The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Cover The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Elena from Books and Reviews recommended this short story to me after we briefly talked about The Monkey’s Paw, a great little horror short story that I re-read for last year’s RIP.

I had never heard of The Birthmark before and when I saw that it really is very short, I read it right away.

On a few pages Hawthorne creates a very uncomfortable, creepy atmosphere and he needs nothing but two protagonists and a supporting character. We have a scientist who thinks he will triumph over nature, a pliant wife, a somewhat pessimistic assistant and an obsession to create perfection where there is no need to.

I have to admit I am not sure whom I disliked more. The man who gets obsessed with the removal of his wife’s birthmark or the wife who is so under his influence or is so willing to please her husband that she starts to dislike it even more than he does.

In fact she should have been a little more suspicious of his achievements and not trusted him so easily (even though she was ok with even dying in the process, so it didn’t matter). On the one hand he tells her he has found the elixir of immortality and could make anyone live or die at will, on the other hand his journal is a list of failures (by his own standards). I found this discrepancy rather odd.

Apart from the topics whether man should try to meddle with nature, perfection vs. imperfection and all that symbolism of the birthmark being the manifestation of sin (give me a break!) etc., what interested me most was the aspect of what sort of relationship Aylmer and Georgiana were leading. Definitely not a healthy one! If transferred to nowadays Georgiana’s online name would most probably be “aylmerswife” and I thoroughly dislike that sort of attitude.

Anyway, this story is super creepy, a perfect short Halloween read. But not only that. It leaves you with a distinct uncomfortable feeling that will linger for some time. Haunting!

Read The Birthmark for free by downloading, for example, Little Masterpieces at Project Gutenberg

Want to know what others thought of this book? Have a look at:

The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne at Books and Reviews

6 Comments Write a comment

  1. I’m glad it transported you to that Halloween atmosphere. I think it is certainly perfect for this time of the year and although short, it posts so many questions about nature, man and our perception of perfection!

    I did dislike Georgiana, but I disliked Aylmer the most, mainly for his obsession with perfection: does perfection exist? If so, what is it? Can there be perfection within imperfection?

    There is a movie by Stephen Frears dealing with this theme too. it is called “Tamara Drewe” : the main character, an English country girl with a huge nose, gets plastic surgery done and returns to her hometown. The whole movie explores whether she has actually changed and if others’ attittude towards her did too. Terrific movie losely based on “Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy and a stelar interpretation by Gemma Arterton (you gotta love her!).

    I’m glad I finally recommended you somethng you enjoyed, there was one moment when I regreted recommending you this story fearing you would be “tired” of my too-creepy taste 😛
    Elena’s last post ..Quote: Cloud Atlas

    Reply

    • Ah, I like Stephen Frears, so I will have a lookout for the movie, I have never heard of it. I read Far from the madding crwod many years ago, but am afraid don’t remember much.

      Don’t worry about what you recommend. With me it is always hit or miss, one day I love a thing, the next day I hate it, 🙂

      Reply

  2. Sounds right up my alley and seeing how it really is short … btw I finally read one of many “oldies but goldies” which I never seem to find the time to – “The Stepford Wives” which is also pretty short, I think about 130 pages or so, and it really creeps up on you (so if you haven’t read it, you know what I expect you to do now *wink*).
    Birgit’s last post ..A Writer’s Life – Mention or Invention? Part I

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    • Oh, The Birthmark is much, much shorter than 130 pages, maybe 30 or 40 max. So you will have that read in a flash. Will look into the Stepford Wives.

      Reply

    • It might sound like a harmless topic, but it turns out it isn’t. If you read it, let us know what you thought!

      Reply

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