Introduction to Rappaccini's Daughter

Nathaniel Hawthorne first published “Rappaccini’s Daughter” in the literary magazine The American Notebooks in 1844 and included it in his second collection of short stories, Mosses From an Old Manse, two years later. Reviews of Hawthorne’s early short stories were mixed. While Herman Melville compared Mosses to the work of Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe complained that “the strain of allegory completely overwhelms” the collection. Originally titled “Writings of Aubépine: Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Hawthorne’s story might have been based on Dr. Robert Wesselhoeft, who at one time lived near Hawthorne and whom Oliver Wendell Holmes decried as a “quack” for his practice of homeopathic medicine.

"Rappaccini's Daughter" can indeed be read as an allegory, and its meanings continue to intrigue readers and critics because of the dense ambiguity arising from the fantastical plot, which explores the relationship between good and evil, anxieties about women’s sexuality, and the relationship between nature and science. Indeed, scholars refer to it as Hawthorne’s most complex story. In it, the handsome Giovanni falls in love with the beautiful Beatrice, the daughter of Dr. Rappaccini, a brilliant but ruthless scientist. While experimenting with growing plants both exotic and poisonous, Rappaccini also experiments with the nature of his daughter, transferring the plants' poison to her and, in so doing, causing her to become literally poisonous herself. Desiring a mate for his daughter to make her world “perfect,” Rappaccini ensures that Giovanni becomes infected with the same poison he gave to Beatrice. When Giovanni discovers Beatrice’s nature and informs her that he has been infected, Beatrice takes the antidote he provides, but in ridding her of poison, it rids her of life as well.

A Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864) was an American writer born in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne decided to become a writer after graduating from college, but he had to take a number of other jobs during his lifetime to make ends meet. He feared his time in the labor force might compromise his writing ability, but in fact, toil seems to have stimulated his authorship. His work environment during a stint as measurer in the Boston Customhouse is described in the preface to his most famous book, The Scarlet Letter, and his time spent working on an experimental farm resulted in the novel The Blithedale Romance. Despite years laboring at jobs other than those that involved his pen, Hawthorne managed to marry, raise three children, and, most important to the literary world, create a treasury of novels, histories, and story collections before he died at age sixty. Many of his short stories—particularly “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Minister's Black Veil,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter”—continue to be read and studied today.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rappaccini's Daughter

Rappaccini's Daughter

In "Rappaccini's Daughter," protagonist Giovanni Guasconti moves into an old building before beginning his studies at the University of Padua. He glances outside of his room's window and sees a...

Latest answer posted June 10, 2021, 6:34 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

A clue to what Beatrice symbolizes comes from her name, which Hawthorne borrowed from Dante's Inferno. In Dante's poem, Beatrice represents pure or divine love, which is also what her character...

Latest answer posted June 10, 2021, 11:37 am (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

In some ways, this question is asking for a subjective response, and it is a fun question to ask students after reading this story. It is a fun question to ask, because about half the students feel...

Latest answer posted June 10, 2021, 1:09 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

Giovanni Guasconti is obviously very much struck by the beauty and grace of Beatrice Rappaccini when he sees her in her father's garden. He finds her to be enchanting in her loveliness, her voice...

Latest answer posted June 10, 2021, 2:10 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Pietro Baglioni is a doctor and a professor at the University of Padua in Italy, an old friend of Giovanni Guasconti's father and the personal and professional nemesis of Doctor Rappaccini....

Latest answer posted June 10, 2021, 2:33 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

The purple flower serves as a reflection of Beatrice herself. Both are beautiful yet ultimately deadly, preventing any contact with other beings. During the scene where she tends the purple flower,...

Latest answer posted June 9, 2021, 11:23 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

Giovanni Guasconti does not die in "Rappaccini's Daughter." His father's friend, Pietro Baglioni, gives him the antidote which will, Baglioni claims, render innocuous the poison that imbues...

Latest answer posted June 9, 2021, 11:21 am (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Professor Pietro Baglioni believes that Dr. Rappaccini's dream is to use Beatrice to alter the physical nature of Giovanni with his poisons, just as Rappaccini has used the plants to alter Beatrice...

Latest answer posted June 9, 2021, 12:10 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Beatrice's "sister" is a particularly poisonous plant that her father believes is too potent for him to care for any longer. He tells her that he thinks his "life may pay the penalty" of coming in...

Latest answer posted June 9, 2021, 12:29 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Giovanni Guasconti is the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter." He is a young student from southern Italy, recently arrived at the University of Padua. As he is looking out...

Latest answer posted June 8, 2021, 8:27 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Hawthorne’s gothic short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” opens with the protagonist, Giovanni Guasconti, arriving at an old mansion before beginning his studies at the University of Padua. An...

Latest answer posted June 9, 2021, 1:26 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

At the beginning of Hawthorne’s gothic short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” protagonist Giovanni Guasconti moves into an old building that used to be the palace of a distinguished family. He plans...

Latest answer posted June 9, 2021, 12:09 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

Baglioni gives Giovanni an "antidote" that will supposedly cure Beatrice. The narrator tells the reader that a "professional warfare of long continuance" exists between Baglioni and Rappaccini and...

Latest answer posted June 8, 2021, 12:09 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Beatrice would have rather be loved than feared. She says this after she drinks the antidote to the poison—an antidote which, given her poisonous nature, works in reverse and actually kills her....

Latest answer posted June 8, 2021, 12:29 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

This short story takes place near the University of Padua, in Italy. All of the characters have Italian names, such as Giovanni Guasconti, the story's young protagonist; Dame Lisabetta, the woman...

Latest answer posted June 8, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

Hawthorne's story has a strong allegorical quality that encourages multiple interpretations. The garden can symbolize many things, depending on what you think the story is about. It's clear,...

Latest answer posted June 7, 2021, 11:58 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

As Professor Baglioni tells Giovanni, Rappaccini cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. Baglioni goes on to say that Rappaccini would sacrifice anyone, even himself or someone he...

Latest answer posted June 7, 2021, 12:13 pm (UTC)

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Rappaccini's Daughter

Allegories are stories with a hidden meaning, very often a moral message, and they are often characterized by a one-to-one correspondence between their characters and the particular trait they...

Latest answer posted June 7, 2021, 12:40 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

As an allegory, the story is open to many interpretations, so there is no single "message" or moral to the story. A few themes do stand out, however, including the following. Science is...

Latest answer posted June 7, 2021, 12:33 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Rappaccini's Daughter

Over the course of "Rappaccini's Daughter," both the protagonist Giovanni and the audience learn that Rappaccini's lovely daughter Beatrice has been brought up on poisons. Rappaccini did this so...

Latest answer posted June 7, 2021, 11:29 am (UTC)

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Summary