Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

A young and celebrated doctor, friend of M***, attempts a transfusion with his own blood. The operation succeeds and the dead woman is revived. In this brief flash of life, she recognizes Mme *** who has just entered the room, and “unveils” her guilt: “You plan to poison your husband,” she cries.
— George Eliot, The Lifted Veil

H. É. Blanchon’s La Transfusion du sang, a painting of a revived woman pointing an accusatory finger at another woman while a doctor and man look on

The story is told by the husband, now old and long separated from his wife. He foresees his death:

The time of my death approaches. I have lately been subject to attacks of angina pectoris, and in the ordinary course of things, my physician tells me, I may fairly hope that my life will not be protracted many months . . . I shall not much longer groan under the wearisome burthen of this earthly existence . . . I foresee when I shall die, and everything that will happen in my last moments.

Just a month from this day, on 20 September 1850, I shall be sitting in this chair, in this study, at 10 o’clock at night, longing to die, weary of incessant insight and foresight, without delusions and without hope. Just as I am watching, a tongue of blue flame rising from the fire, and my lamp is burning low, the horrible contraction will begin in my chest. I still only have time to reach the bell, and pull it violently, before the sense of suffocation will come. . . .

The sense of suffocation increases: my lamp goes out with a horrible stench: I make a 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. . . .

Darkness—darkness—no pain—nothing but darkness: but I am passing on and on through the darkness: my thoughts stay in the darkness, always with the sense of moving onward. . . .

From The Lifted Veil by George Eliot, Oxford World Classics, Oxford University Press.


  1. H. É. Blanchon’s painting, La Transfusion du sang, no longer exists, but a black and white photograph of poor quality has survived in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris.

Summer 2015



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