Rappaccini's Daughter

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"Rappaccini's Daughter"
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Short story
Published in Mosses from an Old Manse
Publication type Anthology
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date 1844

"Rappaccini's Daughter" is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne published in the 1844 collection Mosses from an Old Manse. It is about Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher in medieval Padua who grows a garden of poisonous plants. He brings up his daughter to tend the plants, and she becomes resistant to the poisons, but in the process she herself becomes poisonous to others. The traditional story of a poisonous maiden has been traced back to India, and Hawthorne's version has been adopted in contemporary works.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is set in Padua, Italy, in a distant and unspecified past. From his quarters, Giovanni Guasconti, a young student of letters, looks at Beatrice, the beautiful daughter of Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, a scientist who works in isolation. Beatrice is confined to the lush and locked gardens, which are filled with poisonous plants grown by her father. Giovanni notices Beatrice's strangely intimate relationship with the plants as well as the withering of fresh flowers and the death of an insect when exposed to her skin or breath. Having fallen in love, Giovanni enters the garden and meets with Beatrice a number of times, while ignoring his mentor, Professor Pietro Baglioni, who warns him that Rappaccini is up to no good and that he and his work should be avoided. Giovanni discovers that Beatrice, having been raised in the presence of poison, is poisonous herself. Beatrice urges Giovanni to look past her poisonous exterior and see her pure and innocent essence, creating great feelings of doubt in Giovanni. He begins to suffer the consequences of his encounters with the plants – and with Beatrice – when he discovers that he himself has become poisonous; after another meeting with Baglioni, Giovanni brings a powerful antidote to Beatrice so that they can be together, but the antidote kills Beatrice rather than getting rid of her poisonous nature.

Sources[edit]

According to Octavio Paz, the sources of Hawthorne's story lie in India. In the play Mudrarakshasa, one of two political rivals employs the gift of a visha kanya, a beautiful girl who is fed on poison. This theme of a woman transformed into a phial of venom is popular in Indian literature and appears in the Puranas. From India, the story passed to the West and contributed to the Gesta Romanorum, among other texts. In the 17th century, Robert Burton picked up the tale in The Anatomy of Melancholy and gave it a historical character: the Indian king Porus sends Alexander the Great a girl brimming with poison.

There is no direct evidence that Hawthorne was aware of any of these earlier stories; however, in the story itself Pietro Baglioni draws a parallel between Beatrice's fate and an old story of a poisonous Indian girl presented to Alexander, a tale that appears to be based on the Burton/Browne story.

Style[edit]

Hawthorne begins the story with reference to the writings of the fictional writer "Monsieur Aubépine", named after the French name of the Hawthorn plant. He both praises and criticizes the author's style and intent. This introduction aims to establish a tone of uncertainty and confusion, throwing off expectations and establishing the theme of the interrelationship of perception, reality and fantasy.

Major themes[edit]

  • The productive and destructive powers of scientific discovery
  • Evil versus good
  • Voyeurism and adoration
  • The ways in which fantasy and reality work together and against each other to shape one's perceptions

"Rappaccini's Daughter" contains references to Dante's Divine Comedy, the Garden of Eden, and Milton's Paradise Lost as it juxtaposes the scientific aspects of research (Professor Rappaccini and Professor Baglioni) with spirituality (Giovanni and Beatrice) and explores original sin. Hawthorne's story is often compared to a later work by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., a novel called Elsie Venner.[1]

Adaptations[edit]

Operas[edit]

Plays[edit]

  • Spanish-language play: La Hija de Rappaccini by Octavio Paz (1956)
  • English-language play: Rappaccini's Daughter by Sebastian Doggart (1996)

The 26th Annual Festival of New Musicals (NAMT 2014) presented the musical "Beautiful Poison," music by Brendan Milburn, lyrics by Valerie Vagoda, book by Duane Poole. The story has been updated to a steamy New Orleans setting where a rock star singer/songwriter at a personal and professional crossroads is booked by his agent into a New Orleans night club. Upon arriving there, he meets a beautiful, mysterious woman held captive by her father, Dr. Rappaccini, in a garden of unusual and exotic plants where dark secrets are buried and Gothic obsession grows. Musical style combines contemporary rock, jazz funerals, Dixieland and voodoo rhythms.[4]

Poetry[edit]

Radio[edit]

Television[edit]

Film[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

DC Comics' Poison Ivy is partly inspired by Hawthorne's story.[7]

Monica Rappaccini, a fictional villain and biochemical genius in the Marvel Comics Universe, is named after the Rappaccini of Hawthorne's story. Her daughter, Carmilla Black, is, like Beatrice, both immune to poisons and able to deliver poisonous infection to another individual.[citation needed]

Medicine Melancholy of Touhou Project seems to be inspired by this story as she's a doll who became alive and poisonous after being left on a hill full of poisonous flowers.[citation needed]

The song "Running through the Garden" was written by Stevie Nicks after reading "Rappaccini's Daughter".[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fryer, Judith. The Faces of Eve: Women in the Nineteenth-Century American Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976: 41. ISBN 0-19-502431-1
  2. ^ "Opera versions of Hawthorne's works, scores, librettos, and vocal recordings" ibiblio.org 5 August 2011
  3. ^ New York Times review of premiere: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/14/arts/opera-rappaccini-opens.html
  4. ^ National Alliance for Musical Theatre - Program, New World Stages, NYC Oct.2014
  5. ^ Rappaccini's Daughter – the 1980 TV version at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057608/
  7. ^ Batman: The Complete History
  • Stage Labyrinths: Latin American Plays, S. Doggart, Nick Hern Books, 1996

External links[edit]