(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)
Rappaccini's Daughter cover image

A young man named Giovanni rents a room in an old edifice belonging to a family whose ancestor was listed among the sufferers in Dante’s Inferno. It looks down on a luxuriant inner garden belonging to a neighbor, Dr. Rappaccini. The garden is brilliant with exotic blooms, the most spectacular, a shrub growing by a ruined fountain. It is covered with rich purple blossoms. Dr. Rappaccini often tends the garden, but he is always protected by heavy gloves and sometimes a face mask. His lovely daughter, Beatrice, takes no such precautions, however, and she is the only one who touches the handsome plant with the purple blooms. She tends it as though it were a beloved sister.

Giovanni has a letter of introduction to a Dr. Pietro Baglioni, a professor of medicine at the university, who once knew his father. Dr. Baglioni warns him to keep away from Rappaccini, a brilliant scientist but one inclined to sacrifice anything and anyone to his scientific experiments. He is an expert in poisons and is known to have developed new varieties of herbs more poisonous than those in nature.

Such information lends substance to Giovanni’s lurid imaginings about the garden and the girl. He had once thrown her a bouquet that had seemed to wilt the moment she picked it up. He also fancied that a butterfly that hovered close to her face had died suddenly in midflight.

These forebodings do not prevent him from entering the garden when his landlady,...

(The entire section is 602 words.)