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"The Scarlet Letter," and "The House of the Seven Gables," contain mental qualities which insensibly lead some readers to compare the author to other cherished literary names. Thus we have seen Hawthorne likened for this quality to Goldsmith, and for that to Irving, and for still another to Dickens; and some critics have given him the preference over all whom he seems to resemble. But the real cause for congratulation in the appearance of an original genius like Hawthorne, is not that he dethrones any established prince in literature, but that he founds a new principality of his own.
Edwin Percy Whipple, "The House of the Seven Gables: Humor and Pathos Combined," 1851
The end of an old race- this is the situation that Hawthorne has depicted, and he has been admirably inspired in the choice of the figures in whom he seeks to interest us. They are all figures rather than characters- they are all pictures rather than persons. But if their reality is light and vague, it is sufficient, and it is in harmony with the low relief and dimness of outline of the objects that surrounded them.
Henry James, Hawthorne, 1879
ON HAWTHORNE AND HIS AGE
The measure in which he intended The House of the Seven Gables as a criticism of his own age is somewhat obscured by his treatment of time. Even while he was examining his changing New England, he felt the past weighing heavily on the present's back. Unlike virtually all the other spokesmen for his day, he could never feel that America was a new world. Looking back over the whole history of his province, he was more struck by decay than by potentiality, by the broken ends to which the Puritan effort had finally come, by the rigidity that had been integral to its thought at its best, by modes of life in which nothing beautiful had developed.
F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance, 1941.
ON THE SIMPLICITY OF HAWTHORNE'S WRITING
Hawthorne's writing is misleading in its simplicity, which is genuine enough but tempts us to overlook what lies beneath. In the end, simplicity is one of his genuine charms- combined with something else. The essence of Hawthorne is, in fact, distilled from the opposing elements of simplicity and complexity. This essence is a clear liquid, with no apparent cloudiness. Hawthorne, together with Henry James, perhaps, is the only American novelist who has been able to see life whole without, in Thackeray's words, "roaring ai, ai, as loud as Prometheus," like Melville, Wolfe, and Faulkner; droning interminably an account of its details, like Dreiser; or falling into a thin, shrill irony, the batlike twittering of souls in Hades, like all the sad young men.... He is a unique and wonderful combination of light and darkness.
Richard Harter Fogle, Hawthorne's Fiction, 1952
ON HAWTHORNE AS A MODERN WRITER
Since ours is an age that has found irony, ambiguity, and paradox to be central not only in literature but in life, it is not surprising that Hawthorne has seemed to us one of the most modern of nineteenth- century American writers. The bulk and general excellence of the great outburst of Hawthorne criticism of the past decade attest to his relevance for us. It requires no distortion of him to see him not only as foreshadowing Henry James in his concern for "the deeper psychology" but as first cousin to Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren.... Hawthorne's themes, especially, link him with the writing and sensibility of our time.
Hyatt H. Waggoner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1962
ON THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
The final chapter may be a disappointment, there may be other weaknesses, but The House of the Seven Gables remains a remarkable and puzzling novel- and remarkable, perhaps in part, because it is so puzzling. Its incidental pleasures are numerous: the style, with its beautifully equivocal mixture of the colloquial and the elevated, the narrative easing itself backwards and forwards in time, and that peculiar blend of domestic detail and Gothic melodrama about which Hawthorne was, at times, so nervous. Then there are the greater achievements of the book: a narrator playing cunningly with different masks and creating a consistent identity out of them, the complicated series of figurative references which is given coherence and a sense of meaning by the dominating presence of the house. And, above all perhaps, Hawthorne's agnosticism: his willingness to ask questions, and offer different sets of possibilities, in a way that is at once sportive and deeply serious. At his best, indeed, which means in this novel most of the time, Hawthorne makes a positive virtue out of what he sees as necessity and turns uncertainty itself into an art; suspecting that any human category is arbitrary and conjectural, he offers us a conflict between different categories, various idioms and systems, which is only resolved, if at all, by the reader. What it comes down to, in the end, is something very simple: if the book strikes us as a problem then, quite probably, it was meant to. If the old Pyncheon house seems at once intimate and mysterious, a home and a place of imprisonment, then that perhaps is because the man who built it, Nathaniel Hawthorne, saw the world in precisely that way.
Richard Gray, "'Hawthorne: A Problem:' The House of the Seven Gables," 1982
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts