In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the reader finds numerous ironies, many of which are explained in this essay.
Morse Peckham in “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism” gives an explanation of how Hawthorne uses historicism in his early short stories [“Rappaccini’s Daughter” was in Twice-Told Tales in 1836] for an ironic effect:
The Romantic historicist used the past for a double, interconnected purpose. On the one hand it was a means for separating oneself from society. . . .He can be aware of the failure of the institution to fulfill its avowed intentions and its social function. . . . Romantic historicism, therefore, is never an end in itself but a strategy for placing the current social conditions in an ironic perspective. . . .(91-92)
In “Rappaccini’s Daughter” the “failure of the institution” relaates to the medical establishment, which is traditionally sworn to uphold the health of people, but in this story Dr. Rappaccini, out of scientific zeal, has been skewed away from the fundamental purpose of medicine. It is indeed ironic that he poisons his own daughter and her boyfriend, alienating them from society and dooming them.
The tale takes place in Padua, Italy, where a Naples student named Giovanni Guascanti has relocated in order to attend the medical school there. His modest room is in an old mansion watched over by the landlady, Dame Lisabetta, a two-dimensional character given to religious expletives like, ``Holy Virgin, signor!'' She seeks to make the customer content with his lodging; she answers Giovanni’s curiosity about a garden next-door: ``No; that garden is cultivated by the own hands of...
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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” ElectronicText Center. University of Virginia Library. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/browse-mixed-new?id="HawRapp"&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public
Kazin, Alfred. Introduction. Selected Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Fawcett Premier, 1966.
Kaul, A.N. “Introduction.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Peckham, Morse. “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
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