Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 22 (1991)
Through her altruistic epigraph to a painful story, George Eliot suggests that the journey to greater human fellowship often requires a passage through suffering. In The Lifted Veil, Eliot explores the form of pain that shackles sado-masochistic relationships, and the roots of that pain - buried in the misperception that punishment is deserved. This paper will explore Latimer' s attempt to change by moving through his masochistic stance into the sadism which has bound him.
The masochistic need for the sadist is captured by Eliot when she has Latimer moan:
While the heart beats, bruise it - it is your only opportunity; while the eye can still turn towards you with moist timid entreaty, freeze it with an icy unanswering gaze; while the ear, that delicate messenger to the inmost sanctuary of the soul, can still take in the tones of kindness, put it off with hard civility, or sneering compliment...
Although Latimer's lament rings with self-pity, it also illustrates the tightness of the trap. Latimer' s response at the onset of his heart attack represents a last resistance to change:
I make great effort, and snatch at the bell again. I long for life, and there is no help. I thirsted for the unknown: the thirst is gone. O God, let me stay with the known, and be weary of it: I am content. (2)
Latimer's cry for help is understandable, but surges through entrenched psychological or social structures usually have to be finalized in solitude. The courage to engage in the solitary completion of the journey arises from earlier accomplishments and future promises.