The Birthmark

Aylmer Character Analysis

Aylmer is an accomplished scientist, and Georgiana’s husband. Although he has achieved many impressive scientific feats, he has also often failed to accomplish what he aimed to. He becomes completely obsessed with Georgiana’s birthmark and the possibility of its removal. As a result, he doesn’t even consider that removing it might be a bad idea. Aylmer is often identified with godlike qualities, including his high intelligence and his ability to affect the natural world. He certainly sees himself in a position of utmost power over Georgiana, Aminadab, and nature. Aylmer exhibits a dangerous pride, or hubris, in that he cannot be content with Georgiana’s near perfection and must instead attempt to change nature’s creation to suit himself. This pride leads to Georgiana’s death.

Aylmer Quotes in The Birthmark

The The Birthmark quotes below are all either spoken by Aylmer or refer to Aylmer. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Birthmark published in 2011.
The Birthmark Quotes

It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimson hand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer's sombre imagination was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana's beauty, whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

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I have already given this matter the deepest thought—thought which might almost have enlightened me to create a being less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me deeper than ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work! Even Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine will be.

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

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Here, too, at an earlier period, he had studied the wonders of the human frame, and attempted to fathom the very process by which Nature assimilates all her precious influences from earth and air, and from the spiritual world, to create and foster man, her masterpiece. The latter pursuit, however, Aylmer had long laid aside in unwilling recognition of the truth—against which all seekers sooner or later stumble—that our great creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently working in the broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, shows us nothing but results. She permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend, and, like a jealous patentee, on no account to make.

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Aylmer bade her cast her eyes upon a vessel containing a quantity of earth. She did so, with little interest at first; but was soon startled to perceive the germ of a plant shooting upward from the soil. Then came the slender stalk; the leaves gradually unfolded themselves; and amid them was a perfect and lovely flower.
"It is magical!" cried Georgiana. "I dare not touch it."
"Nay, pluck it," answered Aylmer,—"pluck it, and inhale its brief perfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few moments and leave nothing save its brown seed vessels; but thence may be perpetuated a race as ephemeral as itself."
But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plant suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency of fire.

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana (speaker)
Related Symbols: Plants
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

He gave a history of the long dynasty of the alchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the universal solvent by which the golden principle might be elicited from all things vile and base. Aylmer appeared to believe that, by the plainest scientific logic, it was altogether within the limits of possibility to discover this long-sought medium; "but," he added, "a philosopher who should go deep enough to acquire the power would attain too lofty a wisdom to stoop to the exercise of it." Not less singular were his opinions in regard to the elixir vitae. He more than intimated that it was at his option to concoct a liquid that should prolong life for years, perhaps interminably; but that it would produce a discord in Nature which all the world, and chiefly the quaffer of the immortal nostrum, would find cause to curse.

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

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"And what is this?" asked Georgiana, pointing to a small crystal globe containing a gold-colored liquid. "It is so beautiful to the eye that I could imagine it the elixir of life."
"In one sense it is," replied Aylmer; "or, rather, the elixir of immortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was concocted in this world. By its aid I could apportion the lifetime of any mortal at whom you might point your finger. The strength of the dose would determine whether he were to linger out years, or drop dead in the midst of a breath. No king on his guarded throne could keep his life if I, in my private station, should deem that the welfare of millions justified me in depriving him of it.”

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana (speaker)
Page Number: 185-86
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa

Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, and felt to be so by himself, in comparison with the inestimable gems which lay hidden beyond his reach. The volume, rich with achievements that had won renown for its author, was yet as melancholy a record as ever mortal hand had penned. It was the sad confession and continual exemplification of the shortcomings of the composite man, the spirit burdened with clay and working in matter, and of the despair that assails the higher nature at finding itself so miserably thwarted by the earthly part.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id

"Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?" cried he, impetuously....
"Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana with the firmness of which she possessed no stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right to complain. You mistrust your wife; you have concealed the anxiety with which you watch the development of this experiment. Think not so unworthily of me, my husband. Tell me all the risk we run, and fear not that I shall shrink; for my share in it is far less than your own.... I submit... And, Aylmer, I shall quaff whatever draught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle that would induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand."
"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not the height and depth of your nature until now.”

Related Characters: Aylmer (speaker), Georgiana (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

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After his departure Georgiana became rapt in musings. She considered the character of Aylmer, and did it completer justice than at any previous moment. Her heart exulted, while it trembled, at his honorable love—so pure and lofty that it would accept nothing less than perfection nor miserably make itself contented with an earthlier nature than he had dreamed of. She felt how much more precious was such a sentiment than that meaner kind which would have borne with the imperfection for her sake, and have been guilty of treason to holy love by degrading its perfect idea to the level of the actual; and with her whole spirit she prayed that, for a single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception. Longer than one moment she well knew it could not be; for his spirit was ever on the march, ever ascending, and each instant required something that was beyond the scope of the instant before.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

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The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark—that sole token of human imperfection—faded from her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight. Then a hoarse, chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does the gross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence which, in this dim sphere of half development, demands the completeness of a higher state.

Related Characters: Aylmer, Georgiana, Aminadab
Related Symbols: The Birthmark
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

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Aylmer Character Timeline in The Birthmark

The timeline below shows where the character Aylmer appears in The Birthmark. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Birthmark
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
In the late eighteenth century, a great scientist named Aylmer takes a break from his experiments to marry a beautiful woman named Georgiana. It is... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
One day soon after Aylmer and Georgiana are married, Aylmer asks his wife if she has ever considered trying to... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
If Georgiana weren’t so perfect in every other way, Aylmer wouldn’t be so bothered by the birthmark. But as time passes, he becomes more and... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Whenever the couple should be happy, Aylmer ends up talking about the birthmark, until it becomes the center of their marriage. Whether... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
One night, Georgiana brings up the birthmark herself for the first time, asking Aylmer if he recalls having a dream about it the night before. At first he doesn’t... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Aylmer feels bad about the dream, but sometimes sleep brings to the surface feelings that people... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
The next day, Aylmer tells Georgiana his plan to bring her to his laboratory, where he can closely monitor... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Aylmer brings Georgiana into his laboratory to begin the treatment. She feels nervous, and Aylmer tries... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
...and Georgiana almost feels like she might be in an enchanted room in the sky. Aylmer does not allow sunlight into his laboratory because it would ruin his experiments, so he... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Georgiana pleads with Aylmer not to look at the birthmark. To cheer her up, he gives her a demonstration... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Next, Aylmer presents Georgiana with a pot of dirt. As she watches, a plant sprouts and flowers.... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
To make up for the plant’s death, Aylmer creates a portrait of Georgiana by a scientific process similar to early photography. However, the... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
In between his hours working on the treatment, Aylmer tells Georgiana about alchemy, the early branch of science that sought to turn various materials... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Georgiana hears Aylmer talking to Aminadab in the inner room of the laboratory. When Aylmer emerges again, he... (full context)
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Throughout their discussions, Aylmer has been asking Georgiana about her physical well-being, and she’s starting to think that he... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
While Aylmer works, Georgiana reads the books in his laboratory, which recount the achievements of famous scientists... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Aylmer finds Georgiana reading his books and scolds her for it, saying that reading his journal... (full context)
Science, Nature, and Religion Theme Icon
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
When Aylmer catches sight of Georgiana, he gets angry and accuses her of not trusting him. He... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Left alone again, Georgiana thinks about how amazing Aylmer is. She’s overwhelmed at his love and glad that he strives for perfection rather than... (full context)
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Perfection Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Aylmer enters carrying a glass of colorless liquid, anxious but claiming that the medicine is perfect.... (full context)
Perfection Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Georgiana says she didn’t need Aylmer to prove the liquid’s effect, because she trusts him completely. She drinks the liquid, pronouncing... (full context)
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Perfection Theme Icon
Aylmer pulls back a curtain, and sunlight falls on Georgiana’s cheek. He hears Aminadab laughing and... (full context)
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Fatal Pride Theme Icon
Submission and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Mortality Theme Icon
Georgiana tells Aylmer that he has done well to aim so high in his ambitions, even if in... (full context)