Elsie Venner; A Romance of Destiny

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John Clellon Holmes (1926—1988)


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Novel by Holmes published in 1861, was previously serialized as The Professor's Story. The prototype of the heroine is said to be Margaret Fuller. The author's intention was “to test the doctrine of ‘original sin' and human responsibility,” and he spoke of the work as “a medicated novel,” since it was an early instance of scientific analysis of character and of the concept of a pattern of heredity.

A professor of medicine tells the story of Elsie Venner, a New England girl whose snake-like nature is traced to the prenatal influence of a snakebite that her mother suffered. Elsie loves Bernard Langdon, one of the professor's students, but Bernard does not return her affection, though she saves his life when he is almost killed by a rattlesnake. Her peculiar quality, which sets her apart from others and fascinates Helen Darley, a teacher in the academy where Bernard teaches temporarily, is lost during her illness following Bernard's rejection, but she dies as a result.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809—1894) American physician, poet, and essayist