Excerpt from Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne
Excerpt from Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne by Melissa McFarland
Pennell (courtesy of Greenwood Press).
In showing that Hawthorne connects Aylmer to alchemy and sorcery, Melinda Pennell draws our attention to his overriding intellectual pride, one that leads him to believe he will someday penetrate the very secrets of life. This alienating pride, this fascination with potentially dark forces, suggests a connection between Aylmer and Old Mother Rigby, the artist-witch of "Feathertop."
Aylmer sees himself as the consummate man of science, a product of
the eighteenth-century enlightenment. Hawthorne, however, suggests otherwise.
He acknowledges the methodical nature of Aylmer's work, his honesty in recording
failures as well as successes, and his high ideals. However, he also links Aylmer
to the tradition of alchemy and sorcery. The majority of Aylmer's experiments
have been failures, but he believes he can "draw a magic circle around [Georgiana],
within which no evil might intrude." According to the narrator, Aylmer, like
other men of science, believes that his abilities will progress step by step
until he possesses the very secrets of life. (50)