Noble Love in The Birthmark
Often billed as a story of an unsuccessful attempt to beat Nature at her own game, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne certainly lends itself to a somewhat deeper interpretation. Over the years many scholars have noted that the story of Aylmer and Georgiana is riddled with traditional Hawthorne themes such as the evils of selfishness and pride, coupled with an element of solitariness (Arvin xvi). However, we are want to consider whether Aylmer’s motives in this story are purely selfish. Does this man perhaps deserve a touch of human sympathy?
With blazingly obvious symbolism, clearly defined by the author himself, the reader can choose to take the tale for what it seems to be, a purely selfish experiment gone awry. Yet, it seems as though Hawthorne was sympathetic to his man of science, leaving open for discussion the idea that love did exist in this sordid world of tiny hands and test tubes. Although it is at times ambiguous, the tone of the story seems to point to just this idea. Of it Richard Fogle writes:
“…Hawthorne’s attitude is so removed and imperturbable that nothing in the story can be taken simply; in “The Birthmark” he reaches his furthest rage of disengagement” (Fogle 118). It is through the intellectual and moral development of Georgiana, not the scientists own actions or words, that the reader comes to understand that although twisted in his methods, Aylmer does possess a kind of “noble” love.
When the story opens, we are told that “an experience of spiritual affinity more attractive than any chemical one” has caused “a man of science” to take leave of his laboratory and be married. The narrator also tells the reader it was not unusual, in those days of constant scientific discovery, “for the love of science to rival the love of a woman” (Hawthorne 147). Immediately we are warned that this love will survive only if it can be “intertwined…with his love of science” (148). This issue presents itself almost immediately after Georgiana and Aylmer are married, when the former discovers that Nature has left his near-perfect wife with a tiny blemish on her ivory cheek; the small imprint of a hand. Of this Robert H. Fossum writes: “Like Eve entering the Garden, Georgiana has brought love and human warmth into Aylmer’s cold and lonely laboratory…she has brought the blemish of her birthmark…” (Fossum 78). When asked about how she herself views her mark, Georgiana replies as one who has not given the subject much thought:
“To tell the truth is has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it so.” (148)
In fact, when first love is mentioned it is only a few lines later when Georgiana responds to Aylmer “…you cannot love what shocks you!” Hurt and surprised, she equates, (quite accurately), Aylmer’s ability to love her with his need to see her sans birthmark.
It is after this first confrontation that as the reader...