Friday, August 12, 2011

A Bit of Victorian Horror

From Melville House
The Lifted Veil
George Eliot

I never expected to like George Eliot. First of all, I didn’t realize George was really Mary Anne. Then when I realized that, I figured she was going to write like Jane Austen , and (gasp!) I’ve never been an Austen fan.  Then I learned that Mary Anne was quite the radical – she was living with a man who was married, but in an open relationship with his wife. His wife apparently also had a long term relationship with another man. After being intrigued by her life story, I figured I’d try one of her books. I picked up Middlemarch, all 799 pages of it. And I loved it. It was funny! Since then, I’ve wanted to read something else she’d written.

The front flap of my edition (published by Melville House) points out that this novella can be read as revealing “Eliot’s sensitivity to public opinion and her awareness that her days concealed behind a pseudonym were doomed to a traumatic unveiling.”

It’s also a straightforward moody, suspense-filled tale. It follows the life of Latimer, a withdrawn, sensitive boy born into a wealthy family. His mother dies when he is seven, leaving him with his father and Alfred, his half-brother from his father’s first marriage.

After an illness in Geneva, a teenaged Latimer seems to have been given a gift of premonitions. He gets flashes of insight into the motivations and thoughts of those around him. This is a torment, especially as people think of him rather dismissively. The only person whom he can’t “read” is Bertha, the family’s lovely young neighbor, who becomes engaged to Alfred. Of course, this inability to know Bertha’s innermost thoughts makes her completely irresistible to Latimer.

Okay, I have to admit that this reminded me of Season One of True Blood, where Sookie discovers that she can’t read vampire thoughts. This is one of the reasons she’s so attracted to Bill. How’s that for a high-brow comparison? But seriously, I can imagine how overwhelming and tiring it would be to know what is going on in everyone’s head. If you found someone whose thoughts you couldn’t read, it would be such a relief to be around them.

Back to the book: Latimer is definitely a brat. He’s jealous of his big, strapping, healthy, good-natured, selfish brother. He wallows in his unhappiness. But he admits as much, saying

The quick thought came, that my selfishness was even stronger than his – it was only a suffering selfishness instead of an enjoying one.

That bit of self-awareness makes him much easier to handle. Also, you know he’s dying, so that makes him a bit more sympathetic as well.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It felt like the type of scary story you’d hear if you were gathered around the fireplace in a big creaky mansion a hundred years ago. Fun!


Heidi'sbooks said...

MJ, I'm a first time visitor to your blog. I loved this too. Now, I need to tackle Middlemarch. I've had it on my Kindle, but was afraid of the size. After reading this little novella, I think I'm ready to read more Eliot titles.

MJ said...

Hi Heidi - welcome! I was surprised how quickly I sped through Middlemarch. The length is definitely a bit imposing, but don't let it put you off!

Amy said...

Great review!

K @ BaffledBooks said...

Awesome review, I am glad to see the experience with your second book in the challenge was a good one!

MJ said...

@K @ BaffledBooks
Thanks - I'm happy, too! I have one more to read to get to my goal level, so we'll see what happens with "The Country of Pointed Firs."

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I'm in the midst of Middlemarch right now and I'm loving it too! I'll definitely check this one out.

Shelley said...

I love George Eliot! I'll have to grab this one sometime--I'm trying to read everything by her.

Jillian said...

I read this one at night -- it kind of creeped me out. Isn't Eliot's writing incredible? I haven't read any of her other works. Soon...

Love the line you picked out.