PT 3: Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Birth of Sci-Fi


In part 3 of our 4 part series we explore "Rappaccini's Daughter," one of Hawthorne's most famous short stories.

Whether we understand it or not, our American culture is heavily shaped by Science Fiction. It is arguably the closest we get to a literary genre. It's power is so immense that our views of things like the lone-billionaire scientist (think Musk) and the doting old intellectual (think Bernie) still follow us around today. 

When we look to scientists to solve all of our ecological, biological, earthly "problems" we are acknowledging the impact of sci-fi. Science today resembles a religion of old with its leaders and secretive language and gatekeepers.

This of course is most assuredly NOT science. It is, instead, the by-product of the evolution of science in a literary artform.

In this four part series we are exploring the original conception of this genre. How it was envisioned and some of the original solutions to this primary character: the scientist. What can a scientist know? When should we take scientists at their word? Should we relegate the entire realm of knowledge to the specialists of today?

Explore these ideas as well as the personal moral values in Hawthorne's romantic sci-fi stories in part 3 of our 4 part series.


[1] A young man, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from the more southern region of Italy, to pursue his studies at the University of Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scanty supply of gold ducats in his pocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy chamber of an old edifice, which looked not unworthy to have been the palace of a Paduan noble, and which, in fact, exhibited over its entrance the armorial bearings of a family long since extinct. The young stranger, who was not unstudied in the great poem of his country, recollected that one of the ancestors of this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion, had been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of his Inferno. These reminiscences and associations, together with the tendency to heart-break natural to a young man for the first time out of his native sphere, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily, as he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished apartment.

[2] “Holy Virgin, signor,” cried old dame Lisabetta, who, won by the youth's remarkable beauty of person, was kindly endeavoring to give the chamber a habitable air, “what a sigh was that to come out of a young man's heart! Do you find this old mansion gloomy? For the love of heaven, then, put your head out of the window, and you will see as bright sunshine as you have left in Naples.”