Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lunch break reading: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another gothic short story, this week by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Rappaccini's Daughter (full text on a single page) was written in 1844 when the Hawthorne family was living in Concord. It was published in the 1846 volume Mosses from an Old Manse.

A mad botanist, his poisonous hothouse flower of a daughter, and her smitten suitor do battle in this tale set in Padua, Italy, in some distant past. As he wrote in the preface to his 1860 novel The Marble Faun, also set in Italy, "actualities would not be so insisted on, as they are, and must needs be, in America." The romantic and only somewhat authentic setting freed him from the confines of realism.

For similar themes, try the political drama The Mudra-Rakshasa (The Minister's Signet) by ninth-century Indian poet Vishakadatta or the 1622 philosophical text The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. Poet Octavio Paz translated Hawthorne's story as La Hija de Rappaccini in his only play, first produced in 1956; Mexican composer Daniel Catán transformed Paz's work into an opera in 1994.

Less highbrow homages include the recent Marvel Comics villian Monica Rappaccini, who studied biochemistry at the University of Padua before becoming an environmental terrorist who uses her own poison-suffused daughter as a biological weapon. Monica first appeared in a 2005 issue of Amazing Fantasy.

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