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The Birthmark

The Birthmark

by Nathaniel Hawthorne
 Table of Contents

The Birthmark Science Quotes

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Quote #1

But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plant suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency of fire. "There was too powerful a stimulus,'' said Aylmer, thoughtfully. To make up for this abortive experiment, he proposed to take her portrait by a scientific process of his own invention. […] Georgiana assented; but, on looking at the result, was affrighted to find the features of the portrait blurred and indefinable […] Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. (36-9)

Hawthorne doesn't let us forget that Aylmer isn't exactly a Nobel Prize-winning scientist here. His constant failures mark both his past and his present endeavors as a scientist. Clearly, this doesn't bode well for the task at hand, but neither he nor Georgiana seem to want to face that.

Quote #2

He gave a history of the long dynasty of the alchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the universal solvent by which the golden principle might be elicited from all things vile and base. Aylmer appeared to believe that, by the plainest scientific logic, it was altogether within the limits of possibility to discover this long-sought medium; "but,'' he added, "a philosopher who should go deep enough to acquire the power would attain too lofty a wisdom to stoop to the exercise of it.'' Not less singular were his opinions in regard to the elixir vitæ. He more than intimated that it was at his option to concoct a liquid that should prolong life for years, perhaps interminably; but that it would produce a discord in Nature which all the world, and chiefly the quaffer of the immortal nostrum, would find cause to curse. (39)

In many ways, Aylmer's attempts to perfect Georgiana are right on par with the historical search to turn anything into gold or to create the elixir of life. All of these have in common man's desire to compete with nature, to become somehow God-like, to deny man's necessarily mortal nature.

Quote #3

Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, and felt to be so by himself, in comparison with the inestimable gems which lay hidden beyond his reach. (52)

Aylmer is not a failure as a scientist because of ineptitude or a lack of understanding; instead, he is a failure because he aims too high. This indeed is at the root of his failure with Georgiana, as well. Scientifically, he is capable of removing the birthmark from her cheek, but the experiment is a failure because his goal is too lofty (she cannot exist as a flawless being).

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