Rappaccini's Daughter Summary
“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne in which Giovanni falls for his neighbor Rappaccini’s beautiful and mysterious daughter, Beatrice.
- Giovanni rents a room overlooking Dr. Rappaccini’s garden, and he falls for Rappaccini’s daughter, Beatrice.
- Giovanni learns of a secret path into the garden. Over time, Beatrice and Giovanni fall in love. However, Giovanni begins noticing that flowers and insects die in his presence.
- Dr. Baglioni, Giovanni’s professor, tells Giovanni that Rappaccini has raised Beatrice on poisons and that she is now poisonous as a result. He gives Giovanni an antidote.
- Giovanni gives Beatrice the antidote, but she dies as a result.
Last Updated on May 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 602
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.
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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 mid-flight.
These forebodings do not prevent him from entering the garden when his landlady, Lisabetta, offers to show him a secret door into the inner courtyard. Beatrice comes out to meet him, and they are drawn to each other immediately. When he asks for a blossom from the shrub at the ruined fountain and reaches out to pluck it, Beatrice cries out in alarm, seizes his hand, and warns him never to touch it. The next morning, the place where she grasped his hand is painful and inflamed.
Giovanni continues to visit Beatrice, until he notices with horror that flowers will no longer remain fresh in his own hands. As an experiment, he exhales a long breath on a spider that is industriously weaving a web in his room: the spider curls up and dies immediately. Tortured now by fear and resentment, Giovanni paces the streets of Padua, where Dr. Baglioni sees him and divines the reason for his distraction. Dr. Baglioni brings him a silver vial containing an antidote that was originally created to counteract the poisons of the Borgias. He instructs Giovanni to give the antidote to Beatrice to counteract the deadly fumes in which she has lived.
When Beatrice again calls from the garden, he goes down to her with hatred and resentment in his heart, instead of love. He curses her for contaminating him with her poison. Beatrice is crushed by his cruel words, having always assumed that he was safe so long as he did not touch her or the flowers. He accuses her of deliberately trapping him to share in her isolation from the world. This she passionately denies: “I dreamed only to love thee and be with thee a little time, and so let thee pass away. . . . For Giovanni, believe it, though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God’s creature and craves love as its daily food.”
Giovanni is somewhat mollified and tells her of the antidote that Dr. Baglioni provided. Perhaps they can both escape the garden. Beatrice agrees but adds emphatically, “I will drink; but do thou wait the result.” She does so and dies at the feet of Giovanni and her father.
Last Updated on May 5, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 284
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 this collection to the work of Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe complained that “the strain of allegory completely overwhelms” it. 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.
Poe was correct in identifying the allegorical structure of the story, but its meanings continue to intrigue readers and critics because of the dense ambiguity arising from its fantastical plot that 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. The handsome Giovanni falls in love with the beautiful Beatrice, the daughter of Dr. Rappaccini, a brilliant but ruthless scientist. In experimenting with nature to grow plants both exotic and poisonous, Rappaccini also experiments with the nature of his daughter, transferring their poison to her and in so doing giving her the power to destroy by her mere breath. Desiring a mate for his daughter to make her world “perfect,” Rappaccini ensures that Giovanni becomes infected with the same unnatural but beautiful poisons that give life to her. When Giovanni discovers and informs Beatrice of her nature, she takes the antidote he provides, but in ridding her of poison it rids her of life as well.