Reader-Response Reading "Rappaccini's Daughter" and Rappaccini and Rappaccini's Daughter
"Usually overlooked are Hawthorne's techniques for involving readers in the discovery and experience of his ethical position [ . . . ] Hawthorne's strategies of entanglement" (Mailloux 73).
It was strangely frightful to the young man's imagination to see this air of insecurity in a person [i.e., Rappaccini] cultivating a garden, that most simple and innocent of human toils, and which had been alike the joy and labor of the unfallen parents of the race. Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world? And this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands caused to grow, -- was he the Adam? (1046)
``Ill would it become a teacher of the divine art of medicine,'' said Professor Pietro Baglioni, in answer to a question of Giovanni, ``to withhold due and well-considered praise of a physician so eminently skilled as Rappaccini; but, on the other hand, I should answer it but scantily to my conscience were I to permit a worthy youth like yourself, Signor Giovanni, the son of an ancient friend, to imbibe erroneous ideas respecting a man who might hereafter chance to hold your life and death in his hands. The truth is, our worshipful Dr. Rappaccini has as much science as any member of the faculty -- with perhaps one single exception -- in Padua, or all Italy; but there are certain grave objections to his professional character.'' (1048)
But now, unless Giovanni's draughts of wine had bewildered his senses, a singular incident occurred. A small orange-colored reptile, of the lizard or chameleon species, chanced to be creeping along the path, just at the feet of Beatrice. It appeared to Giovanni, -- but, at the distance from which he gazed, he could scarcely have seen anything so minute, -- it appeared to him, however, that a drop or two of moisture from the broken stem of the flower descended upon the lizard's head. For an instant the reptile contorted itself violently, and then lay motionless in the sunshine. Beatrice observed this remarkable phenomenon and crossed herself, sadly, but without surprise; nor did she therefore hesitate to arrange the fatal flower in her bosom. There it blushed, and almost glimmered with the dazzling effect of a precious stone, adding to her dress and aspect the one appropriate charm which nothing else in the world could have supplied. But Giovanni, out of the shadow of his window, bent forward and shrank back, and murmured and trembled.
``Am I awake? Have I my senses?'' said he to himself. ``What is this being? Beautiful shall I call her, or inexpressibly terrible?'' (1050)
She lifted the bouquet from the ground, and then, as if inwardly ashamed at having stepped aside from her maidenly reserve to respond to a stranger's greeting, passed swiftly homeward through the garden. But few as the moments were, it seemed to Giovanni, when she was on the point of vanishing beneath the sculptured portal, that his beautiful bouquet was already beginning to wither in her grasp. It was an idle thought; there could be no possibility of distinguishing a faded flower from a fresh one at so great a distance. (1051)
The wisest course would have been, if his heart were in any real danger, to quit his lodgings and Padua itself at once; the next wiser, to have accustomed himself, as far as possible, to the familiar and daylight view of Beatrice -- thus bringing her rigidly and systematically within the limits of ordinary experience. Least of all, while avoiding her sight, ought Giovanni to have remained so near this extraordinary being that the proximity and possibility even of intercourse should give a kind of substance and reality to the wild vagaries which his imagination ran riot continually in producing. Guasconti had not a deep heart -- or, at all events, its depths were not sounded now; but he had a quick fancy, and an ardent southern temperament, which rose every instant to a higher fever pitch. (1051)
There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several also 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. They were probably the result of experiment, which in one or two cases had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden. In fine, Giovanni recognized but two or three plants in the collection, and those of a kind that he well knew to be poisonous. While busy with these contemplations he heard the rustling of a silken garment, and, turning, beheld Beatrice emerging from beneath the sculptured portal. (1054)When thoroughly aroused, he became sensible of a burning and tingling agony in his hand -- in his right hand -- the very hand which Beatrice had grasped in her own when he was on the point of plucking one of the gemlike flowers. On the back of that hand there was now a purple print like that of four small fingers, and the likeness of a slender thumb upon his wrist.
Oh, how stubbornly does love, -- or even that cunning semblance of love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root into the heart, -- how stubbornly does it hold its faith until the moment comes when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist! Giovanni wrapped a handkerchief about his hand and wondered what evil thing had stung him, and soon forgot his pain in a reverie of Beatrice. (1054)
``And yourself, lady,'' observed Giovanni, ``if fame says true, -- you likewise are deeply skilled in the virtues indicated by these rich blossoms and these spicy perfumes. Would you deign to be my instructress, I should prove an apter scholar than if taught by Signor Rappaccini himself.''
``Are there such idle rumors?'' asked Beatrice, with the music of a pleasant laugh. ``Do people say that I am skilled in my father's science of plants? What a jest is there! No; though I have grown up among these flowers, I know no more of them than their hues and perfume; and sometimes methinks I would fain rid myself of even that small knowledge. There are many flowers here, and those not the least brilliant, that shock and offend me when they meet my eye. But pray, signor, do not believe these stories about my science. Believe nothing of me save what you see with your own eyes.''
``And must I believe all that I have seen with my own eyes?'' asked Giovanni, pointedly, while the recollection of former scenes made him shrink. ``No, signora; you demand too little of me. Bid me believe nothing save what comes from your own lips.'' (1055)
Baglioni laid a small, exquisitely wrought silver vial on the table and withdrew, leaving what he had said to produce its effect upon the young man's mind.
``We will thwart Rappaccini yet,'' thought he, chuckling to himself, as he descended the stairs; ``but, let us confess the truth of him, he is a wonderful man -- a wonderful man indeed; a vile empiric, however, in his practice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect the good old rules of the medical profession.''
Throughout Giovanni's whole acquaintance with Beatrice, he had occasionally, as we have said, been haunted by dark surmises as to her character; yet so thoroughly had she made herself felt by him as a simple, natural, most affectionate, and guileless creature, that the image now held up by Professor Baglioni looked as strange and incredible as if it were not in accordance with his own original conception. True, there were ugly recollections connected with his first glimpses of the beautiful girl; he could not quite forget the bouquet that withered in her grasp, and the insect that perished amid the sunny air, by no ostensible agency save the fragrance of her breath. These incidents, however, dissolving in the pure light of her character, had no longer the efficacy of facts, but were acknowledged as mistaken fantasies, by whatever testimony of the senses they might appear to be substantiated. There is something truer and more real than what we can see with the eyes and touch with the finger. On such better evidence had Giovanni founded his confidence in Beatrice, though rather by the necessary force of her high attributes than by any deep and generous faith on his part. But now his spirit was incapable of sustaining itself at the height to which the early enthusiasm of passion had exalted it; he fell down, groveling among earthly doubts, and defiled therewith the pure whiteness of Beatrice's image. Not that he gave her up; he did but distrust. He resolved to institute some decisive test that should satisfy him, once for all, whether there were those dreadful peculiarities in her physical nature which could not be supposed to exist without some corresponding monstrosity of soul. His eyes, gazing down afar, might have deceived him as to the lizard, the insect, and the flowers; but if he could witness, at the distance of a few paces, the sudden blight of one fresh and healthful flower in Beatrice's hand, there would be room for no further question. With this idea he hastened to the florist's (1060)
He rushed down, and in an instant was standing before the
bright and loving eyes of Beatrice. A moment ago his wrath and despair had been
so fierce that he could have desired nothing so much as to wither her by a
glance; but with her actual presence there came influences which had too real an
existence to be at once shaken off: recollections of the delicate and benign
power of her feminine nature, which had so often enveloped him in a religious
calm; recollections of many a holy and passionate outgush of her heart, when the
pure fountain had been unsealed from its depths and made visible in its
transparency to his mental eye; recollections which, had Giovanni known how to
estimate them, would have assured him that all this ugly mystery was but an
earthly illusion, and that, whatever mist of evil might seem to have gathered
over her, the real Beatrice was a heavenly angel. Incapable as he was of such
high faith, still her presence had not utterly lost its magic. Giovanni's rage
was quelled into an aspect of sullen insensibility. Beatrice, with a quick
spiritual sense, immediately felt that there was a gulf of blackness between
them which neither he nor she could pass.
``I see it! I see it!'' shrieked Beatrice. ``It is my father's fatal science! No, no, Giovanni; it was not I! Never! never! I dreamed only to love thee and be with thee a little time, and so to let thee pass away, leaving but thine image in mine heart; for, Giovanni, believe it, though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God's creature, and craves love as its daily food. But my father, -- he has united us in this fearful sympathy. Yes; spurn me, tread upon me, kill me! Oh, what is death after such words as thine? But it was not I. Not for a world of bliss would I have done it.'' (1063)
``My father,'' said Beatrice, feebly, -- and still as she spoke she kept her hand upon her heart, -- ``wherefore didst thou inflict this miserable doom upon thy child?''
``Miserable!'' exclaimed Rappaccini. ``What mean you, foolish girl? Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts against which no power nor strength could avail an enemy -- misery, to be able to quell the mightiest with a breath -- misery, to be as terrible as thou art beautiful? Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil and capable of none?''
``I would fain have been loved, not feared,'' murmured Beatrice, sinking down upon the ground. ``But now it matters not. I am going, father, where the evil which thou hast striven to mingle with my being will pass away like a dream-like the fragrance of these poisonous flowers, which will no longer taint my breath among the flowers of Eden. Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart; but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?''
To Beatrice, -- so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon by Rappaccini's skill, -- as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death; and thus the poor victim of man's ingenuity and of thwarted nature, and of the fatality that attends all such efforts of perverted wisdom, perished there, at the feet of her father and Giovanni. Just at that moment Professor Pietro Baglioni looked forth from the window, and called loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the thunderstricken man of science, --
``Rappaccini! Rappaccini! and is this the
upshot of your experiment!''