Thursday, July 12, 2007

Rappaccini's daughter

Like many of us, I first read this 1844 Hawthorne story in high school. Since then it has haunted me. It makes me understand why Melville saw Hawthorne as an enigma, and reportedly had a note pasted on his wall saying, "Hawthorne- a problem". Or something like that.

To call this work mysterious and deep is an understatement. Hawthorne wrote it in Concord in his early married years at the Olde Manse, when he had never been to Italy or even to Europe. And yet it unmistakably conveys its setting in Padua (inset, Botanical Garden). In this, as in other things, Hawthorne reminds me of Shakespeare.

Just a few of the matters touched on in the story: the relation of men and women, the relation of men to other men, and of fathers and children, the limits of science and medicine, the nature of power, the purity of motivation in research (or lack thereof), the viability of love in a fallen world. And others too numerous to mention.