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Chapter 12: "The Daguerreotypist"
In this chapter, Hawthorne sketches the character of Holgrave in detail. He is the only person of "youthful mind" with whom Phoebe can interact. Holgrave has told Phoebe that he "could not boast of his origin, unless as being exceedingly humble, nor of his education, except that it had been the scantiest possible." He has taken up various professions through the years, and his present phase as a daguerreotypist is "not likely to be more permanent than any of the preceding ones." He has always been "homeless" and, therefore, "responsible to neither public opinion nor to individuals--putting off one exterior and snatching up another, to be soon shifted for a third--he had never violated the innermost man; but had carried his conscience along with him."
Holgrave lives in the present and believes that the past should not be allowed to haunt him. Even institutions and offices should be allowed to crumble after twenty years or so "as a hint to the people to examine into and reform the institution that they symbolize." For him, even families should not live in isolation but merge with one another. He says that he has written of one incident of the Pyncheon history, which has become a legend, and plans to publish it in a magazine.
Holgrave is a thinker who moves from one profession to another. At this point in the book, he also seems to be a cold individual. Phoebe "felt his eye, often, his heart seldom, or never." He lacks sympathy and feels that there is nothing wrong in isolating the human heart. Phoebe informs him that she tries to understand Clifford. "I venture to peep in, just as far as the light reaches but no farther. It is holy ground where the shadow falls." Holgrave, in an almost callous manner, says he would go further and adds that no scruples "would prevent me from fathoming Clifford to the full depth of my plummet line." This violation into a person's being is the greatest of all Hawthornian sins. Hawthorne, in his later chapters, wants to show how the womanly nature of Phoebe can totally change this "cold" person.
Chapter 13: "Alice Pyncheon"
Holgrave proceeds to tell Phoebe the story that he has written about the Pyncheon history. It concerns Gervayse Pyncheon and his daughter Alice. Alice's father had no great interest in the house, having lived abroad most of his life. He had only come there because he had just inherited the house. While at the house, this old Pyncheon sent for Matthew Maule, a descendant of the Old Maule who had cursed the house. Matthew, a carpenter by profession, was not very well liked in the community, for he was uncouth and surly.
Gervayse Pyncheon, aware of the old legend of the map that could bestow untold wealth on the Pyncheon family, sent for Matthew to question him about the whereabouts of the map. Maule agreed that he would give legal claim to the Pyncheon fortune on condition that he would hand over the house to Maule. Having no attachment to the house, Gervayse agreed. Matthew also expressed a desire to meet Alice. Even though he was angry at the request, Gervayse agreed to it. Alice, on meeting him, showed her disdain and hurt Matthew's feelings. He then asked her to sit on a chair and mesmerized her. During the trance, Alice described three figures "as being present in her spiritualized perception." One was a dignified, stern looking gentleman with a blood stain on his hand; the second, a poorly dressed, aged man with a broken hat around his neck; and the third was a middle-aged person with a carpenter's rule sticking out of his pocket. When the first gentleman seemed to want to reveal the secret of the parchment in his hand, the other two overpowered him. Maule then turned to Gervayse and told him that he and his heirs would have to be part of their grandfathers' retribution. "It is too dear bought an inheritance and too heavy with the curse upon it." When she woke from her dream-like state, Alice had become like a slave to Maule and did whatever he asked her to do. One evening she was summoned by him during inclement weather. As a result, she took ill and died.
In this chapter, the reader is given an indication of the curse that has fallen on the Pyncheon family and how it has been passed on from one generation to another. The main reason the Pyncheon family was cursed was their belief that they were aristocrats and better than everyone else; they also felt they had a right to everything, especially power and land. In their greed, they were even prepared to sacrifice human life (the hanging of old Maule). Their disdain for the common man is a mortal sin for Hawthorne; and for this sin, the Pyncheons have to face retribution. Part of the retribution comes with the house, because it isolates the Pyncheon family from reality and the rest of humanity. In order to show that there is a chance that the curse may be lifted, Hawthorne has cleverly used Holgrave (a descendant of the Maules) to relate the tale to Phoebe Pyncheon, who, though a Pyncheon, is not a "lady."