Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1844
The magic trick:
Seamlessly pairing the characters with environment
Leave it to Nathaniel Hawthorne to make you feel really, really guilty about falling in love. Nothing like a little Puritanical judgment this February to really bring home the Valentine’s vibe.
Of course, it is a great, great story. Really great. Just full of judgment and not-so-subtle religious overtones.
There is a lot to say about this piece, but for the sake of my fairly restrictive format I’ll focus on the amazing setting. Hawthorne puts his drama in a broken-down Garden of Eden, with cracked foundations and crumbling buildings. It’s beautiful. The most memorable visual for me was the dilapidated fountain. It’s pretty great.
Of course, such a setting risks being too obvious or over-the-top, but it works perfectly here. The interaction between the characters and their environment is seamless, and they become one in the reader’s mind – poisoned beauty of the best intentions. And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.
Or, not improbably, it might once have been the pleasure-place of an opulent family; for there was the ruin of a marble fountain in the centre, sculptured with rare art, but so woefully shattered that it was impossible to trace the original design from the chaos of remaining fragments.