Leo Finkle has spent the last six years studying to become a rabbi at New York City’s Yeshivah University. After hearing that he would have better job prospects if he were to get married, Leo decides to consult a matchmaker. Matchmakers, also called marriage brokers, were common in many European Jewish cultures, as well as in some Jewish immigrant communities in the United States. Leo’s own parents were brought together by a marriage broker, and Leo is determined to find his bride through the same tradition. He contacts Pinye Salzman, a marriage broker who has advertised in The Jewish Daily Forward, New York’s leading Yiddish newspaper. (Written in Hebrew characters and based on the vocabulary and syntax of medieval German, the Yiddish language was spoken by many European Jews and their American immigrant descendants.)
Salzman arrives at Pinkie’s apartment one day late in February and the two set about their . . . Read More
The “Curse” of the Lifted Veil
The “veil” in George Eliot’s novella “The Lifted Veil” symbolizes the boundary between the natural world and the world of the supernatural, which in this story includes the realm of the spirit and of death. The words “shroud” or “curtain” also appear throughout the story as references to the image of the “veil.” Latimer’s powers of clairvoyance, his ability to both see into the future and hear the internal thoughts of people around him, is described in terms of his ability to see beyond the “veil” which separates the natural world from that of the spirit world. While these powers of clairvoyance would seem to be a gift, Latimer experiences them as a “curse,” which drains life of all pleasure, bringing him only misery and suffering.
The “veil” or “curtain” which separates . . . Read More
The Victorian Era
Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1819-1901) was born in the same year as George Eliot. Victoria’s reign lasted from 1837 until her death. Because her life span and reign came to characterize this period in history, it came to be known as the “Victorian” Era. Victorian England is associated with restrictive moral attitudes and repressive standards of social behavior. There was, however, a strong element of criticism of these standards among many prominent writers and intellectuals of the time.
The Industrial Revolution
The 19th Century can now be seen as a period of transition from a pre-industrial economy to an industrial economy in most of the Western world. In England, the Industrial Revolution was accompanied by great political and cultural changes, as well as scientific advances. The development of . . . Read More
”The Lifted Veil” is written in the first person, meaning that the story is told entirely from the perspective of one individual, the main character, Latimer. “The Lifted Veil” is Eliot’s only story written in the first person. Because the reader sees the events of the story only through the eyes of the main character, the narrative creates the effect of an internal, psychological flow of ideas. Because the story is told as it is written by Latimer over the course of the month before his death, and recalls the events of his life, beginning in childhood, it takes on the form of an intimate confession, of a dying man’s last effort to clear his conscience.
The story is structured in “flashback” form, as Latimer begins the story exactly one month before he knows he’s going to die, then takes the narrative back to his . . . Read More
Science versus the supernatural
“The Lifted Veil,” like many Gothic tales, interrogates the boundaries between scientific knowledge and the supernatural, between the rational and the irrational. This set of dichotomies is laid out in the differences between Latimer and his friend Meunier. Latimer describes their childhood friendship as an attraction of opposites, a meeting of minds between “the dreamy and the practical.” As a doctor, Meunier is schooled in the field of science, the epitome of rational thought. Latimer, on the other hand, has no practical occupation, but possesses supernatural powers, associated with the irrational. Toward the end of the story, however, when Meunier performs the blood transfusion which brings Mrs. Archer momentarily back to life, this distinction is put into question. It is through Meunier’s scientific experimentation that this episode of life after death produces an effect which . . . Read More
Latimer’s older brother Alfred is his opposite. Latimer describes him as ”a handsome, self-confident man of 6 and 20 a thorough contrast to my fragile, nervous, ineffectual self.” Alfred is their father’s favorite, as he embodies all that the father desires in a son. When Latimer is introduced to Bertha as a probable future wife to Alfred, his natural dislike of his brother turns to envious hatred. Right before he is to be married to Bertha, Alfred dies from falling off a horse, leaving Latimer free to marry Bertha.
Mrs. Archer is the new servant Bertha hires, a woman whose arrival Latimer dreads: “I had a vague dread that I should find her mixed up with the dreary drama of my life that some new sickening vision would reveal her to me as an evil genius.” Latimer describes her as “a tall, wiry, dark-eyed woman, this Mrs. Archer, with a face handsome . . . Read More
Latimer is the first-person narrator of ”The Lifted Veil,” as well as the main character. The story begins, as he informs the reader, exactly one month before his death. “Before that time comes,” he explains, ”I wish to use my last hours of ease and strength in telling the strange story of my experience.” The story thus comes as the confession of a dying man who entrusts his lifelong secrets to the reader’s sympathy. “I have never fully unbosomed myself to any human being,” he says.
Through a flashback structure, Latimer tells his “strange story,” beginning with childhood, when he first discovered that he had what he refers to as “superadded consciousness.” A sickly, unscholarly and dreamy child, Latimer is dominated by his father’s wish to expose him to all of the subjects he hates most: math, science, etc. At the age of 19, recovering from a long illness, Latimer finds that he is . . . Read More
Irving’s narrator opens “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” with a brief description of Sleepy Hollow itself, “one of the quietest places in the whole world,” a place of “uniform tranquillity.” Before moving on to introduce his characters he concludes, ”If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.” In this opening, Irving establishes Sleepy Hollow as both of-this-world and not-of-this-world, an “enchanted region” of unparalleled beauty and fertility. Tapping a literary tradition that stretches back literally thousands of years, he sets his story in a comic American version of what is often called an Earthly Paradise.
A. Bartlett Giamatti explains in his book The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic that “the desire for a state of perfect . . . Read More
The Dutch in New York
In its earliest days as an outpost for Europeans, New York was settled by the Dutch, or people from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Henry Hudson, referred to in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as “Master Hendrick Hudson,” sailed in 1609 from present-day New York City to Albany up what the Dutch called the Tappan Zee, and what is now called the Hudson River; the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York City commemorates this today. Hudson was British by birth, but was working for the Dutch East India Company, and after his explorations the Netherlands claimed what is now New York as its own territory. The first Dutch settlers arrived at present-day New York City in 1624. Although the territory eventually came under British and then American control, the Dutch people were still numerous and influential throughout New York in Irving’s day.
As with any ethnic group, stereotypes of the Dutch were . . . Read More
There is an almost dizzying number of levels of narration and narrators in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: a) Washington Irving is the author of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ; b) Geoffrey Crayon is the fictional author of the volume, the one responsible for collection or creating the stories and sketches; c) Diedrich Knickerbocker is the character who supposedly wrote down “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and in whose hand the postscript was “found,” presumably by Crayon; d) the legend was told to Knickerbocker by a ”pleasant, shabby, gentlemanly old fellow”; e) within the legend, the characters tell stories that they have heard or read, many of them concerning “a figure on horseback without a head.” Ichabod Crane, then, is a man who is frightened by a story within a story within a story within a story.
The narrators are not only numerous, but . . . Read More