One of my favorite Gothic short stories is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest that you follow the link and do so. It’s a worthwhile read. Also, this post will contain spoilers; so if you haven’t read this story, come back later after you have.
(I know that this short story can be interpreted in many different ways. There are endless possible explanations to any good work of fiction, especially with Dark Romanticism. I am not claiming that this point of view is the right one, and I am definitely not implying that it is the only one. It’s just my perspective.)
The entire idea of this short story is interesting to me. It is mentioned time and time again that Georgiana’s beauty is perfect, save for the birthmark on her cheek. It is implied that without the birthmark, her beauty would be absolutely flawless. Aylmer tells Georgiana “you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect . . . shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection”. Aylmer views the mark as something hindering his bride from being perfect, and becomes obsessed with the idea of removing it. It’s as though he found the most perfect woman on earth, and it bothers him that even she comes with a defect. Small as it is, the birthmark is the only thing that stands between Georgiana and flawlessness. I can understand his obsession to a point. If something was so close to being perfect, it almost seems a waste to not remove the imperfection if possible. Especially if you are a scientific mastermind (or almost a mastermind) such as Aylmer. However, his own imperfections are a whole other subject.
It seems to me that the death of Georgiana speaks volumes of perfection itself. It’s as if humanity is not allowed to be perfect. No sooner than the birthmark disappeared from her cheek did Georgiana die, and she faded at the same rate as the mark. There is also mention that the birthmark symbolizes every sin and evil contained within Georgiana; as if her every flaw was imprisoned within the birthmark. It is implied that Georgiana was far too near to perfection, and that because of it she could not exist without that small imperfection on her cheek.
This idea could even be taken from examples of real-life. Nearly every virtuoso, every prodigy, every artist had one fatal flaw whether within their art or within their very being. One of my favorite examples of this is Ludwig Van Beethoven. Beethoven became deaf; although he was a genius, one can’t help but wonder what his peak of artistry would have looked like had he been able to hear his work.
Having said all this, what is perfection, exactly? Where does the definition begin and end? Does human perfection exist? And finally, if human perfection does exist, is it separate from the idea of perfection in general?
These are just my thoughts on the subject. I would love to hear your ideas as well.