Rappaccini's Daughter

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"Rappaccini's Daughter"
AuthorNathaniel Hawthorne
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Short story
Published inMosses from an Old Manse
Publication typeAnthology
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date1844

"Rappaccini's Daughter" is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne first published in the December 1844 issue of The United States Magazine and Democratic Review, and later in the 1846 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 at the University of Padua, 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 devious 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 cure her of her poisonous nature.


According to Octavio Paz, the sources of Hawthorne's story lie in Ancient 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.

In Hawthorne's story, the character 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. Also, the University of Padua is famed for its vast botanical garden, which was founded in 1545. But whether the garden actually influenced Hawthorne in writing "Rappaccini's Daughter" is not known.


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. He lists texts by M. de l'Aubépine, some of which translate into Hawthorne's own works as follows:

  • Contes deux fois racontés is Twice-Told Tales.
  • Le Voyage céleste à chemin de fer is The Celestial Railroad.
  • Le Nouveau Père Adam et la Nouvelle Mère Eve is The New Adam and Eve.
  • Rodéric ou le Serpent à l'estomac is Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent.
  • Le Culte de feu is Fire Worship.
  • "L'Artiste du beau" is "The Artist of the Beautiful or the Mechanical Butterfly."

The narrator says the text was translated from Beatrice ou la Belle Empoisonneuse which translates to "Beatrice or the Beautiful Poisoner" and was published in "La Revue Anti-Aristocratique" ("The Anti-Aristocratic Review").




The 26th Annual Festival of New Musicals (NAMT 2014) presented the musical "Beautiful Poison", with music by Brendan Milburn, lyrics by Valerie Vagoda, and book by Duane Poole. The story was 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.[3]



  • NBC's The Weird Circle (1943–1947), Episode 52, Radio Play. Broadcast date: November 26, 1944



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[citation needed] 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]

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

Theodora Goss's 2017 book The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter features Beatrice Rappaccini as one of its main characters.[8]

In the Ravenloft Gothic Horror Campaign setting, there are creatures called Ermordenungs; once-humans who, through some unknown torturous process, have been transformed into beautiful men and women with a deadly poisonous touch. They are immune to all other poisons except that of another Ermordenung, making physical relationships between them, or anyone, impossible.


  1. ^ "Opera versions of Hawthorne's works, scores, librettos, and vocal recordings" ibiblio.org 5 August 2011
  2. ^ New York Times review of premiere: https://www.nytimes.com/1983/05/14/arts/opera-rappaccini-opens.html
  3. ^ National Alliance for Musical Theatre - Program, New World Stages, NYC Oct.2014
  4. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0632324/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_168
  5. ^ Rappaccini's Daughter – the 1980 TV version on IMDb
  6. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057608/
  7. ^ Daniels, Les. Batman: The Complete History (Chronicle Books, 1999).
  8. ^ Goss, Theodora. The strange case of the alchemist's daughter (First ed.). New York. ISBN 1534409637. OCLC 956947646.
  • Stage Labyrinths: Latin American Plays, S. Doggart, Nick Hern Books, 1996

External links[edit]