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The Alchemist in LiteratureFrom Dante to the Present$
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Theodore Ziolkowski

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198746836

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198746836.001.0001

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Mid-Century Adaptations, or Albedo

Mid-Century Adaptations, or Albedo

(p.103) 4 Mid-Century Adaptations, or Albedo
The Alchemist in Literature

Theodore Ziolkowski

Oxford University Press

The growing popularity of alchemy as a metaphor led to the adaptation of the alchemist in novels and plays by Hugo, Dumas, and Balzac, in all of which the alchemist’s noble ambition or lust for gold reduces his initial genius to ignominy and ridicule. Similarly, in the Austrian Friedrich Halm’s drama The Adept the alchemist’s obsession with the great secret of nature is misconstrued by society and gradually transformed into a lust for power. Like their French and German contemporaries, Poe and Hawthorne introduced the figure of the alchemist into their stories to show how his initially noble obsession could be perverted and lead to the destruction of those around him and his own dismay. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Mary Anne Atwood, whose personal practice of alchemy produced her remarkable work A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery.

Keywords:   albedo, Mary Anne Atwood, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, perverted obsession

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