"poor little Pearl was a demon offspring"
Lilith (1892)
Public DomainLilith (1892) - Credit: John Collier
Vampir (1899)
Public DomainVampir (1899) - Credit: Tuschzeichnung von Ernst Stöhr

Demon offspring are a murderous, promiscuous lot. Mesopotamian mythology has the lilin, a race of demons which Lilith, queen of the succubi and Adam’s first partner, gives birth to in their hundreds every day. Greek mythology, meanwhile, has the lamiae, the snake-like spawn of Lamia, the Libyan Queen-cum-child devourer; and the empusae, offspring of witch-goddess Hecate, who in their natural state have the hind quarters of asses and are shod with brass slippers. These monstrous creatures share an enthusiasm for killing young children and late-night travelers, as well as the ability to shapeshift into the guise of beautiful women. The lamiae use this talent to seduce men and then steal their eyes or eat their bodies mid-coitus, whilst the lilin prefer to pilfer their sperm in order to beget yet more demons to haunt the unwilling fathers until death.

The intertwining of witchcraft, sexual voracity and the subversion of maternal instinct is plain in these myths and makes clear the light in which Pearl is seen by her fellow Bostonians. What is most interesting in Hawthorne’s labeling of Pearl as “a demon offspring,” though, is the light in which it casts her father. Through his original begetting and subsequent denial of Pearl, Dimmesdale becomes the “fiend-like” spirit Hester sees reflected in her eyes.