Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers

Help / FAQ


printable study guide online download notes summary




The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne


THE STORY

PREFACE

The preface to The House of the Seven Gables sounds as if it were written by someone other than Hawthorne, so indirect is he in introducing his work. The preface has three functions. The first is to characterize the work as a romance as opposed to a novel. The second is to state the moral of the story. The third is to point out the legendary origins of the romance.

A novel, says Hawthorne, aims at a faithful representation of the ordinary events of life. In a romance, on the other hand, an author has "a certain latitude." He can stray from the ordinary and the real; he can manipulate the elements of his story to create an effect; he can flavor his tale with a touch of the "Marvellous."

The moral of the story is this: "...that the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and... becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief." In his romance, Hawthorne seeks to "...convince mankind (or, indeed, any one man) of the folly of tumbling down an avalanche of ill-gotten gold, or real estate, on the heads of an unfortunate posterity, thereby to maim and crush them, until the accumulated mass shall be scattered abroad in its original atoms."

The preface ends with a disclaimer. Hawthorne knows that his readers will recognize the town as Salem, but he insists that the street, the house, and the people in his story are his own inventions.

NOTE: In revolutionary times, there was a resident of Salem named Judge Pynchon. When The House of the Seven Gables was published, descendants of this man complained of the bad light in which their family name had been cast. In a letter to his publisher, Hawthorne denied any connection between this person and his character, and called these Pynchons "jackasses."

I. THE OLD PYNCHEON FAMILY

Toward the end of this section, entitled "The Old Pyncheon Family," Hawthorne refers to it as a "preliminary chapter," meaning that it comes before and leads up to the main action of the book. The stories told in this chapter occur almost two hundred years before the action of the rest of the book begins, and they furnish the background you need in order to understand The House of the Seven Gables.

The chapter begins in front of an old wooden house on a side street in an unnamed New England town. The house has some unusual features: seven gables pointing in as many directions, a clustered central chimney, and a large elm in front of the main door. The street, the house, and the elm are all named for the Pyncheon family, whose home this has been for almost two hundred years.

NOTE: In order to visualize the house of the seven gables, and the action in and around it, you should know what a gable is. The word gable comes from a root that means head. In the strictest sense of the word, a gable is the triangular top of a wall at one end of a house under a double-sloping roof. It also refers to the triangular-topped structure under a section of such a roof. In a house with more than one level (such as the house in this story) the gable extends from the roof to the ground and often has its own windows as well as its own entrance.

Like a human face, this house shows signs of age and of the changing fortunes of its life, which have been considerable. All the stories this house has to tell would fill a very large book. Instead, a brief history of the house and its occupants brings you up to the point where the tale begins.

What is now called Pyncheon-street was once called Maule's Lane. Where the house of the seven gables now stands there once was another house- a log hut, really- built by Matthew Maule. The presence of a fresh, clear spring on this property (an unusual feature on land projecting far into the sea) made it a desirable spot for a home and garden, despite its distance from the center of town. As the years passed and the borders of the town crept closer to Maule's land, the property came to the attention of a well- known and powerful man- Colonel Pyncheon.

Colonel Pyncheon is described as a man of iron will and determination, and as a prominent citizen of his day. Matthew Maule is described as stubborn when defending his rights, and as a rather obscure man. Legend has it that Colonel Pyncheon claimed Maule's property, saying that it belonged to a part of a larger parcel granted to him by the legislature. (In the early years of this country the government gave pieces of unsettled land to persons of position.) There is no written record of the dispute between the two men, but tradition has preserved their story. You may well wonder how legitimate the Colonel's claim was if he was unable to settle it for years, especially considering that he was a prominent person and Maule was a nobody. In Colonel Pyncheon's day, personal influence swayed many decisions.

The death of Matthew Maule finally did settle the dispute. But his was no ordinary death: Maule was accused of practicing witchcraft. He was tried, found guilty, and hanged.

NOTE: SALEM WITCH TRIALS
In 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, about four hundred people were accused of practicing witchcraft. Twenty were found guilty and were put to death.

Hawthorne's ancestor, John Hathorne, was one of the three judges at the witchcraft trials. This caused Nathaniel Hawthorne great shame. You sense his strong feelings when he says of Matthew Maule, "He was one of the martyrs to that terrible delusion which should teach us, among other morals, that the influential classes, and those who take upon themselves to be leaders of the people, are fully liable to all the passionate error that has ever characterized the maddest mob."

When the commotion, surrounding the witchhunts died down, some of the townspeople remembered that Colonel Pyncheon had been among those most anxious to rid the area of witches and wizards, especially Matthew Maule. It was said that Colonel Pyncheon watched from horseback as Maule was executed. Claiming that he had been persecuted so Pyncheon could seize his land, Maule is said to have stood on the scaffold with the hangman's noose around his neck, cursing Pyncheon, saying, "God will give him blood to drink!"

Pyncheon did take the land when Maule died. But when he decided to build his family mansion on the very spot where Maule had had his little hut, the villagers gossiped apprehensively. Pyncheon, they said, was building his house over an "unquiet grave," giving the ghost of Matthew Maule the privilege of haunting its rooms. Colonel Pyncheon, however, was not the sort of person to let his behavior be influenced by the threat of evil spirits. He dug his cellar and laid his foundation on the land Maule had cleared forty years before. When the water in the spring became murky and foul, many of the townspeople interpreted it as a bad sign.

Head carpenter on the building of the Pyncheon mansion was the son of Matthew Maule. In one of the many asides he makes in the book, Hawthorne notes that at that time it was not unusual for a person to earn his living from his father's worst enemy. in any event, it is to Thomas Maule's credit that the house of the seven gables still stands today.

It is hard to believe that the house of the seven gables was ever new, but at one time it was not only new but unlike any house that had ever been built in that town. In shape it was rather top-heavy. Each story or upper level of the house jutted out over the one below it. The seven gables pointed sharply in as many directions. And there was a great cluster of chimneys toward the center of the roof. Little figures decorated the outside of the house, drawn in a plaster made of lime, pebbles, and bits of glass. The windows were covered with lattices having small diamond-shaped panes, and the projecting upper stories of the house cast shadows into its lower rooms. On the gable that faced the street there was a sundial. The front door- in the angle between the two front gables- was covered by an open porch furnished with benches. When the house was finished, wood chips, shavings, bricks, and shingles were scattered over the bare ground.

When the place was ready, Colonel Pyncheon hosted an enormous housewarming to which all the townspeople were invited. As they passed through the front door of the house, the guests were met by two butlers who showed them into either the front rooms or the kitchen area depending on their rank in society, which was easily distinguished by their mode of dress.

NOTE: Here you see that class distinctions go far back in Pyncheon family tradition.

Several of the guests were annoyed that their host was not in the front hall himself to greet them. Finally, in a climactic scene, the Colonel failed to appear in order to greet the Lieutenant Governor, one of the area's highest officials. The county sheriff, embarrassed by the Colonel's absence, advised one of the servants to fetch his master immediately. The servant refused, saying that he had strict orders not to disturb his master. Hearing this, the Lieutenant Governor told the sheriff not to worry, that he would deal with the problem himself. With much ceremony, the Lieutenant Governor went to the door of Colonel Pyncheon's study and knocked loudly, smiling at the guests who looked on. There was no answer. Using the hilt- or handle- of his sword, he knocked again, making a racket that could have wakened the dead. Again there was no answer. The Lieutenant Governor then tried the door. It opened easily, practically thrown open by a gust of wind that rushed through every corner of the house. The guests crowded to the door of Colonel Pyncheon's study, pushing the Lieutenant Governor into the room ahead of them. At first, nothing seemed amiss. The Colonel frowned at them from where he sat at his desk below a portrait of himself. The Colonel's young grandson pushed through the crowd and rushed toward his grandfather. Halfway there he stopped and began to scream. It was then that the crowd noticed that all was not right with the Colonel- his gaze was distorted, his collar and beard soaked with blood. From somewhere in the crowd came a voice, not unlike Matthew Maule's, saying, "God hath given him blood to drink!"

Several rumors circulated about the incident afterwards. Some said the Colonel had bloody fingerprints on his neck, some that his beard was in disarray and had obviously been pulled. Another story had it that a man was seen climbing out of the study window just moments before the Colonel's body was discovered. The Lieutenant Governor claimed to have seen a skeleton hand at the Colonel's throat, and said the hand disappeared as he got closer to the body. (This detail will surface later in the book, so you should keep it in mind.) Local doctors attributed the Colonel's sudden death to a stroke. There was no real suspicion of murder.

The Colonel's huge estate and a claim to a very large and unexplored territory in what is now the state of Maine went to the Pyncheon family. Had Colonel Pyncheon lived a little longer, he might have settled this claim through his political influence and connections. However, over the next hundred years the Pyncheons failed to secure the property or even to find the documents proving it was theirs. The land was granted to "more favored individuals" and occupied by settlers. The Pyncheons, however, clung to the hope of regaining what they thought had been theirs. For most of them, this hope did little but perpetuate delusions of importance, and increase their tendencies to be lazy and dependent as they waited for their dreams to come true.

In almost every generation, there was one Pyncheon who took after the Colonel, restoring the house when family fortunes had declined. At least some of the inheritors of the place had doubts about their moral, if not legal, right to the house. It may be that the owners who felt guilty and did nothing about it committed the same crime as did their ancestor, the Colonel. In this sense, the Pyncheon family may have inherited not a great fortune, but a great misfortune.

A large dim mirror used to hang in one of the rooms in the house. Legend has it that this mirror contained all the shapes that had ever been reflected in it. It is said that the Maules had some power over the mirror and could make the deceased Colonel and his family come to life inside it, reliving times of tragedy and wrongdoing. Both the mirror as a symbol, and the idea of one person's having magical power over another, are repeated throughout the book.

NOTE: Here you come upon the term mesmeric process. Mesmerism is another name for hypnotism, a power that some people have to induce a hypnotic state in others through their animal magnetism or influence. The word comes from the name of Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician and hypnotist (1734-1815).

The story of the Pyncheons, the Maules, and the curse was embellished over the years until it was generally believed that the curse put on Pyncheon by Maule would be inherited by each generation of Pyncheons. If any Pyncheon even gurgled, a villager would say- only half-joking- "He has Maule's blood to drink!" After a hundred years, one of the Pyncheons died suddenly in much the same way as the Colonel. His death only reinforced the popular suspicion.

According to a provision of his will, the Colonel's portrait remained on the wall of the study where he died. It seemed to cast an evil influence on the room.

NOTE: Here you find a reference to Hawthorne's main theme: "...the ghost of a dead progenitor- perhaps as a part of his punishment- is often doomed to become the Evil Genius of his family." You first heard this theme in the preface, where Hawthorne says,... "the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and, divesting itself of every temporary advantage, becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief..."

The Pyncheons were products of their time: They were thrifty, discreet, orderly, and narrow-minded. They were all homebodies. Generations of the family had lived uneventful lives for almost two hundred years. There had been only one noteworthy event- the sudden death of a relative, later judged a murder. The victim was a wealthy old bachelor who, after sifting through family records, had decided that Matthew Maule and his family had been wronged. Among the Pyncheon family, there was a great deal of concern that the old man might give up the old house to the Maules or leave it to them in his will. Before the man could do anything, however, he died. Some of the circumstances surrounding his death led people to believe that he had died violently. A nephew was tried for his murder, found guilty, and has served thirty years of his prison sentence by the time the story begins.

There have been rumors that the prisoner might soon be freed, to return to the house of the seven gables to live with his spinster sister, who is too poor to maintain the house properly. When the story opens, the only other surviving Pyncheons are a cousin who inherited everything except the house at the time of the uncle's death and promptly became a model citizen and judge; his son, traveling in Europe; and a pretty seventeen-year-old cousin whose late father was a Pyncheon and whose mother has remarried.

Maule's descendants, on the other hand, were known as honest, quiet, poor, and diligent workers. They always seemed set apart from others, and their isolation only fueled rumors that they had inherited Wizard Maule's powers and had influence over people's dreams. The family may have settled elsewhere, but for thirty years there has been no sign of them in this town.

Pyncheon-street has ceased to be a fashionable section of town. The more modern houses that were built around the house of the seven gables are small, wooden, and all similar to each other. They have none of the "picturesqueness... that attracts the imagination." The house of the seven gables, on the other hand, seems to be keeping secrets. "So much of mankind's experience had passed there that the very timbers were oozy, like a great human heart."

The Pyncheon elm, nearly one hundred years old, is gigantic. It casts a shadow from one side of the street to the other and sweeps over the roof of the house. It makes the house seem part of nature. Through the fence is a grassy yard, and beyond the house are the remains of a garden. Moss grows over the windows and on the sloping roof, and a cluster of flowers grow in a crevice between two gables. These flowers are called "Alice's Posies" for Alice Pyncheon, who threw seeds up onto the roof in play. From the dust and dirt on the roof, the flowers have grown long after Alice's death.

One other aspect of the house mars the picturesque image a bit. In the front gable is a shop door with a window in the top. This shop door causes great embarrassment to Hepzibah, the dignified resident of the house, as it did to some of her ancestors. A hundred years ago, a Pyncheon found himself in need of money. Rather than seek office or try to settle his family's claim to the Maine territory in a gentlemanly fashion, he cut a shop door through the side of the house and operated a store, much like a person of a lower class. When he died, the shop door was locked, bolted, and barred, and has never been opened again. The shop has remained exactly as it was in his day; some say that his ghost- wearing an apron and with his ruffled cuffs turned back- can be seen through the window poring over his ledger, trying to make his accounts balance.

Now the tale begins.

II. THE LITTLE SHOP WINDOW

When the chapter begins a half-hour before sunrise on a midsummer morning, sixty-year-old Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon has just gotten out of bed. She is alone in the house of the seven gables except for a young man, who for three months has been renting a room in the gable farthest from Miss Hepzibah's own quarters, and who earns his living making daguerreotypes.

NOTE: A daguerreotype was a forerunner of the photograph. The process of making a daguerreotype involved exposing a treated silver or silver-covered copper plate to sunlight for several hours, during which time an impression was made on the plate. Prints could then be made. The process was named for its inventor, the French painter Louis Daguerre (1789-1851).

You stand with the narrator at the threshold to Miss Hepzibah's bedroom. Together with the narrator, you are a "disembodied listener" watching Hepzibah's actions as she, prepares to face the day. For twenty-five years, Hepzibah has lived in seclusion, avoiding the world and its activity whenever possible. Yet there is something in her movements today, in the seriousness of her prayers, in her sighing, and in the length of time that she spends dressing, that leads you to believe that today will not be an ordinary day in the life of this recluse. She pauses once more before leaving her room and takes a miniature from a secret drawer in her desk. For several minutes she gazes at the portrait of a young man in a dressing gown (a robe usually worn while dressing or resting). He has beautiful, expressive eyes and full lips. But who is he? Is he a former lover? No, Hepzibah has never been in love. She puts the miniature down and checks her appearance once more in the mirror, wiping away tears. Then she steps into the dark hallway, a tall, nearsighted figure dressed in black, feeling her way toward the stairs.

NOTE: A miniature is a very small portrait, originally painted with a red substance called minium, from which the English word is derived. Use of the word miniature to mean something very small comes from the fact that these portraits were so small.

The room Hepzibah steps into at the bottom of the stairs has a low, beamed ceiling, dark wood paneling, and a faded carpet on the floor. There are two tables, six straight-backed chairs, and an antique armchair. Two framed items hang on the walls. One is an old map of the much-disputed Pyncheon territory in Maine, absurdly illustrated with Indians and wild beasts (including a lion). The other is the portrait of old Colonel Pyncheon wearing a skull cap and a grizzly beard, holding a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. Hepzibah pauses before the portrait, looking at it with her famous scowl- something that has always been taken as an expression of anger but which is only a squint caused by her nearsightedness. Because of this scowl, Miss Hepzibah has a reputation as an ill-tempered spinster when she is actually a very kind and good-hearted person.

Until a few days ago, the shop in the front gable had been untouched since the death of its operator a hundred years ago. Dust covered the shelves and counters, and had filled a pair of scales as if the dust itself were being weighed. But now the shop has changed. The shelves and counters are clean, the floor is covered with fresh blue sand, and the scales have been scoured in an attempt to remove the rust. Barrels of flour, apples, and cornmeal, boxes of soap and candles, a stock of brown sugar, white beans, and split peas line the walls. Someone, it seems, is about to reopen the shop.

In a frenzy, Hepzibah enters the shop and busies herself straightening and arranging the merchandise. There is something sad in the contrast between the tragic old figure and the silly work she is doing, setting up playthings and cookies. You are watching Hepzibah at the moment when she must step down from her imagined position as a member of an aristocracy in which people do not work for a living. After years of clinging to the hope that the land in Maine would be found to be rightfully hers, Miss Hepzibah has faced the truth- that she must either work for a living or starve. What else could she do? She cannot be a seamstress- she is too clumsy and nearsighted. While she considered opening a school for young children, her intolerance of them made that unlikely. There was little choice for her but to open a cent- shop.

NOTE: In Europe, a person's position had a great deal to do with heredity, and couldn't vanish with the loss of money. But in the United States, where position depends more on money, a person's fortunes can change daily. In the setting up of the cent-shop you find another of the themes of this tale- decaying gentility and the rising and falling tides of fortune.

Hepzibah takes down the bar from the shop door, preparing to admit the world- something she has not done in twenty-five years. In her misery at the realization of her new life, she runs back into the parlor where she throws herself into the armchair and weeps.

III. THE FIRST CUSTOMER

The ringing shop bell signaling the entrance of her first customer rouses Hepzibah from her despair. As she rushes to meet the customer, she appears like someone who expects to meet a burglar. Her fierce appearance- enough to frighten anyone who does not know her- disguises the fear she feels in her heart.

The person entering the shop brings some of the morning sunlight with him. He is a young man of twenty-one or twenty-two, slim, with a thin brown beard and a short moustache. His facial expression combines cheerfulness, seriousness, and energy.

Hepzibah's first customer is Holgrave, the young man who for three months has been boarding in a far gable of the house. He has come to make sure that Hepzibah hasn't backed out of her enterprise, to ask if there is anything he can do to help her, and to wish her luck in her business venture.

Here Hawthorne notes that a person who is very upset seems able to survive any amount of nastiness from other people, but goes to pieces the moment someone shows some kindness. If you have ever felt this way, you will understand why, at Holgrave's goodness, Hepzibah at first starts to laugh and then bursts into tears.

When she collects herself, Hepzibah confides her misgivings to her friend. The young man tries to calm her and says that the things we fear lose their substance as soon as we meet them face-to-face. When Hepzibah bemoans her fallen state and the fact that she is no longer a lady but merely a woman, Holgrave will not sympathize with her. Instead he tells her that what she considers a day of misfortune is actually one of the greatest days of her life. Instead of sitting aloof in her circle of gentility, she will be battling with necessity. He assures her that joining the struggle of mankind will give her a sense of purpose that she has never had before.

Holgrave admits that- because he was not born a gentleman- he cannot sympathize with Hepzibah's dismay at leaving the aristocracy. He goes on to tell her that while the words "gentleman" and "lady" once had meaning and conferred privileges, they now imply restriction. When Hepzibah refuses to accept this new-fangled idea, Holgrave leaves her to wonder if it is not better to be a true woman than a lady, and adds that if the Pyncheons had always acted as nobly as Hepzibah is acting today, Maule's curse would have had no power over them. In what you will later see as an ironic statement, Hepzibah replies that if Maule's ghost or one of his descendants could see her now, he would be happy at last. Relishing the pleasure of being her first customer, Holgrave chooses some biscuits for his breakfast. Hepzibah smiles and insists she will be a lady a little longer; she refuses to accept his money.

Although initially cheered by Holgrave's presence, Hepzibah finds that his visit has no long-lasting effect on her mood. She listens to the footsteps of people in the street, some pausing in front of her shop window to look at her display. At one point, two laborers stop just outside the door and comment on how surprised they are that she has opened a cent-shop. One man says that his wife lost five dollars when her cent-shop failed. Hepzibah, they say, is not likely to attract customers with her scowl and bad temper. The conversation makes a great impression on Hepzibah, who wonders how she- a born lady- will succeed in business when a vulgar woman of a lower class had failed.

She is shaken from horrible fantasies by the ringing of the shop bell. The door opens and a messy little boy carrying a schoolbook and slate comes into view. He has come for the Jim Crow gingerbread figure. Hepzibah hands it to him but declines the coin he holds out in payment, and the surprised little boy leaves without shutting the door. No sooner has Hepzibah replaced the figure in the window when the bell rings again and the door jerks open. When Hepzibah sees that it is the same little urchin with crumbs still around his mouth, she says, "What is it now, child? Did you come back to shut the door?" He has come to get another Jim Crow. Realizing that she will never be rid of him as long as she gives away gingerbread, Hepzibah charges him for this one.

NOTE: Jim Crow is a stereotype name for a black person in a nineteenth-century song-and-dance act. It later came to mean discrimination against blacks by legal enforcement. In this case it is the shape of a gingerbread man.

Hepzibah drops her first earnings into her money box, feeling as if the coin has stained her palm forever. In her mind, the schoolboy and the gingerbread figure have broken her link with her ancestry. She might as well turn her family portraits so they face the wall and use the map of their eastward territory as kindling.

Yet, as Holgrave had predicted, Hepzibah grows calm and for a while seems to almost enjoy her new position. The atmosphere is refreshing after her long seclusion, and she feels healthier now that she is helping herself. But she is encouraged only to the point of being able to continue. Her despondency always threatens to return.

Among the customers who trickle through her shop are a little girl whose mother sends her to match thread and who returns with Hepzibah's choice, saying it will not do and is rotten; the worn-out wife of a drunk and the mother of nine to whom Hepzibah gives flour without accepting payment; and a man reeking of alcohol who buys a pipe and curses the shopkeeper for having no tobacco. Five people leave angrily when they find she has no ginger or root beer, and one housewife dooms her shop to failure because she has no yeast.

Hepzibah is offended by the cross-section of humanity she sees. She hates the rude people who treat her like an equal. Even more, she hates those who know of her fallen state. When some voice their regrets at what she has been forced to do, Hepzibah suspects them of coming only to gawk. It is not long before she finds herself struggling against a great bitterness toward the idle rich- the aristocracy to which she has until now belonged. When a well-dressed and perfumed lady passes through Pyncheon-street, Hepzibah wonders if the whole world must work so this woman's hands may be kept white and delicate.

NOTE: From the visit with Holgrave to the trade with her first customers, Hepzibah is struggling with her change of class. She has given up the hope of wealth that isolated her for so long, and has joined the "united struggle of mankind." What do her mixed feelings here suggest about isolation and class distinctions? Do you feel any special sympathy for her? Why?

IV. A DAY BEHIND THE COUNTER

When this chapter opens, it is noon on the same day and Hepzibah is looking out of the shop. On the side of the street opposite the house of the seven gables, a large but dignified older man is walking. He stops in the shadow of the Pyncheon-elm and looks with great interest first at the house and then at the shop window.

This character, described as "as well worth looking at as the house" is the model of respectability. Both his clothing and gold-headed cane make him seem a person of authority and influence. Although he was probably thought handsome in his youth, his face now is jowly, and a host to shifting expressions.

As he looks up at the house, he first smiles and then frowns. Through gold-rimmed spectacles, he studies the shop window and smiles- first harshly and then benevolently- when he spots Hepzibah looking out.

This person has a considerable effect on Hepzibah. She wonders aloud what he thinks of her enterprise. "Take it as you like, Cousin Jaffrey!" snarls Hepzibah once he is gone, and you discover that this gentleman is Jaffrey Pyncheon, the wealthy judge and cousin of Hepzibah and her imprisoned brother.

Returning to the parlor, Hepzibah tries to knit but soon tosses the stocking aside and paces, pausing under the portrait of her Puritan ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon. As the likeness has faded into the canvas over the years, the character of the man has grown more prominent, as if the artist's true feelings for the man have been hidden under paint that is now wearing away. The resemblance between Colonel Pyncheon and the man Hepzibah has just seen on the street is striking. "This is the very man!" she mutters.

Hepzibah loses herself so completely in her thoughts that when the shop bell rings it sounds as if it comes from another world. In the shop she finds a neighbor, an old man known as Uncle Venner. He is a familiar sight in Pyncheon-street where- toothless and in patched clothing- he does chores for many families and gathers scraps for his Pig. For his lack of ambition, Uncle Venner had a reputation as a dimwit. But what seemed vulgar in him when he was younger seems charming in his old age. He is pleased to find that Hepzibah has begun trade but predicts that something better will happen to Hepzibah, and that she will never end up at the work-house (the poorhouse, which he calls his farm). Hepzibah fantasizes about how her fortune might change. An uncle who sailed for India fifty years ago and who has not been heard from since might come back and adopt her. The head of the English Pyncheons- a member of Parliament- might invite her to live in England. Relatives in Virginia might hear of her poverty and send her a small fortune in yearly income. Or the claim to the eastward territory might still be settled in her family's favor.

Motioning for Hepzibah to come closer to him, Uncle Venner asks, "When do you expect him home?" Hepzibah turns white and wonders who he could mean, but Uncle Venner cannot be put off. He says there is word of it all over town.

For the rest of the day, Hepzibah moves mechanically, as if she were in a trance. It is as if her spirit is in the past, and her body has been left to deal with the present. As luck would have it, customers pour into the shop all afternoon and Hepzibah blunders along, confusing her goods and miscounting her change. In her first day she has cleared only six cents, but in spite of the slim profit, Hepzibah is happy that the day is over.

As she is locking up, a carriage stops next to the elm, and Hepzibah's heart stands still. Could this be the guest from the past that Uncle Venner referred to? A slender young girl jumps down to the sidewalk and goes to the front door of the Pyncheon house, where the porter has left her things. Thinking that the girl must have the wrong house, Hepzibah peers out the window at the young, cheerful face. The contrast between the fresh, young girl and everything around her is striking. Her presence at the door is like a ray of sunshine falling into a dark corner. Hepzibah unlocks the door and shoves back the bolt. It occurs to her that this might be Phoebe, the country cousin whose father has died and whose mother has remarried. Hepzibah thinks to herself that it is just like a country cousin to lack the sophistication to write ahead of her intended visit. Little does Hepzibah know that Phoebe's letter to her has been in the postman's pocket for days. As she opens the door, Hepzibah vows that Phoebe will stay only one night, thinking that her presence might upset Clifford.

V. MAY AND NOVEMBER

Phoebe awakens in the early morning in a room that faces east and looks out over the garden. After saying her prayers and dressing, she hurries down to the garden, where she picks some white roses that she had seen from her window.

Phoebe has a talent for arranging a room so that it looks homey and inviting. With her natural touch, the dark and dreary bedroom becomes a cozy apartment. The previous night it could have been compared to Hepzibah's heart. It lacked sunshine and fire, and its only guests were ghosts. Now, though, something- perhaps the bunch of flowers?- makes the room unmistakably that of a young woman.

When Hepzibah tells Phoebe that she cannot afford to keep her, Phoebe replies cheerfully that she intends to earn her own living and thinks the two of them will get along quite well. Hepzibah tries everything to discourage Phoebe: she points out the unwholesome condition of the house, and tells stories of her own bad temper and low spirits. But Phoebe will not be daunted. Finally Hepzibah concludes that she does not, in fact, have the last word- that the master of the house will be returning soon.

Surprised, Phoebe asks if Judge Pyncheon is the master of the house. Angrily, Hepzibah says no, and adds that the Judge will never cross the threshold while she is alive. When asked again about the master of the house, Hepzibah brings out the miniature you saw when she was dressing. Phoebe admires the face, calling it "as sweet a face as a man's can be, or ought to be," and asks her cousin who it is. Bending toward her, Hepzibah wonders in a whisper if she has never heard of Clifford Pyncheon. Phoebe has only a dim recollection of the name, and seems to remember that Clifford has been dead a long time. Hepzibah laughs a warning that in old houses like the house of the seven gables, people are always apt to come back again.

Hepzibah brings out some family silver and a china tea set brought to the colony by Phoebe's great- great-great-great-grandmother. When Phoebe washes the things with great care, Hepzibah compliments her on her work. She says Phoebe must take after her mother, because no Pyncheon ever had her talents.

The shop bell rings before the women sit down to breakfast, and Hepzibah puts down her teacup with a look of despair. The sound is almost more than she can bear as she sits with the silver and china remnants of her gentility. She is surprised once again when Phoebe, claiming experience in shopping and selling at country fairs, announces that she will tend the shop today. Hepzibah watches from the passageway to see how she conducts herself, and is impressed when Phoebe bargains well with a difficult old woman who trades yarn.

Hepzibah's admiration for Phoebe includes no desire to imitate her. Although Phoebe may be competent to manage the shop and make yeast, brew beer, and bake spice cake, she is not and will never be a lady. No lady would ever possess Phoebe's talents- they would be unnecessary. This is not to say that Phoebe is not ladylike. She is tasteful and well groomed, but she is not elegant. She is petite and her tan, freckled face is framed by brown curls. She has an upturned nose and deep eyes. She is pretty and graceful the way a bird is. Phoebe is as much a representative of the new Plebeianism as Hepzibah is of Old Gentility, and the contrast between the two is great.

NOTE: Phoebe is May to Hepzibah's November. She is young and hopeful whereas her cousin is old and despairing. Phoebe is from a lower social class than Hepzibah, but she is more competent and more talented. What does this say about the contrast between Plebeianism and Old Gentility Hawthorne presents here?

The light of Phoebe's personality must shine through the windows of the old house. There is no other explanation for the speed with which the neighbors learn of her presence. Business quickly picks up. At the end of their first day together, Hepzibah puts on a pair of silk gloves and tallies the change in the money box.

On a tour of the house Hepzibah recounts the history of each article in it, hinting at Pyncheon fortunes still awaiting discovery. She tells Phoebe that the house is said to be haunted by the ghost of the beautiful and talented Alice Pyncheon, who wasted away from some mysterious ailment a hundred years earlier. Alice can still be heard playing softly on her harpsichord, Hepzibah says, just before the death of one of the Pyncheons.

Rounding out the grand tour, Hepzibah tells Phoebe about her boarder, the daguerreotypist, who lives in one of the gables. She explains that although she first considered Mr. Holgrave an orderly young man, she now does not know what to think. His friends, with their long beards and fashionable clothing, are unlike any people she has ever known. Holgrave has been accused in a recent newspaper article of making a rebellious speech at a meeting of his friends. Hepzibah suspects him of practicing animal magnetism and black magic in his room.

Horrified at Hepzibah's description of the young man, Phoebe wonders why she allows him to stay. Hepzibah excuses her tolerance of him, saying, "I suppose he has a law of his own."

NOTE: Animal magnetism is the personal influence or power that one creature exerts over another. Black magic is another term for witchcraft.

THE STORY, continued

THE NOVEL


ECC [The House of the Seven Gables Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

[Transcript of The House of the Seven Gables]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com, Inc. is prohibited.

Google
  Web PinkMonkey.com   
Google
  Web Search Our Message Boards   

All Contents Copyright © 1997-2004 PinkMonkey.com
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.


About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 5/9/2017 8:51:42 AM