Before Giovanni meets Beatrice, what does he see, or think he sees, that makes him fear her?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappacini's Daughter"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Giovanni Guasconti came to Padua in order to attend the university, he takes lodgings in tall, gloomy room of an old building which has a coat of arms over the doorway.  An old woman instructs Giovanni to look out the window in order to dispel his gloom.  As he does so, he notices that the sun falls upon a resplendent garden.  One plant has winds itself around a statue of Vertumnus, the vegetarian god who wins Paomona's love and takes her away.  Then he espies a sallow and sickly old man emerge.  This "scientific gardener" studies the plants, yet he avoids their touch and he avoids inhaling their odors.

The "distrustful gardener" wears thick gloves and a mask upon his mouth as he stops by a magnificent plant that possess a profusion of purple blossoms.  Giovanni observes the man call to his daughter Beatrice, charging her with its care.  But, rather than fearing this plant, Beatrice, who "looks redundant with life, health, and energy" embraces it.  Perceiving her as much like a flower herself, Giovanni becomes rather apprehensive about her powers with such a plant, but he is intriguesd with her inexpressible beauty.  So taken is he that he falls in love with Beatrice who creates both intrigue and danger. Or, as Hawthorne writes,

...yet hope and dread kept a continual warfare in his breast.

Giovanni, struck by the beauty of Beatrice who could well be the sister of any of the resplendent plants, is at the same time anxious about being near the beauty who can withstand the poison of such plants.  It is a mixture of love and horror that Giovanni Guasconti senses. 

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