...the notion of perfecting another individual (perhaps via science/alchemy). Can you suggest specific authors or short stories that might deal with similar notions? Thanks
One book that may be helpful to you is The Pygmalion Effect: from Ovid to Hitchcock, by Victor Ieronim Stoichiță. This work has been very positively reviewed and apparently discusses uses of the Pygmalion myth in literature, painting, sculpture, film, etc. Notes and bibliographies in this book will lead you to much other useful material. Pygmalion and Galatea: The History of a Narrative in English Literature, by Essaka Joshua, also looks as if it may be useful. Searching for "Pygmalion theme" or "Pygmalion myth" in google books or in google generally may be helpful. Here are some results for "Pygmalion" as a subject in the Library of Congress catalogue (www.loc.gov):
Good luck with your project!
Flowers for Algernon might be considered a Pygmalion story. Charlie is given a new lease on life and elevated to higher realms than he had ever been to before. In a reversal to this, Charlie falls back down to a final ultimate failure--a failure he had foreseen because of his awareness of Algernon.
Well, I know you specifically asked for “other short stories or authors,” but I thought in the spirit of discussion it would be fun if I suggested two movies. How about Pretty Woman (the modern My Fair Lady) and What Women Want?
First, Pretty Woman, … probably the ultimate in modern Pygmalion type themes: a rich (albeit slightly boring) businessman makes a high-class lady out of a lowly prostitute. Take out prostitution and move the story back about 100 years and you have My Fair Lady, the musical version of Pygmalion by Shaw: a rich dialect-loving bachelor makes a potential florist shop owner from a flower-selling “guttersnipe.”
Now what was interesting, and the very thing that made me wait this long before answering, is that I was desperately trying to figure out a story in which a female turned a male into what she wanted by chiseling away in one way or another. That was a tough call! I was wracking my brain over all of the literature, movies, and TV that I knew and could only come up with a far reach: What Women Want. This is a story where Darcy (unbeknownst to her) is chiseling away her perfect man out of the rough-hewn Nick because he is magically able to hear what women are thinking. He changes himself from a heartless businessman into a caring lover through Darcy’s very thoughts.
The obvious one to consider is Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw, though clearly the tone of this play, as Professor Higgins seeks to "perfect" Eliza by passing her off as a member of the upper-class, is very different from "The Birthmark." You might like to consider this notion of education as a method of perfecting another person in other works such as the novels of Dickens. Little Dorrit and Great Expectations both contain characters that are "perfected" for their upper class role by disposing of their working class backgrounds.
Here are several works that you could consider:
- Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (While Victor's story is different from the typical Pygmalion plotline, he still desires to create the perfect being and uses science to make his attempt.)
- The original Pygmalion and Galatea myth--Edith Hamilton's Mythology contains a thorough version of the myth.
- Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter" bears many similarities to his "Birthmark." Rappaccini relies on his scientific knowledge to experiment on his daughter.