J. Lacan, controversial psychoanalyst, once wrote: ”I love you, but because inexplicably I love in you something more than you, …, I mutilate you.” This is a statement on human relations. It deals with not accepting the loved ones as they are and rather pointing to redesigning them according to one’s wishes. That’s exactly what some of Hawthorne’s and Poe’s works are asking and telling us: how far are we ready to go when we love something in somebody (and not this somebody as a whole)? And their answers do produce horror.
Hawthorne’s The Birthmark, the story of a scientist Aylmer and his wife Georgiana, is evidently going in that direction. No one doubts on his love towards her, but there is the birthmark as “… a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana’s beauty …’’ (p.5). He seems much more intrigued with her small birthmark than with anything else. Obsession that ultimately ends with “… the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere and her soul … took its heavenward flight.” (p.21). Similar motif occurs with the story of Rappaccini’s daughter, where Giovanni couldn’t accept Beatrice as how she is, but tried to “heal” her, to “save” her, to be “purified from evil” (p. 69). And she also said her farewell.
The Oval portrait by Poe reveals this theme even better. It's seen in the deadly relation of the painter who loves something in his wife and must catch that something (life); to catch and embody it in his painting. This story answers our question from the first paragraph with a definite: until the end.
Thus we see how Hawthorne and Poe knew these dark sides of human relations as their characters - because of their own needs - are prepared to “mutilate” their loved ones. Unfortunately the redesign process often ends miserably.
J. Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (The Seminar of Jacques Lacan , Book 11), New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998, see chapter 20
N.Hawthorne, Mosses from the Old Manse and other Stories, ebook from Project Gutenberg, release date: September 13, 2008
E.A.Poe, The Complete works of Edgar Allan Poe, Delphi Classics, 2011
N.Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales, ebook from Project Gutenberg, release date: October 11, 2004