Despite the appearance of modesty in Aylmer's claim
that it would be disruptive to nature to create what he is sure he can produce,
the very claim itself exemplifies his intellectual pride, a pride that shines
through the remainder of the passage, and the story as a whole.
Aylmer's prophetic dream illustrates that he
is more inclined to cherish his intellectual pursuits than the life of his
spouse. The fact that he dreams a dark future for himself yet pursues it,
underscores the chilliness of his own heart.
This passage illustrates the temptations to which
intellectuals are susceptible and to which Aylmer yielded even before meeting
Georgiana. Like Roger Chillingworth of The Scarlet Letter, Aylmer enters
marriage with a heart already so pledged to science that there remained little
room for regular human affections.
At the end, Georgiana dies; Aminadab, representative
of all that's gross and tainted, laughs in triumph; and Hawthorne-and Georgiana-offer
judgments of Aylmer's folly. Aylmer failed to appreciate that "the best the
earth could offer," is necessarily tainted with mortality, but that, as the
ending of the tale suggests, it may be possible to find the "perfect Future
in the present" by abandoning a pursuit of the ideal, noble as that pursuit
might be. One thinks, at this point of Owen Warland, the artist from "The
Artist of the Beautiful" and the "far other butterfly" he finds that, in the
end, brings him a kind of peace.
As this passage makes clear, the birthmark on
Georgiana's cheek "expressed the ineludible gripe, in which mortality clutches
the highest and purest of earthly mould." Aylmer's ambition, then, is nothing
short of immortality for Georgiana and his distaste for the birthmark can
be understood as antipathy for her very mortality, the quality that, ironically,
makes her worth saving. To bring Georgiana to perfection is to bring her to
stasis, or death.
In his explanation to Georgiana of his ironically
named poison, "the Elixir of Immortality," Aylmer's pride powerfully shows
itself. The attitude he expresses is one demonstrative of the distance he
feels from the commonality of mankind.
In expressing utter confidence in his scientific
skill, Aylmer not only misleads Georgiana, but also places himself proudly
above Nature, purporting to repair what is imperfect in Nature's "fairest
work." In comparing himself to Pygmalion he suggests that for him Georgiana
is more object than companion and reminds the reader that where the myth moves
from death to life, this tale moves in the opposite direction.
In what may be Aylmer's most discouraging moment,
we see him almost coolly observing Georgiana as her body struggles with the
concoction he has prepared for her. His affection and concern for her, it
appears, are overridden by his pursuit of knowledge. Georgiana's last episode
becomes another entry in his chronicle of experiments.
That Georgiana is no mere victim is made clear
in this disturbing passage. She appears almost eager to sacrifice herself
on the altar of her husband's idealism, an impulse matching her husband's
pride and consistent with the characterization of herself she offers at her
death as "the best the earth could offer."