Oliver Wendell Holmes: Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny

(1393 words)
  • Bryce Traister (University of Western Ontario)

At the heart of his 1861 novel Elsie Venner: a Romance of Destiny (a novel Oliver Wendell Holmes later called his “medicated novel”), lies an analogy between original sin and genetic inheritance. Poisoned in utero by rattlesnake venom, the novel’s eponymous heroine comes into the world a hybrid of snake and human. She coils, slithers, and strikes; her skin is cold, her eyes glittering diamonds, and her only friends are rattlesnakes. When she is given a basket of White Ash leaves, a tree long believed to be an antidote to rattlesnake venom, Elsie shrinks into herself “in a curdling terror.” Unable to love (or even cry), Elsie passes through the novel as the object of everyone’s repulsed and fascinated gaze (s…

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Traister, Bryce. "Elsie Venner: A Romance of Destiny". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 03 March 2002
[http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=5390, accessed 30 September 2016.]