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Rappachini's daughter - analytical appreciation

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Introduction

Rappaccini's Daughter - Analytical Appreciation The passage is taken from Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Rappaccini's Daughter', a 19th century gothic tale, which tells the story of Rappaccini - a doctor of alchemy - and his daughter, Beatrice. Though the passage is firmly placed in the Romantic Gothic, we clearly see the influence of the 18th century Gothic romance on the American author, who employs the archaic idea of alchemy to create the requisite atmosphere of remoteness and mystery. Rappaccini is a Doctor, which in the gothic, calls to mind esoteric knowledge and he supernatural, thus tales such as 'Dr. Faustus' are called to mind. 'Dr Faustus' tells the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for the acquisition of arcane knowledge. Hawthorne may also draw influence from 'Frankenstein' (1816), in which the Doctor possesses an 'insane zeal for science.' Indeed here, Rappaccini, like Frankenstein is dabbling in mysterious things, which enable his daughter the ability to give death. The passage opens with the 'remarkable phenomenon' of Beatrice, who picks out a blossom from the shrub. The language used to describe the situation can be related to the 'extraordinary adventures' of the gothic, which are used by writers to take us into the sensational, the supernatural and the extraordinary. ...read more.

Middle

Beatrice is a paradoxical figure, and her reaction raises the question of weather she is beautiful or terrible. It is typically the later gothic which concerns itself with the nature of women, and it is gothic tales of this era which are usually more focused on the female as a passive victim. It is interesting that here, in the middle of the 19th century, Hawthorne places more emphasis on female promiscuity: Beatrice excites in Giovanni an 'intense and painful curiosity', which is reminiscent of Lucy and the Vampiresses in Bram Stoker's later 'Dracula' (1897). These figures are beautiful, but are seen through their predatory nature and promiscuity as being essentially corrupt. Indeed here, as Beatrice watches on with 'childish delight' as an insect dies, the ambivalence of her nature is highlighted. This is also revealed through the later simile which describes her voice as being 'like a gush of music'. She has some qualities of he heroine of the gothic romance, in that she is beautiful, but the idea of Beatrice's fatal breath evokes terror in the reader and her dual nature may indeed be prompted by the ideas of Coleridge in 'Christabel', which displays another example of duality in women. Christabel is outwardly fair, but beneath her robes is a terrible deformity. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is something of a conflict within him, as he acknowledges the 'wisest course' to be quitting his lodgings at Padua. Giovanni also becomes 'conscious of having put himself...within the influence of a certain unintelligible power.' The language here is again, reminiscent of alchemy and the practicing of things beyond the human understanding. Dr. Rappaccini is without doubt, an alchemist, but the power which he instils within his daughter suggests evil at work, he is, in a way, the transgressor. The doctor is not the typical 'Gothic Other', who, in the early gothic, makes the innocent female a victim of his masculine oppression. Unlike in gothic tales of this era, such as Lewis's 'The Monk', the oppression here in Hawthorne's story is not sexual, but the power which Rappaccini exerts over his daughter is certainly reminiscent in some way to the ideas portrayed in the earlier gothic. Overall, the passage is an interesting one: though it tends to stray from the typical Gothic excess and melodrama, the subtle hint of Beatrice's power creates terror. The setting and language do not place it firmly within the Gothic of its era, but the idea of death is explored in a more understated way, which may be considered more effective. The writer draws his inspiration from the medieval, in a way that such writers do, however, Hawthorne's exploration of these themes set his tale apart from others of the Gothic genre. ...read more.

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