March 26, 2013

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Dr. Heidegger's Experiment is a short story that I read in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Haunting Tales. You can read it online here.

In my copy, Dr. Heidegger's Experiment begins with a rather amusing note from Nathaniel Hawthorne:

"In an English Review, not long since, I have been accused of plagiarizing the idea of this story from a chapter in one of the novels of Alexandre Dumas. There has undoubtedly been a plagiarism, on one side or the other; but as my story was written a good deal more than twenty years ago, and as the novel is of considerably more recent date, I take pleasure in thinking that M. Dumas has done me the honour to appropriate one of the fanciful conceptions of my earlier days. He is heartily welcome to it; nor is it the only instance, by many, in which the great French Romancer has exercised the privilege of commanding genius by confiscating the intellectual property of less famous people to his own use and behoof.
September, 1860."

So, old-school author rivalries. That's cool.

Anyway, in Dr. Heidegger's Experiment, the titular Doctor gathers together three elderly man and one elderly widow. He claims to have to the secret of youth; and he does, as he demonstrates when the rose given to him by his dear departed Slyvia is rejuvenated by water from the mythical Fountain of Youth.

Next, he tests this water on his human companions; the widow and her three former lovers are each restored to their bygone states... for a time. They cavort about like fools, energetic and impassioned until the effects of the water starts to wane.

It's not long before each in turn has returned to his, her, or its former state. Dr. Heidegger, he says, has learned a valuable lesson; he wouldn't restore his youth, whether momentarily or permanently.

The widow and her companions disagree, of course, and each vows to set out on a pilgrimage to that blessed Fountain in Florida.

All in all, it's a mediocre horror story, worth seeking out only because it's out of copyright and free to read online.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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