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.
What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.
This is on my Deal Me In list this year. I’m looking forward to it!