THE DANGERS INVOLVED IN LIFTING THE VEIL
In the previous Post I showed George Eliot’s familiarity with, and sometimes her attempted practice of Paranormal experiments. In addition I indicated that she wrote ‘The Lifted Veil’ as a WARNING concerning the dangers of such practices.
We pick up now at the point where the VEIL on Latimer’s Mind begins to lift in a new and more horrific fashion. He speaks of a new’phase in my abnormal sensibility’ that has ‘not been alive before.’ He begins to receive the intrusion into his mind ‘of the mental processes … in first one person and then another.’ So, he begins to receive UNWANTED, frivolous thoughts of casual acquaintances. But what was the result?
The result was these thoughts were so trivial, so shallow and as irritating as ‘ an ill-played musical instrument, or the loud activity of an imprisoned insect.’ This crowding out of his own thoughts and the TELEPATHIC insight into others was such that he was exhausted. In fact, when the activity ceased now and again, he ‘felt a relief such as silence brings to wearied nerves.’ (I)
But the TELEPATHIC intrusion becomes even worse. He begins to read the Minds of his own family. This ultimately alienates him from them. He discovers that their words and deeds are based on TRIVIAL THOUGHTS , meanness, egoism; it even seems that his own brother is nothing more than a conceited self-seeking person. The end result is such that Latimer concludes that his brother’s kindness good humour, and friendliness is nothing more than a wily trick. This leads to his hating his brother.
A VICTORIAN MIND READER
Now, what is George Eliot trying to tell us?
George Eliot is trying to say that LIFTING THE VEIL is completely destructive. It is necessary for the thoughts and motives of others to be blanked off from us. If this were not so, life would be intolerable: humans are not perfect and allowance should be made for their weaknesses.
When we turn to Bertha Grant, the woman who will fatally ruin Latimer, George Eliot presents the reader with a strange paradox.
BERTHA GRANT, WHO WILL EVENTUALLY RUIN LATIMER
The paradox is this. Latimer receives no warning PREMONITIONS or TELEPATHIC insights into the woman’s true character, not until he marries her. At that point his doom is sealed. He had previous to his marriage, developed a passion for her simply because ‘Bertha was the only being’ whose Mind he could not penetrate. He speaks of himself as ‘completely under her sway’, as if he were a MESMERISED subject. This hints at the power of the woman’s eyes being fixed upon him, referred to earlier. The only WARNING he had received was the painful sensation mentioned previously. I feel sure, that had Latimer been able to access her Mind at that time an alienation would have occurred between them.
Nevertheless, Latimer seemed to receive an OMEN, followed by a VISION, which directly bore on the personality of Bertha and his future involvement with her.
LUCREZIA BORGIA THE PICTURE DELIVERS A WARNING TO LATIMER
The OMEN and the VISION occur to Latimer when Bertha Grant becomes engaged to his brother. At this time Latimer is in the Lichtenberg Palace gazing at a picture of the infamous Lucrezia Borgia, who had disposed of her husbands once they had served their purpose – this picture is in itself an omen. Shortly after this the VISION arises. We need to take it apart piece by piece:
I seemed to be suddenly in darkness, out of which there gradually broke a dim fire-light, and I felt myself sitting in my father’s leather chair in the library at home.
So, Latimer, is still within the Lichtenberg Palace and is MESMERICALLY whisked away back home. Notice his FEELINGS whilst experiencing the VISION. He say, ‘Intense and hopeless misery was pressing on my soul.’ What happens next in the VISION is highly significant:
The light became stronger, for Bertha was entering with a candle in her hand – Bertha, MY WIFE – with cruel eyes, with green jewels, and green leaves on her white ball dress.
Look at what happens next – but remember it is only a VISION, not physical reality, not something, which Latimer might take as absolute:
Every hateful THOUGHT within her present to me …. “Madman, Idiot! Why don’t you kill yourself, then? It was a moment of hell. I saw into her pitiless soul – saw its barren worldliness, its scorching hate. (I)
This vision has a number of implications: Latimer is to be married to Bertha despite her being engaged to his brother. But, how is this to be? Quite simply, his brother’s death removes this obstacle. The above vision, in revealing Bertha’s true nature, should have deterred Latimer from marrying her. But fate seemed to have inevitably decreed
otherwise. This idea of FATE is worth pursuing, unfortunately, not here. How then do things work out? Three elements now come to the fore: first his brother dies and Latimer and Bertha marry; second, once they marry Latimer gains TELEPATHIC access to Bertha’s Mind for the first time; finally, the vision had shown the abject misery into which he would be plunged once Latimer married Bertha. This misery is confirmed by what he sees once the VEIL is lifted from Bertha’s Mind.
He sees pettiness, craftiness, the complete absence of something positive or good. He saw a vain, ‘scheming selfishness’, saw someone who had a deep hatred for him and deliberately delivered emotional pain for its own gratification.
The sad part is, that despite the agony of his life, Latimer seems to be in the grip of a MESMERIC SPELL. He cannot break out:
I was too completely swayed by the sense that I was in the grip of unknown FORCES…Towards my own destiny I had become entirely passive (II)
In fulfillment of the OMEN incorporated in the picture of Lucrezia Borgia, Bertha sets out to kill Latimer. Her Maid, a party to the conspiracy dies without divulging any information, but Latimer’s old friend Meunier, a highly qualified doctor resuscitates her. The Maid then reveals the plan to kill Latimer.
BERTHA AND THE MAID CONSPIRE TO KILL LATIMER
The incident when the physician resuscitates Bertha is important for a number of reasons. First, the physician had lifted the veil, which cuts off communication between the living and the dead. Thus, it accords with the belief of the SPIRITUALISTS that such a veil could be drawn aside and that the dead could communicate via a MEDIUM. Secondly, this is a attempt to remove the Veil totally and restore the person in the flesh, not just in the spirit. So, it is as if Latimer receives the fateful message, in a sense, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.
In the final stages of the Novel George Eliot delivers the strongest possible warning through the experiences of Latimer. He receives visions … of strange cities’ and of isolated places.’
STRANGE CITIES AND ISOLATED PLACES WITH A MORBID PRESENCE
During these new visions ‘one presence seemed to weigh’ on Latimer, ‘the presence of something unknown and pitiless’. His experiences are soon to result in ‘continual suffering’ along with the annihilation of any religious faith he has. His is to be replaced by ‘a worship of devils.’ (II)
I must interrupt the narrative for the moment and comment on the strange paradox of George Eliot herself. For example, considering the last paragraph, we notice the authoress’ condemnatory tone in connection with Latimer’s visions. In what sense? According to her apparent outlook the Paranormal experiences had led Latimer to do two things – both deplorable in the authoress’ eyes. They were:
1. His visions had annihilated his Religious Faith
2. The Annihilation of his Religious Faith resulted in the ‘worship of devils’.
So, turning this on its head the authoress suggests that Paranormal Experiences should be avoided because she feels that Religious Faith is Healthy and that Religious Faith will protect one from the ‘worship of Devils’.
Now here is the paradox relating to the authoress herself. Not only had she translated two books, which cast doubt on Christianity,: Strauss’ ‘Life of Jesus’ and Feuerbach’s , ‘Essence of Christianity’, she was also a friend of Charles Darwin and the philosopher Herbert Spencer. Both of whom rejected traditional religious beliefs. It is well known that she rejected Christianity. Why then would she seem to suggest that the destruction of one’s Religious Beliefs place one in a dangerous position. Was she in a dangerous position herself? It makes one ponder where George Eliot really stood. She could simply have shown that under the pressure of Paranormal Experiences Latimer went mad. Why one wonders did she introduce religion at all in this context.
Anyway, back to the novel. Concurrent with this vision Latimer’s relationship with his associates becomes ‘more and more deadened.’ (II). If we accept that this series of visions portrays George Eliot’s own position, ignoring the enigma in the previous paragraph, we conclude that Latimer’s personality disintegrates; that George Eliot seems to have a revulsion for Paranormal Practices which make such VISIONARY INSIGHTS possible.
ISOLATED AND DISINTEGRATING
In fulfillment of the vision Latimer separates from Bertha, wanders in a number of foreign countries isolated from all human contact, and continually experiences the horror of the ‘Unknown Presence’ within (II)
Eventually, the torment of living in a Universe bereft of any Religious Consolation is too great a burden for him, so Latimer returns home completely broken. At this point he receives a PREVISION of his own death. This is both the conclusion of the story and its opening narration.
Why then have I discussed ‘The Lifted Veil’
I have done so for a number of reasons. This novel describes in some detail the different activities of those engaged in the Paranormal: Latimer’s somnambulistic CLAIRVOYANCE was an echo of the abilities claimed by various individuals I referred to in earlier Posts; the description of Latimer ‘in the grip of unknown forces’ resembles the condition that the MESMERISER introduced in his subject; TELEPATHY was also a capability claimed for a person in a MESMERISED state as I have previously discussed at length.
The second reason for discussing this novel is too show George Eliot’s apparent revulsion for practices such as these. Many of the Victorians whom I have discussed at length believed that a new era for Human Society would open up if PHRENOLOGY was employed to discover a person’ potential and then harness it. The same improvement in Society, they believed, would be possible if the powers of the Human Mind could be unleashed by lifting the VEIL on the future, or by TELEPATHY.
In this novel it seems that George Eliot took the opposite view. He explores the consequences of lifting the Veil on normal everyday experiences and examines the implications of EXTENDING the operation of HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS in this direction. Instead of producing happiness it produced abject misery. The horrors of Latimer’ situation increase in proportion to the strength and frequency of his Paranormal Abilities.
I suggest, therefore, that ‘The Lifted Veil’ is George Eliot’s declaration of her abhorrence of following the Victorian practice of dabbling with the Paranormal. In this novel her view seems to be that in order to be reasonably happy, Humans must live within the bounds of LIMITED knowledge. TELEPATHIC insight would result in the alienation of individuals from each other; Society would fragment because man’s baser instincts would be laid bare. In order for Social Groups to cohere these Animalistic Drives need to be veiled or masked.
I am sure there is room for a discussion about the SHADOW here.
Well, there we are.
I am going to deal with the ARCHETYPES in Jack and the Beanstalk next. After, which I shall return to the Paranormal in Victorian Literature with a discussion of two novels by Thomas Hardy, “The Withered Arm” and “The return of the Native”
Anyway, we’ll climb the Beanstalk next.
I hope the Post has been of interest.
Picture Sources Wikimedia Commons