House of the Seven Gables Book Review and Nathaniel Hawthorne
House of the Seven Gables in 1915
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne has been a well-loved novel since its publication in April of 1851.
Hawthorne had the ability to develop his characters as unique individuals with their own idiosyncrasies which gives each person a distinctive personality. Whether loved or despised, the feelings the reader picks up on each character is provoked strongly when meeting them.
The house that was an inspiration for the story was restored to its original beauty and still stands proud and imposing in Salem, Massachusetts. It is open to the public for tours.
The original part of the house was built in 1667 for Captain John Turner. For three generations it was the residence of the Turner family. John Turner lost the family fortune and the Ingersoll family purchased the house. The Ingersolls were relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne often visited his cousin Susannah Ingersoll at the house. At that time, some of the gables were missing and there were only three left. In 1908 the house was purchased by Caroline O. Emmerton for a museum. Emmerton was the founder of the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association. She architect Joseph Everett chandler who had it completely restored to its original seven gables.
The Gothic novel Hawthorne wrote is about the history of the Pyncheon family and their 150 years of life and death in the old home. Hawthorne opens the story with inspiration of his great-great grandfather's record of conducting severe treatment and punishment for people accused of witchcraft in Salem. One woman was treated so severely by Judge John Hathorne (original spelling of the family name) that the woman's husband prophesied God would punish his wife's persecutors.
Hawthorne picked this history up and wove it into his fictional Pyncheon family history and adopted the curse to attribute to a Matthew Maule, who had laid a similar curse on the Pyncheon generations.
Have you read The House of the Seven Gables?
Matthew Maule and Colonel Pyncheon
The history of Judge Hathorne and the curse was applied to the character of Matthew Maule, who was accused by a Pyncheon ancestor, Colonel Pyncheon, of being a witch. Maule owned some prime property that had a well with the purest water in the whole area. Colonel Pyncheon falsely claimed that the property was his according to an old deed of land.
The Colonel won the battle and Maule was tried and convicted of witchcraft. On the gallows, Maule pointed to Colonel Pyncheon and declared that "God will give him blood to drink!"
On the very spot where Maule had built his humble cottage, Colonel Pyncheon built his mansion. The town people doubted the integrity of the Colonel and how he had won his case. Rumours spread that Pyncheon had built his magnificent home over an "unquiet grave" -- which gave the ghost of Matthew Maule the right to haunt the house for generations of Pyncheons.
On the day that Colonel Pyncheon opened his mansion and held a grand party for celebration, he retired to his study and closed the door, telling his man servant that he was not to be disturbed for any reason whatsoever. He did not appear again, not even to welcome the aristocracy at the threshold to his mansion.
When the lieutenant-governor, the honored guest arrived, it was to be the highlight of the day. Still, Colonel Pyncheon did not appear to his guests. The county's high-sheriff demanded that the man-servant inform his master to appear. When the man-servant refused, the lieutenant-governor himself marched in and was shown where the door to the study was.
The rest of the esteemed guests crowded up behind the lieutenant-governor as he opened the door. There, beneath a portrait of Colonel Pyncheon sat the man himself at his desk. The Colonel's little grandson pushed through the crowd and rushed forward to greet his grandfather, then began to cry out in terror. The face of the Colonel was unnaturally distorted and there was blood dripping from his mouth to his beard and collar.
From the crowd a voice, much like Matthew Maule's own voice, boomed loudly. "God hath given him blood to drink!"
Thus, the first appearance of Death had visited the house with the curse on Colonel Pyncheon that Maule had prophesied.
The house passed on to the Colonel's son. The deed, which Colonel Pyncheon had used as proof he owned the property was not found. And that deed was looked for by every generation for a hundred years -- yet from father to son on down the family clung to their rights, aristocracy and ancestral home with tenacity.
Matthew Maule was more feared in death than he was in life, for his ghostly footsteps tread heavily on the Pyncheon males, who uncannily all resembled the old Colonel.
The Maules continued to live on in the vicinity of where their ancestor had suffered such an unjust fate. They kept to themselves and were considered an honest and well-meaning folk with no malice against the public or the Pyncheons. Only in the privacy of their own homes would it be possible if they, in their secret thoughts and whispers, remembered that the great house of the Pyncheon's rested on land that was rightfully theirs. And it was such a shame that Maule's old well which now sat in the backyard of the Pyncheon's home, the well that had once bubbled forth with crystal clear, magical and pure water, had turned black and bracken when old Maule was hanged.
Now, some two-hundred years later, we come to the current residents of the house, Clifford and Hepzibah.
Location of the House of the Seven Gables
House of the Seven Gables
Clifford and Hepzibah Pyncheon
Clifford and Hepzibah, brother and sister, were given permission to live in the house by an elderly bachelor uncle, who was the owner at the time. They were not very well off, so were fortunate their uncle took them in. Unfortunately, the uncle was murdered one day and Clifford had been accused and convicted of the murder. Clifford was sentenced to life imprisonment.
When the uncle had lived in the house, he spent his time going through old records of the house and the family history. He began to believe that maybe Matthew Maule had been wrongly accused and possibly the estate should be returned to the rightful owners. The uncle was extremely wealthy and began to question if restitution should be made. The matter was not well received by Pyncheon relatives. The uncle was murdered.
Now, at his death, having no will, the house and property passed to Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. However, the uncle had bequeathed to Hepzibah and Clifford a lifelong right to abide in the house.
Thirty years later, we come upon poor old Hepzibah living alone in the dusty old mansion. She never married and missed her brother sorely. Would he ever be allowed to come home? That was her constant thought every morning when she arose from her bed. Each day for Hepzibah is faded, long, dark and lonely -- a sad repeat of all her yesterdays.
Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon
Jaffrey Pyncheon is very wealthy and has a large estate and farm in the country. He did not want to live in the old ancestral home, but kept a close and critical eye on Hepzibah and intimidated her whenever he got the chance to stop by the house. Hepzibah feared him greatly and never knew if she would be ousted from her home due to her financial state and the reputation of her brother. Jaffrey did not visit often, just enough to keep Hepzibah on pins and needles.
Although he was quite wealthy and happy in the country, he would not hesitate to sell the ancestral home and property to gain further wealth. Jaffrey and his wife had one son who traveled a great deal.
Holgrave is a guest boarder in the old house. Hepzibah rented out one of the gable rooms to him which had its own private outside stairs and entrance. Holgrave is a daguerreotypist with a good volume of clientele, which kept him away from the house quite often. Holgrave is fascinated with the mysteries of the house and the Pyncheon history.
Among other mysteries, there is a looking glass in the home that has been there since the house was built. It has seen all the Pyncheons for generations and even, at times, the spirits of old Maule and others seem to pass through the glass. What secrets did that looking glass hold? These and other things, Holgrave would like to know.
Phoebe was a breath of fresh air that brought sunshine and joy to the old house and all who resided there. She is a distant relative who lived on a farm with her parents who could not afford to feed and clothe their many children. Phoebe was sent to cousin Hepzibah in hopes that the two women could help each other. Hepzibah could not easily afford to care for Phoebe and her needs, but an arrangement was made on Phoebe's excellent suggestions. In return for room and board, Phoebe took over the cent shop, which so relieved Hepzibah from that very displeasing chore.
Phoebe also took over the care of the gardens and the wandering chickens that meandered freely throughout the garden. Young Phoebe had the gift of organization practical arrangement and made a remarkable change to Hepzibah's life and the old house.
Phoebe and Holgrave, after some time of uneasy acquaintance, eventually become good friends. Holgrave knew a lot about the family history and old Maule and was always curious about the deed of the property and other mysterious happenings over the years. The two become partners in trying to solve those mysteries.
Chanticleer and his Wives
Chanticleer, the rooster, his two wives (hens) and one solitary chicken are prominent characters in the story also. They are a rare breed, an heirloom of the Pyncheons. Phoebe takes them under her wing and proceeds to give them better care than they have had for a long time.
Rooster and Hens
Alice Pyncheon is a delightful spirit who inhabits the house. When she was alive, a few generations ago, she loved to play her harpsichord, the music drifting beautifully through the house. After her death, the harpsichord was moved upstairs to her old room, which is now Hepzibah's bed chamber, where it sits, dusty and full of old forgotten musical notes -- still, the harpsichord plays on occasion as if Alice was sitting there on the bench playing as she did 100 years ago.
Uncle Venner is a peculiar character. He is not a relative of the Pyncheons, just a long time friend. He is well-known and kindly tolerated by the townspeople. He always seemed, as long as Hepzibah had known him, to be old, with white hair and wrinkles. He keeps a pig on his little property and every morning, as he goes his rounds to do odd jobs for several families, he picks up any scraps of food tossed out to take to his pig.
Hepzibah always accepted Venner as a friend and welcomed his visits now and then. When Hepzibah opened her cent shop, Uncle Venner was there the first day to give her some kindly and well appointed advice on how to do business with the public.
When Uncle Venner meets Phoebe and sees how well she runs the shop and how her customers multiplied, he was delighted for Hepzibah. He became a regular visitor whenever Phoebe was in the shop and the girl learned to love him as a real uncle.
Although little Ned Higgins is not prominent in the story, Hawthorne gave him an important role. When Hepzibah had opened her cent shop she feared she would get no customers, at the same time, she feared she would.
Her first customer was little Ned who wanted the gingerbread cookie that he saw through the shop window. Hepzibah sold it to him and the boy ate it with pleasure. He became a regular customer and depleted the whole supply of gingerbread cookies every time he came in.
Adaptation of the Story
The following video is about a time early in the history of the house and members of the Pyncheon family. It is a very shortened version of the story and ends, not as Hawthorne intended, but quite dramatically.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, United States. His parents were Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne.
Hawthorne's great-great grandfather, John Hathorne (1641 - 1717), was a magistrate in Salem, Massachusetts. He was one of the most prominent judges during the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693.
It is noted in historical accounts that Hathorne was harsh in his interrogation of those accused of witchcraft and believed the accused were guilty before they were even tried.
Several years after the witch trials, many of the judges apologized to the public and the families of the accused and executed. There is no record that John Hathorne ever apologized nor repented for his part in the trials.
John Hathorne's father, William Hathorne, as also a magistrate and served on the highest court. He was very prominent in the Puritan society of Massachusetts believed in harsh punishment. Having Quakers whipped in the streets of Salem was just one of William's severe punishments.
Even though Nathaniel Hawthorne did not want to be connected to this ancestral line and early on added the 'w' to his surname, he was inspired by these two ancestors when it came to the witchcraft beliefs of the time of the two judges. His interest in the good and evil of the Puritan society and their way of thinking influenced the stories in his novels "The Scarlet Letter" and "The House of the Seven Gables".
When The House of the Seven Gables was published in 1851, James Russell Lowell, American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat, claimed that it was "The most valuable contribution to New England history that has been made".
Note From Author
I have a Collector's Edition of The House of The Seven Gables and have read it at least once a year since 1969. It feels like a visit back home every time I open the book.
Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns