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Hawthorne at Salem

Hawthorne - Literature

"Rappaccini's Daughter"

Introduction to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

Materials prepared by:

Cathy Eaton, Department of English
New Hampshire Technical Institute, Concord, NH

Melissa Pennell, Department of English
U. of MA Lowell; Lowell, MA

 

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 

Beatrice Rappaccini, daughter of the infamous scientist Signor Giacomo Rappaccini in 16th Century Padua, Italy, is a beautiful, kind, and innocent young woman. She has been isolated from all society and friendship by her father's diabolical knowledge of botanical poisons and his experiment upon her. Signor Rappaccini raised rare poisonous plants in pursuit of medical knowledge and infected his daughter with their poisons so that her very touch or breath can be fatal to another. Beatrice has an interlude of happiness when she falls passionately but chastely in love with a science student, Giovanni Guasconti, who is renting rooms next door to Rappaccini's marvelous but deadly garden. Although aware that Beatrice's touch or breath is deadly to flowers raised elsewhere, insects, and lizards, Giovanni becomes enamored of Beatrice's sweetness, gaiety, and extraordinary beauty. Soon he realizes that he, too, has become infected with the poisons. If he stays with Beatrice in the garden, he, too, will be deadly to all other humans, animals, insects, or plant life. Cruelly, Giovanni accuses Beatrice of infecting him. His heartlessness, plus her father's evil plan to make his daughter deadly to all other living creatures, destroy Beatrice. She dies after taking a supposed antidote developed by Rappaccini's rival, Signor Pietro Baglioni, who has attempted to use Giovanni to get the upper hand in the rivalry with Rappaccini.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote "Rappaccini's Daughter" in 1844 for his collection of short storiesMosses from an Old Manse (1846, 1854). He was then forty-years-old and had been married to Sophia Peabody for two years. Some readers consider "Rappaccini's Daughter" to be an allegorical tale, but offer different interpretations as to the meaning of the allegory. Melissa Pennell has noted that "from a psychological perspective, critics explore the story's reflections of Hawthorne's personal anxieties about women in his life and about the nature of masculinity" while "feminist critics have examined its treatment of the images of woman, especially in light of gender roles in the nineteenth century" (58). Richard Millington suggests that the story offers a critique of the diseased masculinity of the nineteenth century that plays itself out in the destruction of female characters.

Literature Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 

Excerpts from the story "Rappaccini's Daughter" 1844, 1846 [from Mosses from an Old Manse1846, 1854) :

  • This excerpt introduces Beatrice to the reader and to Giovanni Guasconti, watching from the hidden shadows of his bedroom window, as the beautiful, spirited young woman who is obedient to her father and solicitous of the flowers, moves through the garden. 
     
  • This excerpt reveals Giovanni's second glimpse of Beatrice, and her dual nature is revealed. Her physical appearance and her personality are full of beauty, simplicity, and sweetness. She seems to have purposefully twinned herself with the "gorgeous shrub" that her father must avoid. On the other hand, her breath and touch very sinisterly kill or weaken a lizard, an insect, and the bouquet Giovanni throws to her. 
     
  • This excerpt describes the tortured delight that Giovanni feels about Beatrice. Like a youthful suitor, he in infatuated with her and can think of nothing else. On the other hand, his memory of her poisoning innocent insects, plants, and animals horrifies him. 
     
  • This excerpt shows the beginning of the courtship between Beatrice, delighted to have human contact, and Giovanni, bewitched by this beautiful, literally untouchable young woman. Beatrice, in an effort to save him from the touch of the fatal shrub, "leaves a burning and tingling agony in his hand." 
     
  • This excerpt describes how Beatrice and Giovanni's chaste reciprocated love flourishes. This stage of the courtship is bliss. 
     
  • This excerpt follows the scene in which Signor Pietro Baglioni continues his efforts to poison Giovanni's mind and heart against Baglioni's rival Dr. Rappaccini and his daughter. Giovanni decides to test Beatrice and determine whether she is pure and innocent or evil and poisonous. "… now, his spirit was incapable of sustaining itself at the height to which the early enthusiasm of passion had exalted it; he fell down, groveling among earthly doubts, and defiled therewith the pure whiteness of Beatrice's nature." 
     
  • This excerpt follows the scene where Giovanni has discovered that his breath also poisons innocent flowers and insects. Giovanni rushes to accuse Beatrice but is momentarily halted by "recollections of many a holy and passionate outgush of her heart." However, Giovanni destroys Beatrice emotionally, saying, "with venomous scorn and anger 'And finding thy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me, likewise, from all the warmth of life, and enticed me into thy region of unspeakable horror!'" Giovanni is incapable of recognizing her innocence. 
     
  • This excerpt, the conclusion of the story, describes Beatrice's suicide by taking Dr. Baglioni's antidote. Dr. Rappaccini is incapable of realizing that he cursed his daughter when he had intended to protect her from the "condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil, and capable of none." Curiously, Giovanni remains silent as Beatrice passes to a better world.

Full text of "Rappaccini's Daughter"

Images Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

During the nineteenth century the name Beatrice evoked associations with two different women, Beatrice Cenci, and Beatrice from the Divine Comedy. Romantic artists presented Beatrice Cenci as a victim of her family's intrigues during the Renaissance, a beautiful woman driven to murder and then executed for her crime. Dante's Beatrice was his guide through heaven in Part III of the Divine Comedy. She was seen as an image of love and purity, who served as a source of Dante's spiritual inspiration. Hawthorne draws on associations with both of these figures in his treatment of Beatrice Rappaccini. He again refers to Beatrice Cenci in his novel The Marble Faun. Some of the images below present artists’ interpretations of Beatrice Cenci and Beatrice from the Divine Comedy. Others present images of Italy similar to those that Hawthorne might have seen when he wrote "Rappaccini's Daughter."

 

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti
This Pre-Raphaelite painting by D.G. Rossetti reveals the continuing interest in Dante's Divine Comedy and the figure of Beatrice. (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
The Meeting of Dante with Beatrice by Henry Holiday
The Meeting of Dante with Beatrice by Henry Holiday
This painting by Henry Holiday presents the first meeting of Dante and Beatrice. Its composition attempts to convey the admiration Dante felt for Beatrice. 
\"Tombeau de Cecile\"
"Tombeau de Cecile"
An example of an etching of a European scene that was available in New England in the early 19th century. This hangs on the second floor of the Gardner-Pingree House in Salem, MA. (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Beatrice Cenci
Beatrice Cenci
A figure of Beatrice Cenci sculpted by Harriet Hosmer. This work and others reflect the interest in Beatrice Cenci in the 19th century.  
Italian Landscape
Italian Landscape
A nineteenth-century painting of an Italian landcape by Washington Allston, whose work was exhibited in Boston. Hawthorne would have seen landscapes such as this that influenced his descriptions of Italy. 
Venetian Street
Venetian Street
A nineteenth-century painting of an Italian street by John Singer Sargent. This work captures the image of houses whose gardens are concealed behind the walls that front the street.  
Rappaccini's Daughter
Rappaccini's Daughter
Illustration from Hawthorne's Works, Globe Edition, Houghton, Mifflin, and Co.,1880. (courtesy of Terri Whitney)

 

Critical Commentary Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti(courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 
  • John L. Idol, Jr., and Melinda M. Ponder in Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition, describe the heroines in "The Birth-mark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" as "victims"who are penalized by men who try to re-make them. (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
  • David Kesterson in "Margaret Fuller on Hawthorne" from Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition quotes Margaret Fuller's description of Beatrice's perfect love and femininity. (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
     
  • In "Rappaccini's Garden and Emerson's Concord: Translating the Voice of Margaret Fuller " from Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition, Thomas R. Mitchell connects Giovanni's passion and horrified fascination with Beatrice to Hawthorne's complex relationship with Margaret Fuller. .(courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
     
  • In "Stowe and Hawthorne" from Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition, James D. Wallace describes Harriet Beecher Stowe's portrayal of a young man who delights in "Rappaccini's Daughter" and escapes from his masculine world by entering the enchanted garden and connecting to the mysterious Beatrice. (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
     
  • Carol Bensick in "Re-Allegorizing 'Rappaccini's Daughter'" from New Essays on Hawthorne's Major Tales argues for the benefit of reading "Rappaccini's Daughter as an allegory in light of the issues raised through an examination of intellectual history. (courtesy of Cambridge University Press)
     
  • In Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Study of the Short Fiction, Nancy Bungee comments on a thematic issue at the center of the tale. (courtesy of Twayne Publishers
     
  • In her analysis of Hawthorne's story in The Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melissa McFarland Pennell discusses the complexity of Beatrice's character . (courtesy of Greenwood Press)
     
  • In her lecture "Work and Money in Hawthorne's Fiction," Claudia Durst Johnson comments on the nature of male ambition in "Rappaccini's Daughter."
     
  • In his lecture "The Meanings of Hawthorne's Women," Richard Millington poses a literary experiment considering how "Rappaccini's Daughter" might differ had it been written by Margaret Fuller.
     
  • Richard Millington also comments on the continuing presence and effect of male ambition in many of Hawthorne's stories.

Multimedia Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti(courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 
  • In her lecture "Work and Money in Hawthorne's Fiction" delivered at The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site on October 20, 2000, Dr. Claudia Durst Johnson, Professor emeritus, University of Alabama, comments on the nature of male ambition in "Rappaccini's Daughter." (used with permission of the author)
     
  • In his lecture "The Meanings of Hawthorne's Women," delivered at The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site on September 8, 2000, Dr. Richard Millington poses a literary experiment considering how "Rappaccini's Daughter" might differ had it been written by Margaret Fuller. (used with permission of the author)
     
  • In this lecture Dr. Richard Millington also comments on the continuing presence and effect of male ambition in many of Hawthorne's stories. (used with permission of the author)

Websites Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

 

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 

 

"The Removal of the Preface of Hawthorne's 'Rappaccini's Daughter' and the Indian Question" by Masahiro Nakamura, Dept. of Foreign Languages, Aichi University of Education, Kariya 448-8542, Japan [an expanded version of a paper delivered at the 29th Conference of the Chu-Shikoku American Literature Society held on June 17, 2000 at Hiroshima University of Economics]

The paper argues that Hawthorne may have removed the preface of "

Rappaccini's Daughter" in the 1846 and 1851 editions of 

Mosses from an Old Manse for political reasons relating to the issue of Indian Removal.

Symbolism and Allegory in Hawthorne; Washington State University American Authors Website

Harvard Gazette article on acquisition by Houghton Library of Thoreau’s notes during his search of the shoreline on Fire Island where the ship Margaret Fuller was on capsized in July, 1850, and she, her husband, and her child died.

Houghton Library site with images of Thoreau’s notes about his search on Fire Island

Boston Globe article on the discovery of Thoreau’s notes and a transcription of the first page about his search on Fire Island

Explore Activities Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 

1. As Richard Millington suggests in his critical commentary, the story "Rappaccini's Daughter" would be quite different if written by Margaret Fuller. She might have changed the point of view so that the reader saw things from Beatrice's perspective.

To see what effect this might have, imagine that you are Beatrice. Since you have no one to talk to, you record your thoughts in a diary. Write the diary entries that describe your meeting with Giovanni and the way you feel as you continue to see him. What are your hopes for the future?

Compare what you have written to the story by Hawthorne. Has your view of Beatrice changed? Do you see Giovanni or Beatrice's father differently than you did before? How does point of view influence your perceptions?

2. Imagine yourself a detective in 16th century Padua. You have learned of the death of Beatrice Rappaccini, and heard that a family servant claims she died from unnatural causes. You have been asked to investigate whether a crime has occurred, and if so, to identify the perpetrator. You have three possible suspects to interrogate: Giovanni Guasconti, Giacomo Rappaccini, and Pietro Baglioni. To complete your investigation you must do the following:

a. write a list of questions that you will ask each suspect;
b. use the text of the story to find answers to your questions
c. based on your interrogation, determine whether you will charge a suspect with murder and write a list of reasons for your decision

3. As many of the images featured in this section suggest, the figures of Beatrice from Dante's Divine Comedy (Purgatorio) and of Beatrice Cenci informed the characterization of Beatrice Rappaccini in Hawthorne's story. Like many other nineteenth-century artists and writers, Hawthorne was attracted to the image of woman as a redemptive figure who transforms another through love (Dante's Beatrice). He was also fascinated by ideas about woman as a mixed being who represented both innocence and danger (Beatrice Cenci). Read material on the two Beatrices from the web sites "Dante's 'love' for Beatrice" and "Screaming in the Castle". How has Hawthorne drawn upon these two figures to shape Beatrice Rappaccini? What important differences exist between Hawthorne's character and her predecessors?

Images of Beatrice from Dante's Divine Comedy (Purgatorio):

 

The Death of Beatrice by D.G. Rosetti 
The Meeting of Dante with Beatrice by Henry Holiday 

 

Image of Beatrice Cenci

Beatrice Cenci

4. This learning activity was submitted by Donna Reiss, Professor of English at Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach, VA.

Two of Nathaniel Hawthorne's best-known short stories are excellent companions to a reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter." Like Frankenstein, they dramatize the impact of science and technology on human behavior and relationships. Although set in the nineteenth century, these works provoke our thinking about similar issues in the current century and help set the stage for an exploration of these issues throughout the twentieth century. This Explore activity focuses on "Rappaccini's Daughter," but the topics are also relevant for "The Birthmark."

As you read "Rappaccini's Daughter," consider the list of ideas and topics below that are also related to Frankenstein. I recommend that you review the Frankenstein Project Guidelines for suggestions such as the following:

  1. Ethics and science (responsibility of scientists)
  2. Relationship between creator/inventor and creations/inventions
  3. Educational approaches and curricula
  4. Relationships among families and friends
  5. Impact of obsessions on self and others

· The Literature section of the Hawthorne in Salem Website has several topics that you can relate to your reading of "Rappaccini's Daughter." Even when the sources do not refer specifically to that story, sometimes the authors of the online articles discuss other Hawthorne works in ways that you can recognize as similar to "Rappaccini's Daughter." In particular, the sections titled "Women in Hawthorne" and "Alienation" might be of interest.

· In addition, the Explore section links to some graphical and resources and other commentary that might interest you. Ideas of good and evil, for example, are emphasized in the Faith and Religion section.

Lectures and Articles Related to "Rappaccini's Daughter"

<I>Beata Beatrix</I> by D.G. Rossetti
Beata Beatrix by D.G. Rossetti (courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London)
 

Dr. Claudia Durst Johnson, Professor emeritus, University of Alabama: "The Secular Calling and the Protestant Ethic in The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables," lecture delivered at The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site on October 20, 2000.


Dr. Richard Millington, Smith College: "The Meanings of Hawthorne's Women," lecture delivered at The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site on September 8, 2000. 


Dr. Peter Walker, Department of English, Salem State College, "Why We Still Read Hawthorne 150 Years Later,"delivered at Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, on April 17, 2003.