Rappaccini's Daughter

Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Jan-28-1997


Set in Padua "very long ago," this is the story of a "mad scientist" working in isolation on a completely unethical (at least by modern research standards) experiment involving poisonous plants. A young student of medicine observes from his quarters the scientist's beautiful daughter who is confined to the lush and locked gardens in which the experiment is taking place.

Having fallen in love with the lovely Beatrice, Giovanni ignores the warning of his mentor, Professor Baglioni, that Rappaccini is up to no good and he and his work should be shunned. Eventually, Giovanni sneaks into the forbidden garden to meet his lover, and begins to suffer the consequences of encounter with the plants--and with Beatrice, who dwells among them and has been rendered both immune to their effects and poisonous to others.


This tale joins others by Hawthorne in exploring research gone amok, rendered dangerous and unethical by virtue of the personal motives of the physician-scientist, his self-imposed isolation from his peers, and the unmonitored nature and progress of his project which inevitably results in death of at least one innocent other. The experiment occurs in the shadow of the great medical school at Padua, the ethos of which is presumably represented by the suspicions of Baglioni that his old colleague Rappaccini is doing bad things.

Baglioni, however, does nothing formal to intervene or avert the tragedies he anticipates. This theme of the "evil doctor," obsessed by his personal agenda, is comparable to that developed in Shelley's Frankenstein (see this database) and Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (see this database).


First published: 1844. Modern Penguin collection Introduction by Michael J. Colacurcio.

Primary Source

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selected Tales and Sketches



Place Published

New York



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