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This review is from: The Lifted Veil, and Brother Jacob: WITH Brother Jacob (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
The Lifted Veil is one of the darkest and bleakest pieces of literature I have ever read but, for all its unremitting gloom, it is devestatingly compelling. Eliot chooses a first-person narrator for her story, a morose and hypersensitive individual named Latimer, who begins to be afflicted with the unwanted ability to 'hear' the interior thoughts and emotions of those around him. The barrier between his own thoughts and those of his acquaintances begins to crumble and break down; his mind becomes overwhelmed with the banal interior monologues of dreary friends as their thoughts bleed through into his own consciousness. Latimer retreats into a state of near emotional non-engagement, only able to sympathise with people whose emotional despair matches his own, and with the enigmatic and beautiful Bertha, the one person whose thoughts remain veiled and hidden from him. After Latimer's brother Alfred dies in an accident Bertha, previously engaged to Alfred, drifts towards the afflicted and love-struck narrator. And then, with brutal, poisonous potency, the thoughts in her mind begin to break through into Latimer's consciousness.....
It's all top-drawer Gothic horror, and completely at odds with Eliot's sober reputation as a firm exponent of realism, but she does have a serious purpose in telling the tale. By portraying such an extreme situation, and someone lost in such an extreme form of emotional hell, Eliot was able to examine the far reaches of sympathetic engagement. It's dark - and I suspect Eliot must have been inhabiting a failry bleak emotional landscape in order to be able to pen such a horrific tale - but it is amazingly imaginitive and perceptive.
The other tale in the volume, Brother Jacob, is a much more light-hearted tale - a reflection on the nature of art and lying. It's worth reading - it is extremely well done - but it's The Lifted Veil, with its narrator drifting through a nightmarish landscape of affliction and self-pity, which lingers (appropriately enough) in he mind.
Read it and, by turns, admire and weep. And if you've ever wished you could really know what someone else was thinking, rather than having to interpret their inner thoughts through gestures and the imperfect, and easily veiled, medium of language, then don't. Other people's minds .... really, it's best not to know .....