Hawthorne begins the story with a brief description of the literary style and work of fictional Monsieur L'Aubepine, the author of "Rappaccini's Daughter".
Giovanni Guasconti, a young man from southern Italy, comes to Padua to pursue a University education. His room, a high and gloomy chamber in an old mansion, is desolate but for a sole window, which overlooks a beautiful garden. The garden, the youth is told, belongs to Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, a famous doctor who distils the plants from his garden into medicines. In the center of the magnificent garden is one particularly interesting plant – a large shrub with purple blossoms set in a marble vase.
While peering through his window, Giovanni spies the doctor working in the garden. The doctor, a tall, old, emaciated and sickly looking man, examines each plant with clinical intentness; he does not treat the plants with emotion, avoiding both their odors and their touch. As the doctor nears the purple plant, he puts on a mask, but as if finding the task of tending to the plant to be still too dangerous, he calls for his daughter, Beatrice. He relinquishes care of the plant to his daughter, who, as strikingly beautiful as the plants around her, busily begins to tend to the poisonous plant as if it were a sister. That night, Giovanni dreams about Beatrice; in the dream, “flower and maiden were different, and yet the same, and fraught with some strange peril in either shape".
The next day, Giovanni meets with Signor Pietro Baglioni, a professor of medicine and Giovanni’s father’s old friend. He tells Giovanni that Doctor Rappaccini is a brilliant scientist with an objectionable character, as he cares more for science than for mankind and would gladly sacrifice the lives of others for intellectual gain. Baglioni laughs at Giovanni’s interest in Beatrice; while all young men are “wild” about her, few have had the fortune of seeing her. Baglioni suggests that Beatrice has learned at her father's feet and that "she is already qualified to fill a professor's chair". On the way home, Giovanni happens to pass a florist and purchases a bouquet of flowers.
Back in his room, Giovanni sees Beatrice pluck one of the blossoms from the purple shrub. A few drops of moisture from the plant fall upon a passing lizard, killing it instantaneously. Beatrice seems unsurprised, and fastens the poisonous blossom to her bosom. Soon thereafter, Beatrice stops to admire a beautiful insect – which immediately drops dead, seemingly at her breath. Giovanni witnesses these scenes with awe and horror, but scarcely has time to respond before Beatrice sees him spying on her from the window. He throws down the bouquet of flowers; she thanks him, and runs away. As she leaves, Giovanni believes that he sees the flowers already withering in her grasp.
For days after this encounter, Giovanni avoids the window, with feelings of both fear and love alive in his heart. He took to running through the streets, his pace matching the pace of thoughts whirling about in his brain. One day, he is overtaken by Baglioni, who is surprised at his haste. Doctor Rappaccini passes him, and the look in his eye tells Baglioni that Giovanni has become the subject of one of the Doctor’s experiments. Giovanni does not want to accept this possibility, and breaks away from the old professor.
On his way home, Giovanni is stopped by Lisabetta, an old woman who showed him his room when he first moved to the city. Lisabetta leads him to the garden’s secret entryway; for a moment, the thought asses Giovanni’s mind that this might be part of the doctor’s experiment, but it seemed “absolutely necessary” that he continue into the garden.
Inside the garden, Giovanni and Beatrice begin to talk. She mentions that she knows nothing of her father’s science, and asks Giovanni to believe only what he sees with his own eyes. Walking through the garden, they stop at the purple plant. Giovanni extends his hand to pluck one of its blossoms, but Beatrice grasps his hand and flings it away from the plant, exclaiming that it is “fatal”. Beatrice flees, and Giovanni sees the Doctor watching them from the shadows. When Giovanni awoke the next day, his hand in pain from her touch, a purple outline of her fingers visible on his skin.
After many meetings with Beatrice, Giovanni is visited one day by Professor Baglioni, who comments on the smell of a strange perfume in Giovanni’s room. Baglioni tells Giovanni a story of an Indian prince who sent a woman as a present to Alexander the Great. This woman was beautiful, but had a deadly secret – she had been nourished with poison since birth, so that her being became poisonous and her embrace would bring death. Baglioni tells Giovanni that this is Beatrice’s secret as well, a truth Giovanni is unwilling to accept. Baglioni gives Giovanni a vial with an antidote, which he urges Giovanni to give to Beatrice and cure her of her father’s work. After showing his visitor the door, however, Giovanni finds that flowers wilt at his touch, and a spider dies from his breath. He realizes that he has now become poisonous, like Beatrice.
In the garden, he confronts Beatrice about the plant. She reveals that her father created it, and that she knew of its dangerous powers – and of its effect on her. Giovanni curses her for severing him from the world and knowingly entrancing him into the same horrible state. Beatrice is shocked, and gravely upset by this. She swears ignorance, and although Giovanni comes to believe her, his words had already hurt her deeply. Giovanni doesn’t realize the weight of his words and believes he can still save her; he gives her the antidote, which she willingly drinks. At that same instant, her father appears. He tells her that it was nor a curse, but rather a gift, to be made as “terrible” as she was beautiful. But, Beatrice retorts that she would rather have been loved than feared. As she sinks to the ground, she reminds Giovanni of his hateful words, and asks him, “was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?” The poison in her body had become part of her life; the antidote succeeded not in saving her but in killing her. Baglioni, looking forth from the window, is both triumphant for finally defeating Rappaccini at his own game – but also horrified at the result.
Hawthorne begins this story with a preamble about the French "author" of the tale - a man by the name of l'Aubepine. In French, aubepine is the name for a flowering shrub known in English as hawthorn. "Rappacini's Daughter" begins with a literary joke which calls attention to Hawthorne's role as storyteller, and continues with allusions to works such as The Divine Comedy and the Bible. Beatrice, the title character, is a reference to Dante's guide through Paradiso in The Divine Comedy; Giovanni's own relative is rumored to have been the inspiration for one of Dante's characters; Rappaccini's garden is referred to as the "Eden of the present world". Beatrice's undoing at the end of the story is precipitated by her loss of innocence; once she knows that she is poisonous, she chooses to die.
The story’s tragic end demonstrates that Beatrice’s death is the product of the ambitions of three men. Her father, Doctor Rappaccini, may be considered a callous scientist who, as Baglioni would have us believe, offered his daughter up as a scientific experiment. Rappaccini’s true motivations, however, are revealed in his final words to his daughter:
"My daughter, thou art no longer lonely in the world! Pluck one of those precious gems from thy sister shrub, and bid thy bridegroom wear it in his bosom. It will not harm him now! My science, and the sympathy between thee and him, have so wrought within his system, that he now stands apart from common men, as thou dost, daughter of my pride and triumph, from ordinary women. Pass on, then, through the world, most dear to one another, and dreadful to all besides!"
Beatrice, however, laments her condition, to which Rappaccini replies:
"What mean you, foolish girl? Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts, against which no power nor strength could avail an enemy? Misery, to be able to quell the mightiest with a breath? Misery, to be as terrible as thou art beautiful? Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil, and capable of none?"
In these words, Rappaccini demonstrates that he meant not to harm his daughter, but rather protect her from the evils of the world. In a sense, he can be regarded as the most dedicated of fathers, using his ingenuity and expertise to fashion a lasting defense mechanism for his daughter. On the other hand, in his final exchange with Beatrice, he does not seem to understand why his daughter would prefer to live a normal and defense-free human being. Instead, he naively believed that bringing Giovanni into her same state so that the two could live an insulated life together could make her happy. How could such an intelligent scientist misunderstand the needs of the human heart?
Giovanni, too, is not what we originally see. Instead of a youth in love, he is merely overtaken with curiosity, lust, and vanity. In fact, his interest in Beatrice can, in a way, be compared to Rappaccini’s interest in science, and Baglioni’s interest in the old rules of medicine. All these men care for one thing, but in pursuing it, neglect its true foundation. Giovanni rashly lashes out at Beatrice, demonstrating that his love for her was ridden with doubt and distrust, demonstrating his own shallow and selfish nature. Rappaccini aims to protect his daughter, but in doing so, overlooks her personal interests. And Baglioni, while claiming to uphold the good rules of medicine that protect human life, invest suspicions into Giovanni’s mind and presents him with the very “medicine” that kills Beatrice, making him just as evil as Rappaccini in the end.
This story bears a similar lesson to those learned in many of Hawthorne's other works. Specifically, it warns against what may happen to man when, in the quest for scientific or intellectual development, he "attempts to usurp the function of God," a lesson observed in “The Birthmark" and "Ethan Brand". Some have argued that the story is an allegory for the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, with Rappaccini as Adam, and Beatrice as Eve. Although in Hawthorne's tale Rappaccini infects Beatrice and not the other way around, the argument has been made that perhaps Hawthorne transferred some of Eve's role to Adam as he did not fully accept the Scriptural description. As is the case with Georgiana in "The Birthmark", Beatrice does not have agency over her own life - only her death. Here, Hawthorne is subtly critiquing the gender roles of his time. Rappaccini and Giovanni's desires to control or change Beatrice lead to her ruin, a fate she accepts.
An Analysis of Rappaccini's Daughter: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Most Complex Short Story
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An Analysis of Rappaccini's Daughter: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Most Complex Short Story
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on the forth of July in Salem, Massachusetts. He writes of the sentimental affection for the town of his birth - he described his feeling "to the deep and aged roots which my family has struck into the soil" (DLB 144). Hawthorne's work is unique because of the combination of these three ideas: "love of his ancestral soil, a strong sense of the richness of the American past, and that moral quality of the human heart" (DLB 145). Because he loved life and his background and where he was from and enabled him to be a better writer.
Interestingly to me, Hawthorne attended college and when he graduated he moved back home with his mother (his father died when he was only four). He had started writing some in college and soon published his first work after graduation. He said this was a lonely and difficult time for him because he earned little money, but did learn a lot. The first thing he published was Fanshawe (1828). Soon after he did, he learned that publication of his work was a mistake and he wanted all copies destroyed. He disposed of all the ones that he could get his hands on and asked his family and friends to do the same. A fire at the local bookstore destroyed all of the rest of the unsold copies. This must have been a sad time for him. To be able to actually write something and publish it and then deliberately trash all of them.
On the ninth day of July in 1842, Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody. He wanted to marry her long before this time, but was not making very much money and was afraid he would not be able to support. He did slow down writing for a while and worked at a farm to try to earn some money so he could have the money that he wanted. He learned fast that manual labor left little energy for anything else (DLB 153). Edgar Allan Poe described Hawthorne as a man of "truest genius". Others said he was a "truly American literary voice".
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Rappaccini Short Story Nathaniel Hawthorne Daughter First Thing Edgar Allan Strong Sense Human Heart Trash
Mosses from an Old Manse" was Hawthorne's last collection in writing short stories. He would still work on small works, but this would be his last big one.
Many of Hawthorne's books are science fiction fantasies. The conflict in values between the conservative tradition in science that relied on authority is illustrated in "Rappaccini's Daughter" with the conflict between Professor Baglioni and Doctor Rappaccini. Baglioni defines Hawthorne's sense of the Faustian quest when he says of his rival, "he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind...He would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustard seed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge" (DLB 158). Rappaccini's laboratory is the garden and the plants seem to threaten him. When he has to touch a flower he calls for his daughter, Beatrice because she is "better with them". She herself is a poisonous "plant". Anything that she breathes on will die. This is scary that a father would treat his daughter the way he did. His patients were only good for one thing he thought - being a subject for an experiment. Some scholars say that "Rappaccini's Daughter" is probably the most complex of all of Hawthorne's short stories. Rappaccini is an evil man that is extremely smart, but he is also a loving and protective father. Beatrice is a person of purity and also a little evil too. Giovanni is a student at the University of Padua and his room overlooks the garden. When he sees Beatrice he immediately falls in love with her. He was so attracted to her that sometimes when he watched from the window he thought he could be dreaming. "He was struck by its expression of simplicity and sweetness; qualities that had not entered into his idea of her character, and which made him ask anew, what manner of mortal she might be" (Lauter 2242). Beatrice was so powerful that she could have anything in her reach to die in a second. For example, when she went to the flower and asked for "thy breath". The stem broke from the flower and a few drops of the moisture fell onto a lizard's head and killed him. " Beatrice observed this remarkable phenomenon, and crossed herself, sadly, but without surprise; nor did she therefore hesitate to arrange the fatal flower in her bosom" ( Lauter 2242). I do not think Beatrice enjoyed killing these innocent flowers and animals, but she had to for her father and for her to live. Giovanni witnessed this incident and he couldn't believe what he saw. he really thought he could be dreaming. He didn't look out of the window for many days afterwards either. Here he was watching this beautiful girl in the garden, and then he sees her kill 2 things that were living seconds before. He really felt betrayed (Lauter 2243). When he finally meets her, he decides that she is nothing but a good person. Baglioni is a friend of Giovanni's parents and he is also a scientist. Beatrice poisoned Giovanni by putting fumes in his room and now he kills thing too, that he touches. Baglioni says he can give Beatrice something to cure her. "Beatrice drinks the remedy and dies, blaming her father for his interference and Giovanni for his cruelty" ( Bunge 68). Since no one knew about the "cure", Baglioni could have said that her father ended up killing her and not him. This would have made him a "better scientist". Obviously neither one of these men had compassion for human life - they were still trying to compete against one another and if it meant ending a life it did not matter to either one of them. Rappaccini's garden is both "the Eden of the present world" and a poisonous death trap.
Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 74 pg. 143-163. American Short Story Writers
Lauter, Paul. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Third Edition Volume 1.
pg. 2236- 2255
Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. pg.67-71