Many years ago, a
young man named Giovanni Guasconti left his home in Naples to
study in northern Italy. He rented a small room on the top floor
of a dark and ancient palace. Long ago, the building had
belonged to a noble family. Now, an old woman, Signora Lisabetta,
rented its rooms to students at the University of Padua.
Giovanni’s room had a small window. From it he could see a large
garden that had many plants and flowers. “Does the garden belong
to you?” he asked Signora Lisabetta one day.
“Oh no!” she said quickly. “That garden belongs to the famous
doctor, Giacomo Rappaccini. People say he uses those plants to
make strange kinds of medicine. He lives in that small brown
house in the garden with his daughter, Beatrice.”
Giovanni often sat by his window to look at the garden. He had
never seen so many different kinds of plants. They all had
enormous green leaves and magnificent flowers in every color of
Giovanni’s favorite plant was in a white marble vase near the
house. It was covered with big purple flowers.
One day, while Giovani was looking out his window, he saw an old
man in a black cape walking in the garden. The old man was tall
and thin. His face was an unhealthy yellow color. His black eyes
were very cold.
The old man wore thick gloves on his hands and a mask over his
mouth and nose. He walked carefully among the plants, as if he
were walking among wild animals or poisonous snakes. Although he
looked at the flowers very closely, he did not touch or smell
any of them.
When the old man arrived at the plant with the big purple
flowers, he stopped. He took off his mask and called loudly,
“Beatrice! Come help me!”
“I am coming, Father. What do you want?” answered a warm young
voice from inside the house. A young woman came into the garden.
Her thick, dark hair fell around her shoulders in curls. Her
cheeks were pink and her eyes were large and black.
She seemed full of life, health and energy as she walked among
the plants. Giovanni thought she was as beautiful as the purple
flowers in the marble vase. The old man said something to her.
She nodded her head as she touched and smelled the flowers that
her father had been so careful to avoid.
Several weeks later, Giovanni went to visit Pietro Baglioni, a
friend of his father’s. Professor Baglioni taught medicine at
the university. During the visit, Giovanni asked about Doctor
Rappaccini. “He is a great scientist,” Professor Baglioni
replied. “But he is also a dangerous man.”
“Why?” asked Giovanni.
The older man shook his head slowly. “Because Rappaccini cares
more about science than he does about people. He has created
many terrible poisons from the plants in his garden. He thinks
he can cure sickness with these poisons.
It is true that several times he has cured a very sick person
that everyone thought would die. But Rappaccini’s medicine has
also killed many people. I think he would sacrifice any life,
even his own, for one of his experiments.”
“But what about his daughter?” Giovanni said. “I’m sure he loves
The old professor smiled at the young man. “So,” he said, “You
have heard about Beatrice Rappaccini. People say she is very
beautiful. But few men in Padua have ever seen her. She never
leaves here father’s garden.”
Giovanni left professor Baglione’s house as the sun was setting.
On his way home, he stopped at a flower shop where he bought
some fresh flowers. He returned to his room and sat by the
Very little sunlight was left. The garden was quiet. The purple
flowers on Giovanni’s favorite plant seemed to glow in the
evening’s fading light.
Then someone came out of the doorway of the little brown house.
It was Beatrice. She entered the garden and walked among the
plants. She bent to touch the leaves of a plant or to smell a
flower. Rappaccini’s daughter seemed to grow more beautiful with
When she reached the purple plant, she buried her face in its
flowers. Giovanni heard her say “Give me your breath, my sister.
The ordinary air makes me weak. And give me one of your
beautiful flowers.” Beatrice gently broke off one of the largest
flowers. As she lifted it to put it in her dark hair, a few
drops of liquid from the flower fell to the ground.
One of the drops landed on the head of a tiny lizard crawling
near the feet of Beatrice. For a moment the small animal twisted
violently. Then it moved no more. Beatrice did not seem
surprised. She sighed and placed the flower in her hair.
Giovanni leaned out of the window so he could see her better. At
this moment, a beautiful butterfly flew over the garden wall. It
seemed to be attracted by Beatrice and flew once around her head.
Then, the insect’s bright wings stopped and it fell to the
ground dead. Beatrice shook her head sadly.
Suddenly, she looked up at Giovanni’s window. She saw the young
man looking at her. Giovanni picked up the flowers he had bought
and threw them down to her. “Young lady,” he said, “Wear these
flowers as a gift from Giovanni Guasconti.”
“Thank you,” Beatrice answered. She picked up the flowers from
the ground and quickly ran to the house. She stopped at the door
for a moment to wave shyly at Giovanni. It seemed to him that
his flowers were beginning to turn brown in her hands.
For many days, the young man stayed away from the window that
looked out on Rappaccini’s garden. He wished he had not talked
to Beatrice because now he felt under the power of her beauty.
He was a little afraid of her, too. He could not forget how the
little lizard and the butterfly had died.
One day, while he was returning home from his classes, he met
Professor Baglioni on the street.
“Well, Giovanni,” the old man said, “have you forgotten me?”
Then he looked closely at the young man. “What is wrong, my
friend? Your appearance has changed since the last time we met.”
It was true. Giovanni had become very thin. His face was white,
and his eyes seemed to burn with fever.
As they stood talking, a man dressed in a long black cape came
down the street. He moved slowly, like a person in poor health.
His face was yellow, but his eyes were sharp and black. It was
the man Giovanni had seen in the garden. As he passed them, the
old man nodded coldly to Professor Baglioni. But he looked at
Giovanni with a great deal of interest.
“It’s Doctor Rappaccini!” Professor Baglioni whispered after the
old man had passed them. “Has he ever seen your face before?”
Giovanni shook his head. “No,” he answered, “I don’t think so.”
Professor Baglioni looked worried. “I think he has seen you
before. I know that cold look of his! He looks the same way when
he examines an animal he has killed in one of his experiments.
Giovanni, I will bet my life on it. You are the subject of one
of Rappaccini’s experiments!”
Giovanni stepped away from the old man. “You are joking,” he
said. “No, I am serious.” The professor took Giovanni’s arm. “Be
careful, my young friend. You are in great danger.”
Giovanni pulled his arm away. “I must be going,” he said, “Good
As Giovanni hurried to his room, he felt confused and a little
Signora Lisabetta was waiting for him outside his door. She knew
he was interested in Beatrice. “I have good news for you,” she
said. “I know where there is a secret entrance into Rappaccini’s
Giovanni could not believe his ears. “Where is it?” he asked.
“Show me the way.”
He went in. The plants all seemed wild and unnatural. Giovanni
realized that Rappaccini must have created these strange and
terrible flowers through his experiments.
Suddenly, Rappaccini’s daughter came into the garden. She moved
quickly among the flowers until she reached him. Giovanni
apologized for coming into the garden without an invitation. But
Beatrice smiled at him and made him feel welcome.
“I see you love flowers,” she said. “And so you have come to
take a closer look at my father’s rare collection.”
While she spoke, Giovanni noticed a perfume in the air around
her. He wasn’t sure if this wonderful smell came from the
flowers or from her breath.
She asked him about his home and his family. She told him she
had spent her life in this garden. Giovanni felt as if you were
talking to a very small child. Her spirit sparkled like clear
They walked slowly though the garden as they talked. At last
they reached a beautiful plant that was covered with large
purple flowers. He realized that the perfume from those flowers
was like the perfume of Beatrice’s breath, but much stronger.
The young man reached out to break off one of the purple
flowers. But Beatrice gave a scream that went through his heart
like a knife. She caught his hand and pulled it away from the
plant with all her strength.
“Don’t ever touch those flowers!” she cried. “They will take
your life!” Hiding her face, she ran into the house. Then,
Giovanni saw Doctor Rappaccini standing in the garden.
That night, Giovanni could not stop thinking about how sweet and
beautiful Beatrice was. Finally, he fell asleep. But when the
morning came, he woke up in great pain. He felt as if one of his
hands was on fire. It was the hand that Beatrice had grabbed in
hers when he reached for one of the purple flowers.
Giovanni looked down at his hand. There was a purple mark on it
that looked like four small fingers and a little thumb. But
because his heart was full of Beatrice, Giovanni forgot about
the pain in his hand.
He began to meet her in the garden every day. At last, she told
him that she loved him. But she would never let him kiss her or
even hold her hand.
One morning, several weeks later, Professor Baglioni visited
Giovanni. “I was worried about you,” the older man said. “You
have not come to your classes at the university for more than a
month. Is something wrong?”
Giovanni was not pleased to see his old friend. “No, nothing is
wrong. I am fine, thank you.” He wanted Professor Baglioni to
leave. But the old man took off his hat and sat down.
“My dear Giovanni,” he said. “You must stay away from Rappaccini
and his daughter. Her father has given her poison from the time
she was a baby. The poison is in her blood and on her breath. If
Rappaccini did this to his own daughter, what is he planning to
do to you?”
Giovanni covered his face with his hands. “Oh my God!” he cried.
“Don’t worry, the old man continued. “It is not too late to save
you. And we may succeed in helping Beatrice, too. Do you see
this little silver bottle? It holds a medicine that will destroy
even the most powerful poison. Give it to your Beatrice to
Professor Baglioni put the little bottle on the table and left
Giovanni’s room. The young man wanted to believe that Beatrice
was a sweet and innocent girl. And yet, Professor Baglioni’s
words had put doubts in his heart.
It was nearly time for his daily meeting with Beatrice. As
Giovanni combed his hair, he looked at himself in a mirror near
his bed. He could not help noticing how handsome he was. His
eyes looked particularly bright. And his face had a healthy warm
He said to himself, “At least her poison has not gotten into my
body yet.” As he spoke he happened to look at some flowers he
had just bought that morning. A shock of horror went through his
The flowers were turning brown! Giovanni’s face became very
white as he stared at himself in the mirror.
Then he noticed a spider crawling near his window. He bent over
the insect and blew a breath of air at it. The spider trembled,
and fell dead. “I am cursed,” Giovanni whispered to himself. “My
own breath is poison.”
At that moment, a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the
garden. “Giovanni! You are late. Come down.”
“You are a monster!” Giovanni shouted as soon as he reached her.
“And with your poison you have made me into a monster, too. I am
a prisoner of this garden.”
“Giovanni!” Beatrice cried, looking at him with her large bright
eyes. “Why are you saying these terrible things? It is true that
I can never leave this garden. But you are free to go wherever
Giovanni looked at her with hate in his eyes. “Don’t pretend
that you don’t know what you have done to me.”
A group of insects had flown into the garden. They came toward
Giovanni and flew around his head. He blew his breath at them.
The insects fell to the ground, dead.
Beatrice screamed. “I see it! I see it! My father’s science has
done this to us. Believe me, Giovanni, I did not ask him to do
this to you. I only wanted to love you.”
Giovanni’s anger changed to sadness. Then, he remembered the
medicine that Professor Baglioni had given him. Perhaps the
medicine would destroy the poison in their bodies and help them
to become normal again.
“Dear Beatrice,” he said, “our fate is not so terrible.” He
showed her the little silver bottle and told her what the
medicine inside it might do. “I will drink first,” she said.
“You must wait to see what happens to me before you drink it.”
She put Baglioni’s medicine to her lips and took a small sip. At
the same moment, Rappaccini came out of his house and walked
slowly toward the two young people. He spread his hands out to
them as if he were giving them a blessing.
“My daughter,” he said, “you are no longer alone in the world.
Give Giovanni one of the purple flowers from your favorite
plant. It will not hurt him now. My science and your love have
made him different from ordinary men.”
“My father,” Beatrice said weakly, “why did you do this terrible
thing to your own child?”
Rappaccini looked surprised. “What do you mean, my daughter?” he
asked. “You have power no other woman has. You can defeat your
strongest enemy with only your breath. Would you rather be a
“I want to be loved, not feared,” Beatrice replied. “But now, it
does not matter. I am leaving you, father. I am going where the
poison you have given me will do no harm. Good bye to you,
Beatrice dropped to the ground. She died at the feet of her
father and Giovanni. The poison had been too much a part of the
young woman. The medicine that destroyed the poison, destroyed
her, as well.