”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 childhood and adult experiences, and then ends the story once again in his sitting room, as he writes the last words of the story, before dying, as he knew he would. This flashback structure takes on another dimension, however, due to the fact that Latimer is a clairvoyant, who can see events in the future before they occur. In that way, several key events of the story are told in a “flash forward,” as Latimer describes events which then occur in the future.
“The Lifted Veil” is set in Victorian England, in the early-to-mid 19th Century. Latimer’s father’s house, later his own, is a country estate. In his childhood, Latimer lives in Switzerland, and travels to Prague. After his separation from Bertha, he travels the world, staying in inns, but never too long in any one place. Latimer’s visions of future events include scenes which take place in Switzerland, Prague and England.
The Epigraph Poem
Eliot attached an epigraph poem to the beginning of “The Lifted Veil” after she had completed the story. These four lines are written in the form of a prayer, “Give me no light, great Heaven,” which essentially asks Heaven to grant the speaker no powers or knowledge beyond those of the everyday human world. In other words, it asks not to be granted the clairvoyant, or extrasensory powers with which Latimer is plagued, and which causes him such suffering. This epigraph is in some ways suggestive of the “moral” of the story, which is that perhaps it is better not to “lift the veil” of the mystery of life and death.
”The Lifted Veil” can be categorized as Gothic fiction, also referred to as Gothic horror. Gothic fiction is characterized by suggestions of supernatural occurrences, and often contains scenes of horror, including the appearance of ghosts and other forms of life after death. This literary genre, associated with 19th Century England, began with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and includes Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Gothic elements of “The Lifted Veil” include Latimer’s supernatural ability to read the thoughts of others and to see into the future. The climactic scene in which Mrs. Archer’s body is momentarily brought back from the dead is the key Gothic scene in the story, because it includes elements of Gothic horror such as the gory scene of the blood transfusion and the dead body coming back to life to point an accusatory finger at Bertha. These Gothic elements of the story are what caused Eliot’s publisher at the time to hesitate in publishing it.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, George Eliot, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.