[Comments by graduate class in reference to Laura Stallman's review of critical approaches to "Rappaccini’s Daughter"]

Daniel regarding Gilmore

How do we argue the pro and the con of an assertion like Gilmore's? We could shrug and say, "Sure, I knew that. It's in the introduction to the story," and then go read something sexier, like Crews' psychological analysis of Giovanni's adolescent nervousness and his Oedipal need for Beatrice to fill in as his mother or sister figure.

Beatrice certainly shows limited knowledge of her self and her power to influence (poison) others, which would be consistant with Gilmore's placing her as the symbol of Hawthorne's work, his art.


I did like Brenzo's article. She is a passive victim. But, I didn't see any type of strength in Beatrice that I was hoping to find. Everyone does things to her and yet she does possess within her this great power of poison (if you want to call it power). In a way it is a sort of power since Giovanni was at first afraid to touch her because he thought that she might kill him like the other animals. However, Beatrice doesn't use her poisonous breath to do intentional harm. I never thought of the male characters having poisonous natures but when you think about it they really do. Rappaccini has no heart and is caught up in this scientific world where his creations become uncontrollable. He destroys his daughter's life and yet Beatrice really doesn't seem to be very bothered by it until Giovanni shows up. At first she seems to happy go lucky prancing through the garden and Rappaccini looks like this sort of Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's not until Giovanni shows up that she realizes that she is lonely for human contact other than her father and the servant. In the beginning, she just seems to be making the best of her situation by personifying nature so that they might be her company. Giovanni also has this sort of poisonous nature. He claims that he loves Beatrice more than anything even though there has not been any physical contact between the two except for a touch on the hand. When Giovanni realizes that he has also been contaminated by Beatrice, he is outraged not because he has been contaminated, but because he is now unable to live among the rest of society. It seems to me that Giovanni never had the intentions of staying with Beatrice for ever (fairytale ending that one hopes for) and now that he comes to the realization that he will be with her forever, he hates her. Isn't this ironic, a man not wanting any strong bond with a woman? I wonder if he knew that Baglioni's antidote was deadly. Was that Giovanni's revenge on Beatrice or Baglioni's? Baglioni is definitely evil. He is so wrapped up in getting back at Rappaccini that he murders poor Beatrice who has nothing to do with Rappaccini's scientific success except that she is an innocent (?) victim. All of the men play with life/death which proves to be too dangerous for them to handle and therefore they are all doomed from the very beginning.

I don't know if I agree totally with Brenzo's idea that a sexual commitment to Beatrice would be a "death" because he would be dominated by a woman. I would think that it would put them on an equal level. But Giovanni never has this sexual encounter with Beatrice and yet she has taken away his freedom even though she might not have done it intentionally.

Overall I agree with Brenzo's argument. He notes that the males in this story really have the problem and that Beatrice is really an innocent victim even though I still wonder about how much she really knows and how much she claims to know.

Patrick:–After reading all of the criticism on "My Kinsman" I cannot read Hawthorne without looking for allegorical hints and diabolical undertones. I immediately distrusted Signor Pietro Baglioni without knowing much about him. My mind tells me that Baglioni was involved with the Rappaccini and his "scientific" experiment. Was he completely jealous of Rapp., or was he just playing the part. He did not want Giovanni involved with the experiment because he knew of the consequences, and was feeling guilty that Giovanni was the son of a friend of his "As he passed [Rappaccini], this person exchanged a cold and distant salutation with Baglioni, but fixed his eyes upon Giovanni with an intentness that seemed to bring out whatever was within him worthy of notice. Nevertheless, there was a peculiar quietness in the look, as if taking a speculative, not a human, interest in the young man" (1755). (Perhaps this is being to presumptuous, but I cannot accept that Hawthorne would make it so simple.) Lisabetta, Giovanni's landlord, also seemed a little guilty. Right before she showed him the entrance into the garden she "smirked and smiled, and was evidently desirous to attract his attention." Giovanni thought that she was aiding Rapp., "but such a suspicion was inadequate to restrain him."

–The more obvious argument is that Baglioni is just envious, or insanely jealous of Rappaccini. He tells Giovanni of Rapp.'s scientific genius, and near the end exclaims "'We will thwart Rappaccini yet,' thought he, chuckling to himself"(1762). He doesn't care if Beatrice lives or dies, in fact he watches to see how Rapp. is affected by his daughter's death.

–Is Rappaccini even a bad person? This is questionable. I wonder why it is that we never hear about Beatrice's mother.

Was Rapp. attempting to protect Beatrice from something that he could not protect his wife from? There is reason to suspect that he was just trying to make her stronger than women were aloud to be. I think that he liked her relationship with Giovanni, because if he didn't he could have just killed him. Perhaps he allowed Giovanni to live in his room in order to slowly condition him to be biologically similar to his daughter so that they could live together. Maybe this was his plan.

Wynn Yarbrough

"Rappaccini's Daughter" makes many different commentaries on human nature. When Giovanni observes the fountain, Hawthorne remarks that it has an "immortal spirit" which "one century imbodied in marble and another scattered the perishable garniture on the soil." reminded me of Ozymandus, nothing gold can stay. The change in perception and civilization through the course of history, perhaps foreshadowing Dr. Rappaccini's intent on creating UBERFRAULEIN.

Dr. Rappaccini cold hand of science and technology, "there was no approach to intimacy between himself and those vegetable existences." There is a tremendous foreshadowing that the dr., avoiding all these "malignant influences", grants the reader. It is almost a horrific Eden, When Giovanni wonders if the Dr. is Adam, he would do better and I think the reader might wonder if this man is playing God, quite timely considering the movie "Frankenstein". consider when he walks in upon Beatrice and Giovanni, "the pale man of science seemed to gaze with a triumphant expression at the beautiful youth and maiden, as might an artist who should spend his life in achieving a picture or a group of statuary and finally be satisfied with his success.When the other professor comments on his successes and failures he remarks that Dr. Rappaccini should not be given success for his chance healings but be held accountable for his failure, these failures are his successes in a perverse fashion.

The woman, Beatrice, enters the story as "a bloom so deep and vivid", a flower, interesting foreshadowing. This tale seems carefully constructed. In my own interest, I found when Giovanni is trying to get rid of Beatrice, the mystical, from his mind, he tries to "accustom himself to the familiar and daylight view of Beatricethus bringing her rigidly and systematically within the limits of ordinary experience." American Gothic tale, most hero or heroines in this condition look to the daytime for a clearer head than what the night presents.

What about Lisabetta, she is part of Dr. Rappaccini's plans to lure him into the garden. This seems so much a retelling of Adam and Eve, with Giovanni and Beatrice. Dr. Rappaccini as god. But it diverges from this tale in it's ending, instead of "biting of the forbidden fruit", he is saved from it by Beatrice. I am pretty sure she is unaware of the powers her father has developed in her. Giovanni says at one point, "Odors, being a sort of element combined of the sensual and the spiritual, are apt to deceive us in this manner." He is the one deceived but not by Beatrice, because she herself is unaware. I think Hawthorne is retelling an old tale, including the Indian princess and Alexander, Adam and Eve.

I'll comment on Shurr with his Calvinistic hobbyhorse.

Somehow I don't think that the Puritans would have thought of God and Satan as the same being. Both are more powerful than man. However, Satan was generally identified with nature (YGB) and here we clearly have Rappaccini trying to go nature one better. I also have problem with this interpretation in terms of the sexual aspect of the story. Beatrice is a passionate, sexual being, dark-haired as all of Hawthorne's passionate beauties are, but she is also innocent by reason of her isolation. Her kiss is literally the kiss of death--which, for Giovanni (who already suspects that) makes her all the more alluring. He wants to see her as totally innocent (men and their virginal hangups!) but he also wants to see her as a sexual being. But his horror at discovering that she might be sexual (which he wanted but won't admit) seems to go beyond any Puritan/Calvinist script.

I think that what we have at this point (sexuality as sin) is not so much Calvinist as it is 19th century Victorianism--and Hawthorne's own hangups. His novels are full of beautiful but damned dark-haired passionate beauties; his light-haired women are insipid in comparison but they often do get to survive and "get their man." This is particular evident in "The Blithedale Romance." Now Hawthorne's own little wifie (as he called her), Sophia, had light hair and was a bit of a life-long invalid--definitely not your strong-minded passionate woman that Hawthorne seems so ambivalently attracted to (like Giovanni, maybe).

There are critics who see Calvinism/Puritanism everywhere, and certainly it's possible in a writer like Hawthorne, who was clearly obsessed with the olden days. But he had other obsessions too, and I think his ambivalence about female sexuality sometimes gets all mixed up with his Puritan bias. The Puritans themselves, though, weren't nearly as conflicted as he is. They do NOT equate sin with sex; just check out how many kids they had and how many came within too few months of the wedding! Ann

re: Phal and "Rappaccini"

Let us assume for a second that Phal's reading, or more precisely, his interpretation of the reading is the correct one. To believe that Nietzsche is correct in saying that there are no truths, Phal automatically negates his whole argument. That is why Nietzsche is so dangerous to academics- academic relativity.

This whole argument of there being no facts fit in with Hawthorne's complaints about the public not being able to understand him.

It is kind of funny that Phal says that the reader is set up to commit the same acts that Giovanni does. He claims that we look for the allegorical and are subject to merely looking at the story in our own empirical views- which means we are open to the same human failures that Giovanni experiences. In my posting this idea of searching for the analytical is expressed in my first sentence.

Last and most ambiguous point- In this sense Rappaccini and Hawthorne are both false gods because only they know what they have "created". Giovanni and the students are fools think that they can know the truth. And Baglioni and the academic elite are the most dangerous because they can make the fools think that they know what the "truth" actually is. I like this reading. Patrick

 Class Discussion:

To Laura From Wynn

"juvenile nausea over female sexuality"-nice phrase, hogwash though
I thought most of Beatrice's innocence comes from her isolation.
Not to sound lewd,but Crews forgets, or does he to comment on "the entanglement of shrubs, the hidden entrance", Dare I mention VAGINA??
The father " wishes to join them ina perverse marriage which will be not only freakish, but vicariously incestuous, too."- Although I still think this is a stretch, there is a sense of a wicked father with interests.
Crew's interpretation is one of the most famous. While I do believe there to be quite a few sexual undertones in the story, I find much of his argument to be preposterous.

Wynn from Laura,

I guess her innocence can be related to her isolation for a post-Fall world. Yes, Crews does all but come out and say that the entrance to the garden is her vagina.
Personally, one of my favorite interpretations is Hazlett's anti-Transcendental reading. I find it to be the most clever. But I am perhaps biased because I used it for a case study and am more intimate with it than any other.

To Patrick From Wynn

Beatrice's Mother- I think that this added to the "Eden" motif Hawthorne was obviously intending. Not that I think this was the only motif, but definitely one of them. joking about Rappacini's motivation but this I think is one of the keys to the story, because we are given obvious actions and dialogue from every character, well maybe not too obvious, but Dr. Rappaccini doesn't grant us with a motivation until the very end, his breaking of silence is important in understanding. More later.

To: Wynn From: Kavis

I thought that the description of Beatrice was interesting too since she is described as a plant instead of a human. All plants must die and then they flower again. I guess her demise was inevitable and also natural. But does this mean that Beatrice will rise again? Or will Giovanni take Beatrice's place in the plant world and also in Rappaccini's world of science? I don't know but it seems possible.

I don't know if Beatrice really saves Giovanni from the forbidden fruit. I think that she attempts to save him but you can also look at Beatrice as being the forbidden fruit and she is actually the one who touches him thereby leaving the purple mark of infection.

I was also wondering about whether Beatrice really knows about her own powers. I mean she does breath on the butterfly (or whatever it was) and it falls dead at her feet. It seems like she could put two and two together and come up with the sensible answer that maybe she did that. It even happens again with the bouquet of flowers that Giovanni throws down. I think that Hawthorne might give us these instances to say that Beatrice could only be so naive and maybe she was aware of her powers. She even keeps repeating that she has this sisterhood with the forbidden plant. I wonder if she was somewhat pleased at the fact that Giovanni is also infected since she now has this human kindred. She won't be lonely anymore, she has "caught" her Adam. What do you think?

To: Patrick From: Kavis

I like your argument about Beatrice's mother's absence. It could be possible that Rapp is trying to protect Beatrice from some sort of male infection maybe? Or is he trying to protect her from human love? Poor Beatrice finds love nowhere except in the arms of Giovanni but I even wonder if Giovanni really loves her? Is it infatuation, the lust for something that is forbidden, even deadly? I agree that it seems that Rapp was trying to create some sort of female Frankenstein but he obviously fails. She does have this power but she doesn't have any channel to use it through. She is confined to this garden without any female contact except for Lisabetta who is already inferior to her since she is a servant. I think that Rapp just likes Giovanni because Giovanni is the next guinea pig. He is actually killing two birds with one stone: pleasing Beatrice with a possible husband and increasing his own scientific garden.