By Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
A Study Guide
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Study Guide Written by Michael J. Cummings...©
Type of Work and Year of Publication
.......Rappaccini's Daughter is a short story with Gothic overtones. It first appeared in the United States Democratic Review (Volume 15, Issue 78) in December 1844. In 1846, it appeared in a Hawthorne collection of stories and sketches, Mosses From an Old Manse.,
published in New York by Wiley and Putnam. (Hawthorne lived in an "old manse" in Concord, Mass., from 1842 to 1845.)
.......The action takes place in the nineteenth century in Padua, a major city in northern Italy. Most of the scenes are set in a garden cultivated by Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini and his daughter, Beatrice, and in an apartment with a view onto the garden. The occupant of the apartment is Giovanni
Guasconti, a medical student at the University of Padua. Other scenes take place on the streets of Padua and at the university, where Guasconti meets a professor of medicine. The university, founded in 1222, maintains Europe's oldest botanical garden, established in 1545.
Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini (pronunciation: JAHK uh mo Rahp uh CHEE ne): Renowned but sinister Padua physician who cultivates highly poisonous plants in his garden with the help of his daughter. He then attempts to extract medical cures from the poisons.
Giovanni Guasconti (pronunciation: Joh VAHN e Gwa SKOHN te): Handsome Neapolitan
student enrolled in the medical curriculum at the University of Padua. He lives in an apartment overlooking Rappaccini's garden and makes the acquaintance of the doctor's daughter, whose beauty and mysterious powers fascinate him.
Beatrice Rappaccini: Daughter of Dr.
Rappaccini. Over the years, her father has exposed her to toxins in his plants and flowers as part of his experimentation. As a result, she becomes poisonous like the flowers, capable of killing an insect or an animal merely by breathing on it. However, she herself is immune to the effects of the toxins. She lives a life of isolation in the doctor's house and garden.
Dr. Pietro Baglioni (pronunciation: PYET ro Bal YOHN e): Professor of medicine at the University of Padua to whom Giovanni Guasconti reports with a letter of introduction from his father, a friend of the professor. Baglioni and Dr. Rappaccini are professional rivals and bitter enemies, one
striving to outdo the other in medical achievements.
Old Lisabetta (pronunciation: Leez uh BET uh): Housekeeper in the mansion where Giovanni Guasconti rents an apartment. She shows Giovanni through corridors that lead to a secret entrance to Dr. Rappaccini's
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2009
.......Before beginning his medical studies at the University of Padua in northern Italy, a young man from southern Italy takes an apartment on an upper floor of an old mansion that once belonged to a family of nobles. He recalls that one member of the family was among the lost souls whom Dante depicted in the Inferno of
his Divine Comedy. This recollection, together with the dreariness of the chamber and the uneasiness the young man feels at being away from home, occasions a heavy sigh from him.
.......His name is Giovanni
Guasconti, a resident of Naples. His good looks have won him the admiration of Lisabetta, an old woman who is trying to give his room a livable atmosphere. Upon hearing his sigh, she suggests that he look out the window at the bright sunshine. When he does so, he notices a well-kept garden that Lisabetta says belongs to a neighbor, the famous physician Giacomo Rappaccini, who cultivates the
plants in the garden to make medicines. His daughter helps him tend it. After completing her chores, Lisabetta leaves.
.......Still contemplating the garden, Giovanni notices the crumbling remains of a marble fountain in the middle of the garden, water
cheerfully burbling from it. Surrounding it are plants and flowers, some in urns bearing carvings and some in ordinary pots. One shrub in a marble vase in the fountain pool displays beautiful purple blossoms. Another thriving plant has wound itself up and around a statue of Vertumnus. A tall man appearsemaciated, sallow, and sickly looking, dressed in a scholar's black
garb. He examines the plants closely but does not smell them or touch them except to remove dead leaves with thick protective gloves. It is as if they are evil. When he examines the shrub with purple blossoms, he wears a mask covering his nostrils and mouth. Then he draws back from it and calls for his daughter, Beatrice.
.......A beautiful young woman comes out, more striking than the most radiant of the flowers. Speaking of the shrub, Rappaccini tells tells Beatrice, [S]hattered as I am, my life might pay the penalty of approaching it so closely as circumstances demand. Henceforth,
this plant must be consigned to your sole charge. Gladly accepting the task, Beatrice speaks to the flower, calling it a sister that she will care for tenderly. In return, the flower is to allow Beatrice to breathe in its fragrance, which the young lady refers to as the breath of life. She then tends to the flower lovingly without wearing a mask or gloves. As evening draws on and Rappaccini
and his daughter exit the scene, Giovanni's fancy suggests to him that the girl and the garden are fraught with some strange peril.
.......In the morning, however, Giovanni's spirits soar when he looks down upon the garden as its dewdrops reflect the
brilliant sunlight. Gone are his ominous fantasies of the previous evening. He thinks himself lucky to have a room that overlooks such floral magnificence.
.......At the university, he presents himself with a letter of introduction to Dr. Pietro Baglioni,
a highly respected professor of medicine. The two of them dine together and engage in conversation enlivened by the effect of wine on Baglioni. Wondering whether the professor knows Rappaccini, Giovanni mentions the latter's name. Baglioni praises Rappaccini for his skills, saying only one other physician in all of Italy can rival his learning. (Here, Baglioni is alluding to himself.) But he adds
that he has certain grave objections to [Rappaccini's] professional character. In particular, he says, Rappaccini is coldly scientific, regarding his patients as objects for experiments rather than as human beings. He would even jeopardize his own life to add a morsel of knowledge to the medical books. Rappaccini, he says, makes deadly poisons from plants, then extracts from the poisons cures
for afflictions. Baglioni acknowledges that occasionally one of Rappaccini's concoctions works.
......."But, to tell you my private mind, Signor Giovanni," Baglioni says, "he should receive little credit for such instances of successthey being probably
the work of chancebut should be held strictly accountable for his failures, which may justly be considered his own work."
.......Listening intently, Giovanni is unaware that Baglioni and Rappaccini have long been rivals in a struggle for dominance in the
medical field. So far, Rappaccini has the upper hand. When Giovanni asks the professor about Rappaccini's daughter, Baglioni replies that her extraordinary beauty is well known to all the young men in Padua, although few of them have actually seen her. But he also says she has learned her father's art so well that she could become a professor herself.
.......While returning to the mansion, Giovanni buys a bouquet of flowers. After arriving in his chambers, he goes straight to the window to look again upon the garden. In a few moments, the young lady appears and goes to the shrub with purple flowers, opens her arms,
and gently embraces it. She then picks one of its flowers. At that moment, Giovanni notices an orange lizard or chameleon on the walkway near the flower. From the broken stem of the picked flower moisture falls on the creature's head. It suffers a spasm and dies. Beatrice, feeling sorry for the creature, makes a sign of the cross, then arranges the deadly flower inside the
décolletage of her dress. No harm comes to her. A moment later, a winged insect hovers about her, then falls and dies. It had not even come in contact with her.
.......When Giovanni makes a slight movement at the window, Beatrice looks up
and sees the handsome young man. Impulsively, he throws her the bouquet of flowers and asks her to wear them for his sake. She thanks him, picks up the flowers, and hurries toward the entrance to her house. Before she disappears from view, Giovanni notices that the flowers are withering. He then doubts his perception. From the window, how could he possibly distinguish a dying flower from a fresh
.......Days pass and Giovanni does not go to the window, for he does not know what to make of this woman. She is both lovely and dangerous. Yes, she fascinates him, but her strange powers also horrify him.
.......One day, Professor Baglioni stops him on a street to talk with him. Just as he is about to speak, a man in black approaches. He is stooped and has a sickly complexion. But his face exhibits an energy of mind. It is Rappaccini. As he passes, he and Baglioni nod
coldly to each other. Rappaccini also gazes momentarily at Giovanni before moving on. Baglioni asks Giovanni whether Rappaccini has ever seen him.
.......Not that I know, Giovanni says.
.......Baglioni then asserts that he knows Rappaccini has seen Giovanni.
.......I know that look of his, Baglioni
.......It is the same look that Rappaccini casts upon a mouse or a butterfly that he is examining after killing it with the poisonous fragrance of a flower. When Baglioni implies that Rappaccini's daughter is helping her father study Giovanni,
the young man becomes angry and walks on. Baglioni stares after him and decidesout of his friendship for Giovanni's father and out of a desire to punish Rappaccinito foil Rappaccini's plans.
.......When Giovanni arrives at his residence, old Lisabetta
greets him and whispers to him that there is a door in the house that opens into Rappacini's garden. He gives her a gold coin, and she leads him through passages that end at the door to the garden. Giovanni enters the garden. The doctor and his daughter are nowhere to be seen. Giovanni then begins scrutinizing the plants. Although they are beautiful, they seem unnatural; he concludes that they
are experimental crossbreeds. Several plants look plainly artificial, glowing only with an evil mockery of beauty.
.......Beatrice enters the garden. To Giovanni's relief, she does not question him about his presence there. Instead, she says she
understands why he would wish to take a close look at the garden. Having heard that she is an expert in horticulture, Giovanni says, he asks her to instruct him in the cultivation and properties of the plants. But she denies having special knowledge of them.
.......I know no more of them than their hues and perfume, she says.
.......Giovanni smells a fragrance when she speaks. Is it her breath or the odor of the flowers?
.......They walk through the garden as Beatrice asks him about life in the city and about himself, his home, his family, and his friends. The way she frames her questions reveals an ignorance about the world outside the garden. It is as if she has never ventured beyond
the garden. They stop at the fountain before the shrub with purple flowers. Giovanni smells a fragrance like that which moments before had seemed to issue from Beatrice.
.......Giovanni makes a move toward the shrub as if to pluck a flower. She grasps his
hand and forces it back, saying, Touch it not! Not for thy life! It is fatal!
.......She runs back to her house, hiding her face. At the entrance to the garden is Dr. Rappaccini, who has been watching the scene.
.......When Giovanni returns inside, he abandons all his misgivings about Beatrice. She is gentle, admirable, lovable. He thinks about her through the night and at dawn lapses into sleep. Not long afterward, a bright rising sun awakens himto pain! It is his right hand,
where Beatrice had gripped it. On his skin is a purple imprint of her fingers. But Giovanni does not make the connection between it and Beatrice. Instead, he wonders what thing injured him and wraps his hand in a handkerchief. Thereafter, he continues to visit the garden. Beatrice, looking for him, always comes out. At times, she comes out first and calls for him. But they never kiss, never even
hold hands. Whenever he reaches out to her, she keeps her distancesadly, with a look of desolation.
.......One morning, Baglioni visits him. He tells Giovanni a story about an Indian prince who presented a gift to Alexander the Great: a beautiful woman
whose breath was a rich perfume. She had been nourished since birth on poisons that rendered her more dangerous than any plant or animal. Giovanni pronounces the tale nonsense. The professor then says he has noticed a strong fragrance in the apartment, then adds, Our worshipful friend Rappaccini, as I have heard, tinctures his medicaments with odors richer than those of Araby. Doubtless,
likewise, the fair and learned Signora Beatrice would minister to her patients with draughts as sweet as a maiden's breath. But wo [woe] to him that sips them!"
.......Baglioni's observation reawakens suspicions in Giovanni, but he suppresses them and
accuses the professor of maligning Beatrice. But Baglioni insists that the young woman is poisonous, like the Indian princess in his story. Her father heartlessly uses her in his experiments, Baglioni says, and now he wants to use Giovanni. However, Baglioni continues, it may not be too late to save Beatrice. He then places a silver phial on a table, one which he says contains a liquid with the
power to restore her to normalcy.
.......After the professor leaves, Giovanni struggles with himself over what to do. One part of him denies that Beatrice is anything but normal; he had to be mistaken about the withering flowers, the lizard, and the
insect. Another part of him worries that she is indeed poisonous. Deciding to conduct a test, he goes out and buys a bouquet of flowers still fresh with morning dew. He plans to present them to Beatrice. After returning to his apartment, he notices that the flowers are beginning to droop. Could it be that he now has poison in his breath? Seeing a spider near the window, he breathes on it. It
convulses and dies. Giovanni is shocked.
.......At that very moment, Beatrice calls to him from the garden. He now feels vengeful toward her. When he goes down and sees her, this feeling begins to diminish. However, he remains sullen, suspicious.
Beatrice senses something is wrong. They walk in the garden. When they stand before the marble fountain, Giovanni finds himself eagerly breathing in the fragrance of the purple flowers. He asks Beatrice about it. She tells him her father created it.
.......[A]t the hour when I first drew breath, this plant sprang from the soil, the offspring of his science. . . . she says. I grew up and blossomed with the plant, and was nourished with its breath.
.......Anger builds in
Giovanni when she tells him that she was cut off from people until she met him. Giovanni can no longer contain his rage.
......."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 . . . Thou hast filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a creature as thyself! "
.......Beatrice, deeply hurt, does not understand what he is saying. He then breathes on garden
insects to demonstrate for her the evil power conferred on him. When the insects begin to fall dead, she shrieks and says she did nothing to cause the change in him.
.......But my father!he has united us in this fearful sympathy . . . Not for a
world of bliss would I have done it!"
.......Giovanni's anger subsides. He then wonders whether it is possible to rid himself and Beatrice of their terrible affliction. Baglioni's phialit could be their salvation. When he produces it, she says she will
drink from it first, cautioning him to await the result before he drinks. As she sips the liquid, her father enters the garden. He is happy to see Beatrice and Giovanni together, believing that they are now united as creatures of his scientific arts.
......."My daughter," Rappaccini says, "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.
.......Beatrice asks her father why he has made her life
so miserable. But he says he gave her a gift, a mighty power. Beatrice replies that she would rather have been loved, not feared. However, what he has done no longer matters, she says, for she is now leaving this world. To Giovanni, she says that his hateful words of a few moments agowords that wounded her heartno longer matter either. She adds, Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison
in thy nature than in mine?"
.......As Beatrice dies, Baglioni, who had reentered Giovanni's apartment, calls from the window, "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?"
Main Theme: Corruption
.......Corruption is the main theme of Rappaccini's daughter. Among the definitions of corruption are these: (1) wickedness, evil, malignity; (2) contamination, pollution, decay. Hawthorne focuses on both kinds of corruption, contrasting one with the other in order to make clear this truth: that the more heinous form
of corruption is the first kind, which lodges in the human heart and intellect. ......."Accursed one!" cried he, 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 . . . Thou hast filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome and deadly a
creature as thyselfa world's wonder of hideous monstrosity! Nowif our breath be happily as fatal to ourselves as to all otherslet us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!".......His tirade against the young woman reveals that the real poison that befouls him lies within his
.......The theme of corruption begins to manifest itself when old Lisabetta refers to the strange flowers that grow in the garden and the narrator mentions plants that
crept serpent-like along the ground. When Rappaccini appears in the garden to study the plants, the narrator observes that the man's demeanor was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality.
.......But the real evil is not in the garden plants; it is in Rappaccini. He is a canker that generates corruption. He first corrupts his soul, committing the father of all sins, pride, by defying God and nature in order to aggrandize his reputation through experiments
that turn his garden into an evil Eden. His experimentation also corrupts his body, which becomes feeble and sickly, and transforms his innocent daughter into a poisonous agent whose very breath can kill.
.......His evildoing extends also to old
Lisabetta, whom he apparently uses as his cat's paw to ensnare Giovannivia Beatrice's charmsfor his experiments. When and how he persuaded or forced Lisabetta to serve him is unknown, but her complicity in his scheming becomes apparent when she informs Giovanni of a secret door to the garden. Giovanni reacts with this thought: [T]his interposition of old Lisabetta might perchance be connected
with the intrigue, whatever were its nature, in which the Professor seemed to suppose that Doctor Rappaccini was involving him [Giovanni].
.......In spite of his misgivings, Giovanni enters the garden to strike up a relationship with the lovely
Beatrice. Over time, his contact with her and the noxious perfumes in the garden corrupt his body, turning it into a reservoir of poison. Outraged, he impugns Beatrice as the corrupting agent.
.......Beatrice then assures Giovanni that she never intended to harm him. I dreamed only to love thee, she says, and be with thee a little time, and so to let thee pass away, leaving but thine image in mine heart. . . But my father!he has
united us in this fearful sympathy.
.......When Giovanni reveals Baglioni's phial as an antidote for the contaminants in their bodies, she says, Give it to me! . . . I will drink but do thou await the result. Her response indicates that she suspects foul play but is willing to test the antidote on herself. If it turns out to be a fatal poison, only she will
die. Giovanni will live. Whether Giovanni's love for Beatrice is as strong as her love for himor whether he even experiences love rather than infatuationis unlikely. After all, he curses her in the belief that she willingly contaminated him, a development revealing that he lacks faith in her. His outrage suggests that his is a fair weather passion. When things go right, he will love her. When
things go wrong, he will withhold his love. Beatrice apparently senses that his love is insincere. When she is dying, she tells him, Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heartbut they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"
.......And what of Professor Baglioni? Is he too corrupt? The evidence suggests that he is. He provides a phial of liquid that he says will restore Beatrice to normalcy. Instead, it kills her within minutes. One may argue that his purpose in providing the poison was to
protect Giovanni, the son of his good friend in Naples. But other evidence suggests that his motive was a mixture of revenge and ambition. Remember, he has been competing with Rappaccini for recognition as the best physician in Italy, as he implies when he tells Giovanni, The truth is, our worshipful Doctor Rappaccini has as much science as any member of the facultywith perhaps one single
exception . . . . The single exception is of course Baglionior so Baglioni appears to think.
.......That Baglioni and Rappaccini are bitter rivals is well known: [T]here was a professional warfare of long continuance between him and Doctor
Rappaccini, the narrator says, in which the latter was generally thought to have gained the advantage. If the reader be inclined to judge for himself, we refer him to certain black-letter tracts on both sides, preserved in the medical department of the University of Padua.
.......It is clear, then, that Baglioni and Rappaccini despise each other. To get the better of Rappaccini, Baglioni plans to poison Beatrice. He muses to himself: This daughter of his! It shall be looked to. Perchance, most learned Rappaccini, I may foil you where you little dream of it!"
.......After Beatrice dies, Baglioni peers down from the window and, as the narrator says, called loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the thunder-stricken man of science: "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?"
Exceeding the Bounds of Morality
.......Rappaccini far exceeds the bounds of morality when he ruins the life of his daughterand jeopardizes his own lifefor the sake of achieving scientific breakthroughs. His fictional research foreshadows the experimentation of historical figures such as the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele. a member of the Institute
for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene, founded in Nazi Germany in 1934. Mengele performed cruel experiments on live human beings in the Birkenau concentration camp, where he served as an SS officer beginning in 1943. Mengele, known as the Angel of Death, was attempting to further his knowledge of twins and of fertility techniques. Jewish inmates became virtual guinea pigs, enduring great
pain and suffering. Here in the 21st Century scientists are experimenting with the possibility of cloning human beings, an activity which theologians generally condemn as unethical and immoral.
.......Although Dr. Rappaccini corrupts the body of Beatrice, her soul remains pristine. She is a gentle young woman who treats even the highly poisonous plant in the marble vase with tenderness. After meeting Giovanni, she falls in love with him. Hers is genuine love that sets no conditions or makes no demands. When
Giovanni reveals Baglioni's phial as an antidote for the contaminants in their bodies, she says, Give it to me! . . . I will drink but do thou await the result. Her response indicates that she suspects foul play but is willing to test the antidote on herself. If it turns out to be a fatal poison, only she will die. Giovanni will live. Whether Giovanni's love for Beatrice is as strong as her
love for himor whether he even experiences love rather than infatuationis open to question. After all, he curses her in the belief that she willingly contaminated him, a development revealing that he lacks faith in her. His outrage suggests that his is a fair weather passion. When things go right, he will love her. When things go wrong, he will withhold his love. Beatrice apparently senses
that his love is insincere. When she is dying, she tells him, Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heartbut they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"
.......Rappaccini and Baglioni, rivals in science, despise each other. One of the goals of Rappaccini's research is to discover medical breakthroughs that will elevate his reputation above Baglioni's. Baglioni retaliates with the phial of poison that kills Beatrice.
.......Because her father has turned Beatrice into a poisonous agent, she remains isolated in her house and garden. Her ignorance of the world outside and her lack of contact with its inhabitants have rendered her a mere child in terms of cultural and social growth, as the following passage attests:[Beatrice] became gay, and appeared to derive a pure delight from her communion with the [Giovanni], not unlike what the maiden of a lonely island might have felt, conversing with a voyager from the civilized world. Evidently her experience of life had been confined within the limits of that garden. She talked now about matters as simple as the
day-light or summer-clouds, and now asked questions in reference to the city, or Giovanni's distant home, his friends, his mother, and his sisters; questions indicating such seclusion, and such lack of familiarity with modes and forms, that Giovanni responded as if to an infant. Artificiality
.......Almost all the plants in Rappaccini's garden appear unnatural to Giovanni. And, he says, Several . . . would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no
longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. The artificiality of the flowers reflects the artificiality of Giovanni's affection for Beatrice. It is insincere. It also reflects the artificiality of Dr. Rappaccini's motives in seeking breakthrough medical cures. His primary interest is not in saving lives but in
enhancing his reputation and satisfying his coldly intellectual curiosity.
.......Dr. Rappaccini exploits Beatrice in his medical research. Giovanni exploits her for her charms; his professed love for her seems insincere. Dr. Baglioni kills Beatrice to spite Rappaccini.
.......To varying degrees, curiosity drives the actions of Dr. Rappaccini (who seeks knowledge about the curative powers of poison), Giovanni Guasconti (who seeks to know more about the strange but lovely young woman in the garden), and Beatrice (who seeks knowledge of the world outside the
Point of View
.......Hawthorne wrote the story in third-person point of view, enabling the narrator to reveal the thoughts of Giovanni Guasconti.
.......The following quoted sentence foreshadows Giovanni Guasconti's contamination with the poisonous perfumes: "Night was already closing in; oppressive exhalations seemed to proceed from the plants, and steal upward past the open window [of Giovanni's apartment]. . . ."
.......The climax occurs when Baglioni's "antidote" fatally poisons Beatrice.
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Symbols, Allusions, and Definitions
alembic: Glass or metal apparatus used for distilling. [T]here was the ruin of a marble fountain in the centre, sculptured with rare art, but so wofully [woefully] shattered that it was impossible to trace the original design from the chaos of remaining fragments. The water, however, continued to gush and sparkle into the sunbeams as cheerfully as ever. A little gurgling sound ascended to the young man's
window, and made him feel as if a fountain were an immortal spirit, that sung its song unceasingly. . . .purple: Possibly a symbol representing experimentation requiring the mixture of one thing with another. (Purple is a "hybrid" color that results from blending blue and red.) Purple may also represent human beings, who are
mixtures of good and bad.
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC): Macedonian general and king who conquered Egypt and vast lands in Asia. Along the path of his march, he founded cities and spread the
culture of Greece.
armorial bearings: Coat of arms; heraldic emblem.
Beatrice: Symbol of purity and goodness. Though her father has corrupted her body with
poisons, Beatrice's soul remains pristine. The narrator compares her soul to the purity of untainted water: "Her spirit gushed out before him like a fresh rill, that was just catching its first glimpse of the sunlight, and wondering, at the reflections of earth and sky which were flung into its bosom." The name Beatrice is derived from the Latin word beatrix, meaning she who
makes people happy. Beatrice was the name of the young woman to whom Dante Alighieri (see Dante, below) dedicated many poems. That woman, Beatrice Portinari, died in 1290, when she was only twenty-four. Dante glorified her in The Divine Comedy.
Borgia: Name of a powerful and corrupt Italian family of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Borgias were of Spanish descent.
Cellini, Benvenuto (1500-1571): Renowned Italian sculptor and metalsmith.
Dante: Dante Alighieri, regarded as Italy's preeminent author. His finest work is The Divine Comedy, which is divided into three sections: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven).
Lacryma: Lacryma Christi, a dry red wine made from grapes from vines flourishing on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples. The name derives from the Latin words lacrima (the word for tear) and Christi (the word for of Christ). Thus, Lacryma Christi means Tear
of Christ. According to an old myth, Lucifer wreaked destruction on the slopes of Vesuvius after God cast him out of heaven. Saddened by what he saw, Christ cried. His tears watered the slopes of Vesuvius, resulting in the germination and growth of vines that produced heavenly grapes.
marble fountain: Symbol of physical corruption and purity of soul. In this respect, it is like Beatrice. Consider the description of the fountain:
Rappaccini's black clothing: Symbol of evil. Black is a primordial symbol, a term coined by Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) to describe objects, colors, and other external stimuli that (1) have existed since the beginning of time and
(2) are generally perceived in the same way by all people. Examples of other primordial symbols are an overcast sky (gloom, depression, despair), the color red (anger, passion, war, blood), the color green (new life, hope), autumn (old age), winter (death).
Vertumnus: In Roman mythology, the god of seasons and of ripening plants and fruits. He woos and wins Pomona, a nymph. Before meeting Vertumnus, she had confined herself to her garden to tend plants and fruits. The statue of Vertumnus can be interpreted as a symbol of Giovanni, who woos Beatrice.
Role of the Mansion
.......The old mansion in which Giovanni Guasconti lodges casts a sinister and mysterious shadow over the story, thereby undergirding the story's mood and tone.
.......First, the narrator notes that Guasconti's apartment is in a "high and gloomy chamber" of the building. Next, he reveals the following thought of Guasconti about the family that once occupied the mansion: "one of the ancestors of this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion, had been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of his "Inferno." The
Inferno is hell as Dante envisioned it. In his Divine Comedy, he describes the agonies suffered by souls condemned to nine circles that make up the Inferno. The narrator in Hawthorne's story does not mention the name of the ancestor, but it could have been Reginaldo degli Scrovegni. Scrovegni was a notorious Paduan usurer (a moneylender who profits from high interest rates). Dante confined
him to the Seventh Circle of his Inferno. The ancestor could also have been Ezzolino da Romano (1194-1259), a tyrannical ruler of Padua and other cities. After the death of his first wife, he married a woman named Beatrice. He also is confined to the Seventh Circle.
.......The narrator later reveals, through old Lisabetta, that the mansion has a secret door leading into Rappaccini's garden. This doorand the corridors leading to itadd an element of Gothic mystery.
Figures of Speech
Following are examples of figures of speech in "Rappaccini's Daughter":
Alliteration 1...[O]ne shrub in particular, set in a marble vase in the midst of the pool . . . bore a profusion of purple blossoms
Repetition of a consonant sound
2...[The sun] gilded the dew-drops that hung upon leaf and blossom, and, while giving a brighter beauty to each rare flower, brought everything within the limits of ordinary experience.
3...[Beatrice] was worthiest to
be worshipped; she was capable, surely, on her part, of the height and heroism of love.Metaphor
Comparison of unlike things without using like, as, or than1...[H]ope and dread kept a continual warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing one another
and starting up afresh to renew the contest. (Comparison of hope and dread to battlefield combatants)
2...basking in the oriental sunshine of her beauty (Comparison of beauty to sunshine)Personification
Comparison of a thing to a personPassion will choose his own time to rush upon the scene, and lingers sluggishly behind, when an appropriate adjustment of events would seem to summon his appearance.
(Comparison of passion to a male human being)Onomatopoeia
Word that imitates a sound1...A little gurgling sound ascended to the young man's window. . . .
2...[T]here came the sight and sound of rustling leaves, Simile
Comparison of unlike things using like, as, or than1..."Here am I, my father! What would you?" cried a rich and youthful voice from the window of the opposite
house; a voice as rich as a tropical sunset. . . . (Comparison of the voice to a sunset)
2..."Signor!Signor!" whispered she, still with a smile over the whole breadth of her visage, so that it looked not unlike a grotesque carving in wood, darkened by
centuries. (Comparison of the face to a wood carving)
3...A fervor glowed in her whole aspect, and beamed upon Giovanni's consciousness like the light of truth itself. (Comparison of fervor to the "light of truth")Paradox
Contradictory statement that may actually be trueParagraph 3: And down he hastened into that Eden of poisonous flowers.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1...Write a short psychological profile of Dr. Rappaccini.
2...Write a short psychological profile of Giovanni Guasconti.
3...Imitating Hawthorne's style, write a continuation of the story that reveals the fate of Giovanni Guasconti.
an essay that tells how modern medical science uses poisons to produce agents that can cure patients of diseases or immunize them against the effects of poisons, such as snake venom.
5...Is Professor Baglioni guilty of murder?
6...What does Dr. Rappaccini have in common with Victor Frankenstein?
7...Does science have a
right to jeopardize the life of one human being in order to improve or save the lives of many human beings?
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