“You have rejected the best earth could offer:” …and it was worth it The short stories “The Birth-mark” and “The Artist of the Beautiful,” both written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1846, demonstrate and attempt to symbolize the boundaries of beauty in society. In “The Birth-mark,” the young and exquisite Georgiana has simply one imperfection, a red hand-shaped birth-mark on her cheek, which her husband, a prominent chemist by the name Aylmer desires to have removed.
In “The Artist of the Beautiful” the young Owen Warland, former apprentice of Peter Hovenden, in his watch making shop, strongly encourages Owen to focus on the practical instead of the beautiful, in fear that his shop will fail as a result of Owen’s inattentiveness and obsession to detail. Georgiana and Owen, from “The Birth-mark” and “The Artist of the Beautiful” respectively, are both members of society who to some extent, sacrifice their preconceived notions of beauty as they yearn for the approval and admiration of those closest to them.
This act ultimately leads to the demise of their efforts and the fruition of their submissive mindsets. Preconceived notions of beauty In “The Birth-Mark,” Hawthorne portrays Georgiana as a gorgeous young lady who Aylmer, the arrogant chemist, persuaded her to marry. Soon after their marriage, in the midst of one of many transient stares, Aylmer expressed his contempt for his wife’s scarlet hand-shaped birth-mark, which was the only blemish of her immaculate complexion. Georgiana conceded that she had pondered over the birth-marks presence; however, she said the following as “She blushed deeply.
To tell you the truth, it has been so often called a charm, that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so’” (260). Georgiana charmed many; often her lovers were taken by the uniqueness of the slight imperfection of her skin. They claimed upon her birth that a fairy had touched Georgiana’s cheek with her hand, bestowing an everlasting magic which would later give her influence over countless hearts. It is clear that Georgiana, without her husband’s bias, senses the charm of her one and only imperfection.
She has a preconceived notion of her own inner beauty which inevitably is overtaken by her husband’s desire for the utmost perfection. Similarly to Georgiana, Owen from “The Artist of the Beautiful” also has a preconceived notion of beauty. He however, holds onto his ideal concept of beauty externally through his technological endeavors. Owen often attempted to “imitate the beautiful movements of Nature” (360); from an early age he would create remarkably delicate figures, often representing the flight of birds or movement of tiny animals. He was passionate about his work since it demonstrated the method of his expression of the “Beautiful.
In fact, one of his greatest creations was a lifelike butterfly; “The chase of butterflies was an apt emblem of the ideal pursuit in which he had spent so many golden hours” (368). Owen did not feel the same rich intellect and beauty in watchmaking as he felt when he crafted his symbolic representation of beauty and nature: the butterfly. It is the misfortune of man to be influenced by the perceptions of others, leading to the inevitable demise of their attempts to attain beauty and happiness. Those they tried to please It is inevitable that Georgiana will stray from her personal beliefs in order to please her husband.
Georgiana has an allure to her which has been known to entice men; she is aware of her immaculate complexion and external beauty and is content with her single imperfection, the lone birth-mark on her cheek. After her husband asks Georgiana if she has contemplated the removal of her birth-mark, her initial reaction is a flurry of anger; however, soon thereafter, she is overcome with an urge to remove her only imperfection. Georgiana proclaimed that if there was even the slightest possibility of safely removing the blemish, the attempt needed to be made.
She went as far as to say, “’danger is nothing for me; for life—while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and disgust--life is a burthen which I would fling down with joy’” (264). She also wished her life be ended if the mark proved impossible to remove, as she could not fathom living in its presence any longer. This passage demonstrates the takedown of Georgiana, a once proud woman who was charmed by her imperfections, who now demanded the removal of the single inadequacy she possessed that defined her as human.
Georgiana had a great respect for her husband and therefore was willing to sacrifice her preconceived notion of her own beauty, in order to please her betrothed. Metaphorically, Owen was also willing to sacrifice his creation of beauty for the approval of others. Owen is a strong-willed individual who had the inimitable impulse to express his inner beauty externally through the medium of art; however, his overarching desire for approval often negatively impacted the success of his creations. Despite the overarching disapproval from Owen’s former boss Hovenden at the watchmaking shop, he still pursued his quest for beauty through creation.
Owen’s family hoped that his strange passion for invention could be put to utilitarian purposes if he sought training in the watchmaking profession. Hovenden would come into the store and threaten Owen: “‘there is witchcraft in these little chains, and wheels, and paddles! See! With one pinch of my fingers and thumb, I am going to deliver you from all future peril’” (367). Even this was not enough to discourage the young creator from inventing more “Beautiful” works of art. Despite Owen’s ability to ignore Hovenden’s harassment and recruited guidance, there was another person who had a stronger influence on Owen’s art.
Peter Hovenden’s very own daughter, Annie Hovenden. She had always been important to Owen as she was a dear childhood friend. Owen wholeheartedly believed that Annie was intrigued by his inventions. She appeared enthralled by the concept of the spiritualization of an inanimate object. Owen yearned for compassion and comprehension from a like-minded peer. Upon sharing his most intimate creation, the butterfly, with Annie, he exclaims “that touch has undone the toil of months, and the thought of a lifetime! It was not your fault, Annie---but you have ruined me” (370).
This incident influenced Owen’s immediate future; he sunk into a spell of depression and drowned in anguish over the failure of his life’s purpose. He eventually began his work again on a pleasant afternoon in spring, when a butterfly miraculously flew in his open window, and beckoned him to return to his mission. Voyage to the approval leads to inevitable downfall Georgiana was willing to endure an inconceivable level of pain in order to please her beloved husband. As Georgiana was summoned to drink the potion her husband had bestowed upon her, he said “with fervid admiration[,] ‘There is no taint of imperfection on thy spirit.
Thy sensible frame, too, shall soon be all perfect’’ (275). And with that, she consumed the potion in its entirety. Georgiana was overcome with the desire to please her husband, a desire which made her alter her self-value. Sure enough, almost instantly, the birth-mark was only a memory: “As the last crimson tint of the birth-mark--- that sole token of human imperfection---faded from her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment hear her husband, took its heavenward flight” (278).
Georgiana no longer had any imperfections; her spirit was perfect as well as the gem that embodied it. But it was too much perfection in an imperfect society, which ultimately led to her death. If Aylmer had been satisfied with the immaculate beauty nature presented him, he could have spared her life. He yearned for more than was feasible and attempted to circumvent boundaries emplaced by God, which inevitably was a fatal desire. Aylmer was able to alter Georgiana’s self-perception of beauty by taking advantage of her submissive mindset to please someone who she cared deeply for.
Owen’s desire for affection and sympathy from Annie, also led to the demise of his notion of beauty through the destruction of his contraption. Owen felt that he could relate to Annie and that she could understand his desire to create beauty. As she touched the device that Owen spent so long creating, Owen realized that she had deceived him; she never understood his conception of beauty. Even after coming to this realization, he presented his enchanted butterfly to her as a late wedding gift.
Owen still believed in his fixed external notion of beauty, through nature, ultimately, the people closest to him proved less faithful and supportive of his vision. The demise of the butterfly became inevitable; Annie’s husband, the blacksmith, pealed apart the hand of their infant. Within his palm, they found “a small heap of glittering fragments, whence the Mystery of Beauty had fled for ever” (385). His creation of “Beauty” had failed in a world of imperfections, crushed by the weight of the practical. There is one distinct difference between Georgiana and Owen.
Georgiana lost her spirit as her soul rose to heaven. She was influenced by her husband to the extent that her values were altered, a point of fatality. However, “as for Owen, he looked placidly at what seemed the ruin of his life’s labor, and which was yet no ruin” (385). He was able to overcome the submission that once controlled him. He had achieved “the Beautiful,” his spirit would possess it forever. Both Georgiana and Owen sacrifice to some extent, what they believed as beauty in order to gain approval, acceptance, and admiration from those dear to them.
This act led to the demise of their beauty; for Georgiana, as her beauty is too much for the imperfect nature to hold, and for Owen, who keeps the spirit of beauty but his lifelong creation is destroyed. But perhaps we have misinterpreted something crucial from these accounts. Although Georgiana forfeited her life and Owen his butterfly at the finale of each tale, was their sacrifice fueled by a motivation to appease their beloveds, or is it possible that their intentions were marked with malice?