Dr. Heidegger's Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Summary

This short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne focuses on five old friends: Dr. Heidegger, the host, and four other elderly people he invites to his house for the purpose of conducting an experiment. These guests are Mr Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, Mr Gascoigne, and the Widow Wycherly. All are extremely old and withered, and all the male guests had once loved the widow.

Dr. Heidegger asks his old friends if they will take part in an experiment. He shows them a dried rose, "ancient" as if it were about to turn into dust, and says it was given to him by his fiancee, Sylvia Ward, fifty-five years ago. He asks his friends if they think the rose will ever bloom again.

Of course, the friends say this is impossible, but Heidegger takes out a vase of water and throws the rose into it. Immediately, the rose begins to bloom again. Heidegger explains that this is no trick—he has found the Fountain of Youth in southern Florida.

The old friends are still skeptical. The Colonel asks what effect the water may have on humans, and the doctor says he may judge for himself. Filling four champagne glasses, he offers them to his friends, saying that he himself does not wish to participate in the experiment.

The friends' skepticism disappears as they take a drink. Immediately, they appear slightly less aged. They clamor for more, and Heidegger begs them to have patience, saying that as they have grown old so slowly, they should be content to grow young again over the course of half an hour. However, he offers them another glass, and another, and the guests all delight in the slow return of their youth.

Eventually, they are properly young again, filled with vigor. The male guests are impassioned by their love for the widow, once again young, and in their rush to dance with her, they knock over the vase, spilling the water upon the floor. As the friends cavort, a mirror in the study seems to show that they are not really young, but still elderly figures behaving like youths.

Dr. Heidegger says he must "protest against this riot" in response to the upset. The guests all stand still, and, turning to Dr. Heidegger, see that the rose is beginning to wither again. The same begins to happen to the elderly people, who realize that the Water of Youth has only a transient effect. Dr. Heidegger says he does not "bemoan" this, for he has no desire to be young again if it is only temporary.

The friends disagree, however—they decide to go to Florida, find the Fountain of Youth, and drink from it constantly so that they will stay young forever.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dr. Heidegger invites to his study four elderly friends to engage in an experiment. Three are men: Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne; the fourth is a woman, the Widow Clara Wycherly.

The study is a dusty, old-fashioned room replete with a skeleton in the closet, a bust of Hippocrates, books and bookcases, and a portrait of Sylvia Ward, who died fifty-five years before the night of the experiment on the eve of marriage to the doctor after swallowing one of his prescriptions.

The doctor shows his guests a faded rose that she gave him those many years before, and places it in a vase containing...

(The entire section is 852 words.)