The Story of Pygmalion
Aylmer thinks of himself as a godlike creator, a self-perception that’s revealed when he says that he will be happier than Pygmalion when he erases Georgiana’s birthmark. The story of Pygmalion—originally from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and recreated in countless poems, novels, and films—is about a sculptor who falls in love with an ivory statue of a woman he has made. Venus, the goddess of love, brings the statue to life, and Pygmalion marries it. Aylmer’s reference to the story reveals much about his own character. By comparing himself to the smitten sculptor, Aylmer believes that he is clever enough to create the perfect woman. More important, he reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of his own project. Unlike Pygmalion, Aylmer isn’t creating a woman where none previously existed. Rather, he is tampering with a perfectly beautiful woman whom, the narrator suggests, God created. The reference to Pygmalion reveals that Aylmer’s self-regard has blinded him to the true nature of his experiment.
An earlier, subtler reference to sculpture reveals the narrator’s distaste for Aylmer’s image of himself as a magical creator of life. Before Aylmer refers to Pygmalion, the narrator condemns those jealous women who claim that the birthmark spoils Georgiana’s beauty, saying that making such a claim is as silly as pretending that a tiny blue mark in marble would turn a statue of Eve into a monstrosity. It is a small moment, but a revealing one. The narrator suggests that God created Georgiana in the image of the mother of all humans and that just as Eve was tainted by sin and forgiven by God, so Georgiana is tainted and forgiven. In the narrator’s estimation, Aylmer’s classical reference could not be more misguided.