Magic and Fiction: Both Are Illusions Created for their Audiences
Magicians long have known that mere tricks, including the most ingenious apparatus involving mirrors and hidden assistants, do not, in themselves, cause audiences to believe magic has been performed. Belief in supernatural causation depends upon the audience's willing participation (and resistance to) the drama surrounding the tricks. Jim Steinmeyer, a historian of magicians and magic's technology, describes the "art" which induces belief: "The success of a magician lies in making a human connection [between the audience and] the magic, the precise focus that creates a fully realized illusion in the minds of the audience. [ . . . ] A great magic performance consists of a collection of tiny lies, in words and deeds, that are stacked and arranged ingeniously to form the battlement for an illusion. It's a delicate battle of wits--an audience that welcomes being deceived, then dares to be fooled, alternately questioning, prodding, and surrendering. A great magician seems always to play catch-up to their thoughts but secretly must stay two steps ahead--not only solicitous and anticipating, but suggesting" (Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear. N.Y.: Carroll & Graff, 2003, p. 17).
Readers of fiction participate in a similar "battle of wits" with the authors, a battle they hope they will lose. The reward is a satisfying immersion in an unreal existence that often simulates many of our daily experiences but can introduce many unusual features not often (or ever!) encountered. In the case of "Rappaccini's Daughter," there is no garden, no magically poisonous plant, no doctors, no student and no girl who is magically poisonous and immune to poison, unless you consent to the illusion Hawthorne has created for you. Your response to Professor Baglioni's question, addressed to Rappaccini, is yours to make. Hawthorne does not answer it for you, but your answer will be important. Whose fault is Beatrice's death? There is a reason Hawthorne makes this the last sentence in the story.