0 05 1 - 13 2007

Behind the Veil: Gender and Apocalypse in George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil (1859) and Wilkie Collins’s The Two Destinies (1876)

Ryan Barnett

Abstract


Although the term 'apocalypse' is often used to refer to a catastrophic event it literally means 'to unveil' and, pre-biblically, signified the unveiling of a virgin bride. It is in the sense of the apocalypse as an 'unveiling' that, in a discussion of George Eliot's 1859 novella The Lifted Veil and Wilkie Collins's 1876 novel The Two Destinies, I will explore the links between the notion of apocalypse and the 'secret' of female sexuality. In Eliot's and Collin's stories, I argue, female sexuality is portrayed as an apocalyptic secret that exists above and beyond the play of veiling and unveiling. Indeed, when the veil concealing this apocalyptic secret is lifted, in Eliot's and Collins's text, the revelation reveals only a blank, an absence. In this sense, I claim, The Lifted Veil and The Two Destinies can be said to anticipate Jacques Derrida's assertion, in his essay "Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy," that the final veil of the apocalypse cannot be lifted, that it remains always 'to come.' The apocalyptic secret of female sexuality, which lies behind the veil in Eliot's and Collins's texts, I conclude, mirrors the secret that literature itself represents: a secret that, like the apocalypse and female sexuality, is radically unknowable. For both Eliot and Collins, it seems, the apocalypse is never 'now,' but only ever the constantly deferred promise of an unveiling 'to come.'

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ISSN 1749-9771