Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a rich and darkly morbid story that showcases Hawthorne’s art at its most sensuous and florid. It is the story of a beautiful young woman in a poisonous garden, and its gorgeous and lethal beauty are wonderfully done. The story is a sinister one in that the growing signs of the deadliness of Beatrice, and inevitably of Giovanni himself, accumulate with a horrid insistence.
Beatrice’s father is Professor Rappaccini of Padua, who raised her from childhood among deadly plants and flowers of his own creation in order to endow her with “marvellous gifts against which no power or strength could avail an enemy.” Giovanni, a young student, unaware of the secrets of the garden, is deeply attracted to her extraordinary beauty and her intimate tending to the beautiful plants. Gradually he becomes aware of the deadliness of the garden, and despite the warnings of Rappaccini’s rival, Baglioni, Giovanni continues to pursue her until he eventually takes on her deadly power. When he finally realizes the extent of his contamination, he urges her to drink with him the antidote prepared by Baglioni. She drinks it first, and “as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death.” The story ends with Baglioni’s horrified yet triumphant cry: “ ‘Rappaccini! Rappaccini! and is this the upshot of your experiment?’ ”