“The Birth-Mark,” Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1843

The Birth-Mark,” Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1843 – A scientist’s love for a woman distracts him from the heady philosophical delights of science.  Yet, the happy couple cannot enjoy perfect bliss: his love has an earthly imperfection, a birthmark, which troubles them both.  In his sleep, dreams loosen the scientist’s tongue and he admits that he hates it.  Some “male observers” claim it heightens her beauty, but her female observers call it “the bloody hand.” She comes to loathe it and he develops an obsession to remove it.

He employs the technologies at his disposal to make a study of the blemish.  He makes a picture of light of her, as if upon a screen; later, he tries to take her image (photograph) upon a piece of metal, which instead reflects only the birthmark. Finally, he succeeds in removing it.  But doing so breaks the link between her spiritual perfection and her body of clay, and she dies.

Concludes with: “The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and, living once for all in Eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present.” (qtd., The Phoenix Pick Anthology of Classic Science Fiction)

Comments: Online text at The Literature Network.  See H. Bruce Franklin’s commentary in Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century.  Also available in The Phoenix Pick Anthology of Classic Science Fiction. Intro notes that Hawthorne’s fictional deacons, inventors, chemists, botanists, mesmerists usually had a destructive bent that resulted in tragedy.

Author: Wikipedia: “Nathaniel Hawthorne (born Nathaniel Hathorne; July 4, 1804 – May 19, 1864) was an American novelist and short story writer.”


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926 and earlier, aesthetics/beauty, favorites, gender, natural/artificial, photo/film/image, the body, the scientist. Bookmark the permalink.

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