Book #37


The Birth-Mark by Nathaniel Hawthorne

A young woman and her scientist husband share a twisted obsession. Her stunning beauty is marred by a tiny flaw and it's driving them mad. They'll do anything to make her perfect--but there's danger in his lab. Will they go too far?

Hawthorne has created an abhorrent man here. Recently married to a virtuous and almost perfect woman, he begins to obsess over the birthmark on her face. Whilst in the past, men have told her the mark holds a certain charm, Aylmer is filled with disgust at the mere sight of it. Seeing him shudder every time his eyes land on the birthmark, Georgiana begins to hate it herself, and finally agrees for it to be removed.

I found it difficult to dive deeply into this, and read mostly at face value as I was so raging. Georgiana’s sorrow and shame at how the birthmark makes her husband feel upset me a lot. That she allowed him to carry out the removal procedure, fully aware of the fatal risks, riled me. She would rather die than embarrass or disgust her husband. Think about that for a moment.

And yet, Aylmer’s assistant is portrayed as the most grotesque and brutal man to walk the earth, an Igor-like figure who disagrees with the plan to remove the birthmark. Do our ideas of perfection depend on our own status and appearance? Does the level at which we think of ourselves, affect the level we expect from others?

Deeply thought-provoking and uncomfortable, as is Hawthorne’s usual offerings, this is a worthwhile and engaging walk through selfishness, vanity, and control.