PT 1: Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Birth of Sci-Fi

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

The podcast is broken into three parts. You can skip ahead to the reading of the today's short story, or you can skip the short story and go to the discussion:

1) Introduction to Science Fiction and Hawthorne

2) A reading of Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

3) Discussion of Story

Do you really know what a scientist is? 

A literary genre brings up new and important questions. Questions critical for a society and for your own individual life.

What are your limits? Can you go too far? Should you strive boldly or react tamely?

These are a few questions Hawthorne and others addressed in the 19th century.

In this episode (one of four) I will show you why it's important not to take words like scientist for granted and how our current society is still grappling continuously with these ideas. 

This is part 1 of 4. We'll be exploring 4 short stories, one for each episode. In each episode I will do a reading of the story, but I recommend reading it for yourself if possible.

I recommend buying this book of Hawthorne's short stories. It has all the stories I'll be reading. Or you can read each on my website. Below is Dr. Heidegger's Experiment.

And here are the four stories we'll be exploring:

  • Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

  • The Birthmark

  • Rappaccinni's Daughters

  • The Artist of the Beautiful



THAT VERY SINGULAR man, old Dr. Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study. There were three white-bearded gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, and a withered gentlewoman, whose name was the Widow Wycherly. They were all melancholy old creatures, who had been unfortunate in life, and whose greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves. Mr. Medbourne, in the vigor of his age, had been a prosperous merchant, but had lost his all by a frantic speculation, and was now little better than a mendicant. Colonel Killigrew had wasted his best years, and his health and substance, in the pursuit of sinful pleasures, which had given birth to a brood of pains, such as the gout, and divers other torments of soul and body. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician, a man of evil fame, or at least had been so till time had buried him from the knowledge of the present generation, and made him obscure instead of infamous. As for the Widow Wycherly, tradition tells us that she was a great beauty in her day; but, for a long while past, she had lived in deep seclusion, on account of certain scandalous stories which had prejudiced the gentry of the town against her. It is a circumstance worth mentioning that each of these three old gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, were early lovers of the Widow Wycherly, and had once been on the point of cutting each other's throats for her sake. And, before proceeding further, I will merely hint that Dr. Heidegger and all his four guests were sometimes thought to be a little beside themselves--as is not unfrequently the case with old people, when worried either by present troubles or woful recollections.

"My dear old friends," said Dr. Heidegger, motioning them to be seated, "I am desirous of your assistance in one of those little experiments with which I amuse myself here in my study."

If all stories were true, Dr. Heidegger's study must have been a very curious place. It was a dim, old-fashioned chamber, festooned with cobwebs, and besprinkled with antique dust. Around the walls stood several oaken bookcases, the lower shelves of which were filled with rows of gigantic folios and black-letter quartos, and the upper with little parchment-covered duodecimos. Over the central bookcase was a bronze bust of Hippocrates, with which, according to some authorities, Dr. Heidegger was accustomed to hold consultations in all difficult cases of his practice. In the obscurest corner of the room stood a tall and narrow oaken closet, with its door ajar, within which doubtfully appeared a skeleton. Between two of the bookcases hung a looking-glass, presenting its high and dusty plate within a tarnished gilt frame. Among many wonderful stories related of this mirror, it was fabled that the spirits of all the doctor's deceased patients dwelt within its verge, and would stare him in the face whenever he looked thitherward. The opposite side of the chamber was ornamented