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 allows a glimpse into the supernatural or spiritual realm. Thus, for Meunier, ”life ceased to be a scientific problem for him,” upon witnessing this evidence of the spirit world.
“The Lifted Veil” shares a similar theme to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in that it questions the morality of scientific inquiry which threatens the boundaries of the spiritual realm. Dr. Frankenstein ”plays God” by endeavoring the create human life, using scientific methods. In “The Lifted Veil,” Meunier’s transfusion brings the dead Mrs. Archer momentarily back to life, bringing into question the morality of such an endeavor.
“The Lifted Veil” is about a man who suffers from his powers of clairvoyance. In the 19th Century, as now, many people believed that some humans may possess what we now refer to as “psychic” powers, to see into the future or past, or read the minds of other people. “The Lifted Veil” explores this theme in centering around a main character, Latimer, who possesses such powers. Yet, Latimer does not make good use of his clairvoyance. Rather, he only causes himself and those around him to suffer because of it. He does not use his powers to any creative or spiritual end, or to help people in any way. He is almost selfish in his “double consciousness.” What he sees when the daily thoughts of those around him are revealed is a world of pettiness and selfishness.
The Mystery of Life
“The Lifted Veil” suggests that human beings are better off when kept from seeing beyond the “veil” of mystery which shrouds the human condition and the boundary between life and death. For Latimer, life becomes drained of almost all mystery. He is drawn to Bertha before their marriage because she is the only person who remains a mystery to him. After their marriage, when her selfish, petty thoughts are revealed to his supernatural powers of perception, she no longer holds any interest or romance for him. The poem at the beginning of the story comes in the form of a prayer to “Heaven” not to be granted extrasensory powers beyond those of common humanity. The story very clearly suggests that the powers of clairvoyance only drain the mystery from life, and do no earthly good.
Life after Death
In the climactic moments of “The Lifted Veil,” Mrs. Archer, Latimer’s maid, is momentarily revived from death by means of blood transfusion. In these brief moments of life after death, Mrs. Archer points an accusatory finger of Bertha, revealing that she had been hired by Bertha to poison Latimer. Latimer’s exclamation at this point is telling: “Great God! Is this what it is to live again…. to wake up with our unstilled thirst upon us, with our unuttered curses rising to our lips, with our muscles ready to act out their half-committed sins?” This message simultaneously unburdens the soul of the dead woman of her sins, and exacts a revenge upon Bertha for drawing her in to such a deed. This story suggests that human beings are better off with a limited knowledge of what lies beyond the “veil” of death.
Fate is the idea that human destiny has been predetermined by some supernatural force and cannot be altered. “The Lifted Veil” explores the theme of fate because it questions whether or not Latimer would have been able to escape the painful events he foresaw in his own future. Latimer’s suffering is in part focused on his vision of a moment in his marriage with Bertha during which she bitterly suggests that he commit suicide. Yet, despite this prevision of suffering, Latimer does nothing to alter his fate—he marries Bertha anyway, and spends years anticipating with dread this moment in their marriage. The reader is presented with the implied question: Would Latimer have been able to avoid this scene, had he tried? Or was it his fate to follow this course in life, and any effort to alter it would have failed anyway?
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.