"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Lines I Wish I’d Written: Giovanni Loves Beatrice from “Rappaccini’s Daughter”

I’ve been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fascinating short story, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and came across this noteworthy passage.  You can read about the story and its themes here. 

Let me briefly set it up.  Giovanni Guasconti, a young University student, has observed Beatrice, the beautiful daughter of the scientist Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, and has fallen in love with her.  Dr. Rappaccini is a scientist who will do anything for science, including experiments on his own daughter, and in his research of poisonous plants has allowed his daughter to be infused with poisons and the result is that her breath and touch is caustic to whatever comes in contact.  Giovanni has just met her face to face for the first time and in their encounter she has touched his right hand.  He now is back in his room thinking over her beauty. 

No sooner was Guasconti alone in his chamber than the image of Beatrice came back to his passionate musings, invested with all the witchery that had been gathering around it ever since his first glimpse of her, and now likewise imbued with a tender warmth of girlish womanhood. She was human; her nature was endowed with all gentle and feminine qualities; she was worthiest to be worshipped; she was capable, surely, on her part, of the height and heroism of love. Those tokens which he had hitherto considered as proofs of a frightful peculiarity in her physical and moral system were now either forgotten, or, by the subtle sophistry of passion transmitted into a golden crown of enchantment, rendering Beatrice the more admirable by so much as she was the more unique. Whatever had looked ugly was now beautiful; or, if incapable of such a change, it stole away and hid itself among those shapeless half ideas which throng the dim region beyond the daylight of our perfect consciousness. Thus did he spend the night, nor fell asleep until the dawn had begun to awake the slumbering flowers in Dr. Rappaccini's garden, whither Giovanni's dreams doubtless led him. Up rose the sun in his due season, and, flinging his beams upon the young man's eyelids, awoke him to a sense of pain. When thoroughly aroused, he became sensible of a burning and tingling agony in his hand--in his right hand--the very hand which Beatrice had grasped in her own when he was on the point of plucking one of the gemlike flowers. On the back of that hand there was now a purple print like that of four small fingers, and the likeness of a slender thumb upon his wrist.
Oh, how stubbornly does love,--or even that cunning semblance of love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root into the heart,--how stubbornly does it hold its faith until the moment comes when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist! Giovanni wrapped a handkerchief about his hand and wondered what evil thing had stung him, and soon forgot his pain in a reverie of Beatrice.

Excerpt taken from Literature Network, where you can read the entire story. 
That is a lovely passage.  I think highly of Hawthorne’s short stories, and this one is captivating in its symbolism and moral construct.  It is clear that Dr. Rappaccini is immoral, and though Beatrice is an innocent victim, is it wrong for Giovanni to pursue her and become entangled in an evil endeavor?  I won’t spoil it, so do read the story. 
While I think highly of Hawthorne’s short stories, I do find his prose to be a bit ridged, if not overly formal.  [Nathaniel Hawthorne is the author of the great American novel, The Scarlet Letter, and you can read about him here.]  Concurrently I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi and the contrastin style is striking.  Compare with my Twain passage I wished I had written, here.  I guess Hawthorne’s prose is very 19th century-ish while Twain’s breaks through from his milieu with his lyricism and understanding of spoken American rhythms.  Still this passage from Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is very good. 

I’m debating whether to do a full analysis of the story, but I am behind on the analyses I had planned.  So I’m not sure whether I will.  If anyone reads this story and wants my breakdown of it, please let me know; that will push me over to doing it.


  1. I remember wading through the Scarlet Letter in High School. You did make me curious about this story, though, so I bookmarked it. We'll see! :)

    1. I think you would actually like this story Kelly. It's got a lot of symbolism, sort of like an inverse garden of eden. I think it's a great story.