Published the same year as her first novel, Adam Bede, this overlooked work displays the gifts for which George Eliot would become famous—gritty realism, psychological insight, and idealistic moralizing. It is unique from all her other writing, however, in that it represents the only time she ever used a first-person narrator, and it is the only time she wrote about the supernatural.
The tale of a man who is incapacitated by visions of the future and the cacophony of overheard thoughts, and yet who can’t help trying to subvert his vividly glimpsed destiny, The Lifted Veil may easily be read as being autobiographically revealing—of Eliot’s sensitivity to public opinion and her awareness that her days concealed behind a pseudonym were doomed to a tragic unveiling (as indeed came to pass soon after this novella’s publication). But it is easier still to read the story as the exciting and genuine precursor of a moody new form, as well as an absorbing early masterpiece of suspense.
GEORGE ELIOT was born Mary Anne Evans in Chilvers Coton, England in 1819 on an estate managed by her father. When her mother died she left school to run the household, continuing her education alone in the estate’s library. She was multi-lingual and steeped in classical literature by the time a series of her essays and translations led to an invitation to London to edit the prestigiousWestminster Review—anonymously, for fear a female editor would put off readers. When nearly 40 she published the story collection Scenes of Clerical Life, under the pseudonym George Eliot, partly because she was living with a married man, radical publisher George Henry Lewes, and feared being shunned by the public. But in 1849 her fist novel Adam Bede, with its startling realism and psychologically astute characterizations, caused a sensation—and prompted an imposter to claim authorship. Evans revealed herself and was indeed ostracized, although less so with each successful new book, from The Mill on the Floss to Silas Marner and Middlemarch. After 25 years together Lewes died and, still grieving, Evans married their banker, a man 20 years her junior. She died shortly thereafter in 1880.