Saturday, September 19, 2015

RIP X: The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne


My first RIP title!  Considering that it's a Hawthorne title, I was surprised at how fast it went--time-wise, that is.  It's not terribly long.  I did feel like not all that much happened, though, and that it's crammed with a little too much excessive verbiage.  So it felt a bit slower than it was.

The Pyncheon mansion is famous in town for being large and fancy--seven gables!--and for having a family curse.  Way back in Puritan times, old Pyncheon accused one Matthew Maule of wizardry in order to get his land, and the house was built on the site of the swindle.  Maule cursed the whole Pyncheon family, and the old man died in a sudden and gruesome manner.

Moving up to the present--1850 or so--the house is mouldering away with only one inhabitant: the destitute but genteel Hepzibah, who is forced to open a little shop in order to support herself.  She is terrible at shopkeeping, but luckily for her a young cousin, Phoebe, arrives and whips the shop and the house into shape.  Just in time too, for Hepzibah's brother Clifford is finally released from thirty years imprisonment, and he needs help.  But what did Clifford do, and what old secrets are yet to be divulged?

There are some hints of witchcraft and other supernatural events, but they are more suggestions than anything else.  Everything could have a perfectly natural explanation.  Or perhaps not.

Hawthorne's story was based on a fanciful rendition of his own family's curse.  He was himself descended from a judge of the Salem witch trials, and that came with both guilt and a story about a curse.  The house was loosely based on a real Pynchon mansion as well (author Thomas P. being descended from them).

The novel made a hit, causing sensation on both the US and England.  H. P. Lovecraft used it as inspiration and called it the best of New England Gothic literature.

It's not my favorite Gothic novel ever written, but it's not bad either.  There's not quite as much plot as I'd like, and more extravagant descriptions of nothing much.

3 comments:

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

One great chapter, I think, the "Governor Pynchon" chapter. Wipes out the rest of the book, except for the charming gingerbread shop chapter. Only Hawthorne would think these two chapters belong in the same novel.

Jean said...

Yeah, that was a neat part. He sits there all....day....long....and you get every bit.

relevantobscurity said...

Nice review! First time reading it and about 1/3 of the way through. Verbiage is right, but I do have to say, it helps me to see everything :)