak with a naturally Romantic flair. This narration obscures the scientific facts of the text in poetic language and results in a feeling of disconnected linguistic themes.
The familiar trope plots associated with both clairvoyance and revivification were not yet set. I initially felt cheated by the lack of blatantly supernatural elements. Modern clairvoyance plots often involve rallying against predestined fate and attempting to change the future. This is conspicuously absent in The Lifted Veil. Despite his pre-cognizance, Latimer does makes no attempt to change or prevent events from occurring. Latimer knows Bertha will grow cruel and distant but does not attempt to do anything to rectify the proceedings that lead her to her hatred or escape from the revealed poisoning plot (other than separate from her). He is infuriatingly resigned to his visions and his passivity is one of the main characteristics that leads to others characters, like his father, finding his personality objectionable.
I must admit that I find myself frustrated with Latimer. I lack sympathy for him due to his infuriating passivity. From the outset he shows an arrogant demeanor referring to his, “exceptional mental character (Eliot 3).” I understand he is intended to be an intensely lonely figure but the way he relates to other people angers me. When nearly every character in the novella dislikes or looks down on him it I start to wonder if it is Latimer’s fault he is so disliked. Even with the vision of Bertha’s discontent, he does nothing to prevent his future issues. He even asks the reader during the vision, “are you unable to give me your sympathy? (Eliot 21).” However, this question stems from the reader’s supposed inability to understand Latimer’s powers of foresight, not from his inaction.