In the short story Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dr. Rappaccini uses his own daughter as a subject in his great experiment, resulting in her living a life of isolation and eventually causing her death. Oblivious to his daughter's pain throughout, Rappaccini was a fairly early example of what was to become a common literary and cinematic archetype: the cold-hearted scientific genius whose human empathy is decapacitated by an all-consuming lust for knowledge.

I am interested in tracing the evolution of this Rappaccini literary archetype, especially in relation to the Scientific Revolution in Europe that began 250 or so years before Hawthorne penned his short tale. Specifically:

  • Are there instances of the archetype in literature prior to the Scientific Revolution? (Non-European literatures included.)
  • What are the earliest examples of the archetype appearing in literature after the start of the Scientific Revolution?
  • Did the frequency of the archetype's appearances in literature increase as the Scientific Revolution progressed between the 17th and 19th centuries?

I am not well-read enough to begin answering these questions, and they've been itching me since reading Hawthorne's story a few weeks ago. I'll be grateful for any light cast on them.


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