What is the setting in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment?" Is the lab the setting?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The opening sentence of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" identifies the setting of the story.

THAT VERY SINGULAR man, old Dr. Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study. 

Hawthorne loved to describe interiors of old houses, as he does in such detail in his novel The House of the Seven Gables. In "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," Hawthorne lavishes description on Dr. Heidegger's study before the experiment ever gets underway. Here is a very brief sample from the story.

It was a dim, old-fashioned chamber, festooned with cobwebs, and besprinkled with antique dust. Around the walls stood several oaken bookcases, the lower shelves of which were filled with rows of gigantic folios and black-letter quartos, and the upper with little parchment-covered duodecimos. Over the central bookcase was a bronze bust of Hippocrates, with which, according to some authorities, Dr. Heidegger was accustomed to hold consultations in all difficult cases of his practice.

This description continues for a long paragraph. The modern reader might wonder why the author would take such pains to describe the setting. There is no conspicuous reason for his doing it. Hawthorne just likes to write description. Readers of his time were more patient than modern readers, who typically just want to cut to the chase. But even a modern reader can learn to appreciate Hawthorne's fine descriptive writing if he is willing to be a little patient. The reward for his patience is that Hawthorne usually has something very important to say.

The entire story takes place in this big, heavily furnished and decorated study. Dr. Heidegger may not have a laboratory at all. He is an old-fashioned doctor who works at home and makes frequent house calls. He takes a personal interest in his patients and has known their families for generations. The narrator is joking when he says that Dr. Heidegger was accustomed to hold consultations with the bust of Hippocrates, but the suggestion that he held the ancient Greek physician in such high esteem characterizes Dr. Heidegger as old-fashioned as well as eccentric. 

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