A gloomy New England mansion provides the setting for this classic exploration of ancestral guilt and its expiation through the love and goodwill of succeeding generations.
Nathaniel Hawthorne drew inspiration for this story of an immorally obtained property from the role his forebears played in the 17th-century Salem witch trials. Built over an unquiet grave, the House of the Seven Gables carries a dying man's curse that blights the lives of its residents for over two centuries. Now Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, an iron-hearted hypocrite and intellectual heir to the mansion's unscrupulous founder, is attempting to railroad a pair of his elderly relatives out of the house. Only two young people stand in his way — a visiting country cousin and an enigmatic boarder skilled in mesmerism.
Hawthorne envisioned this family drama of evil, revenge, and resolution as a microcosm of Salem's own history as in idealistic society corrupted by greed and pride. His enduring view of the darkness at the heart of the national soul has made The House of the Seven Gables a landmark of American literature.
About the Author
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, the son and grandson of proud New England seafarers. He lived in genteel poverty with his widowed mother and two young sisters in a house filled with Puritan ideals and family pride in a prosperous past. His boyhood was, in most respects, pleasant and normal. In 1825 he was graduated from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and he returned to Salem determined to become a writer of short stories. For the next twelve years he was plagued with unhappiness and self-doubts as he struggled to master his craft. He finally secured some small measure of success with the publication of his Twice-Told Tales (1837). His marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842 was a happy one. The Scarlet Letter (1850), which brought him immediate recognition, was followed by The House of the Seven Gables (1851). After serving four years as the American Consul in Liverpool, England, he traveled in Italy; he returned home to Massachusetts in 1860. Depressed, weary of writing, and failing in health, he died on May 19, 1864, at Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Date of Birth:July 4, 1804
Date of Death:May 19, 1864
Place of Birth:Salem, Massachusetts
Place of Death:Plymouth, New Hampshire
Education:Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, 1824
Read an Excerpt
Half-way down a by-street of one of our New England towns, stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon-street; the house is the old Pyncheon-house; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon-elm. On my occasional visits to the town aforesaid, I seldom failed to turn down Pyncheon-street, for the sake of passing through the shadow of these two antiquities; the great elm-tree and the weather-beaten edifice.
The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also of the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed within. Were these to be worthily recounted, they would form a narrative of no small interest and instruction, and possessing, moreover, a certain remarkable unity, which might almost seem the result of artistic arrangement. But the story would include a chain of events extending over the better part of two centuries, and, written out with reasonable amplitude, would fill a bigger folio volume, or a longer series of duodecimos, than could prudently be appropriated to the annals of all New England during a similar period. It consequently becomes imperative to make short work with most of the traditionary lore of which the old Pyncheon-house, otherwise known as the House of the Seven Gables, has been the theme. With a brief sketch, therefore, of the circumstances amid which the foundation of the house was laid, and a rapid glimpse at its quaint exterior, as it grew black in the prevalent east wind pointing, too, here and there, at some spot of more verdant mossiness on its roof and walls, we shall commence the real action of our tale at an epoch not very remote from the present day. Still, there will be a connection with the long past; a reference to forgotten events and personages, and to manners, feelings, and opinions, almost or wholly obsolete; which, if adequately translated to the reader, would serve to illustrate how much of old material goes to make up the freshest novelty of human life. Hence, too, might be drawn a weighty lesson from the little-regarded truth, that the act of the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce good or evil fruit, in a far-distant time; that, together with the seed of the merely temporary crop, which mortals term expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more enduring growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity.
The House of the Seven Gables, antique as it now looks, was not the first habitation erected by civilized man on precisely the same spot of ground. Pyncheon-street formerly bore the humbler appellation of Maule's Lane, from the name of the original occupant of the soil, before whose cottage-door it was a cow-path.
Table of Contents
- Introduction to The House of the Seven Gables
- Textual Introduction: The House of the Seven Gables
- Note on the Typesetting
- The Old Pyncheon Family
- The Little Shop-Window
- The First Customer
- A Day behind the Counter
- May and November
- Maule's Well
- The Guest
- The Pyncheon of To-day
- Clifford and Phoebe
- The Pyncheon-Garden
- The Arched Window
- The Daguerreotypist
- Alice Pyncheon
- Phoebe's Good Bye
- The Scowl and Smile
- Clifford's Chamber
- The Flight of Two Owls
- Governor Pyncheon
- Alice's Posies
- The Flower of Eden
- The Departure
- Textual Notes
- Editorial Emendations in the Copy-Text
- Rejected First-Edition Substantive Readings
- Historical Collation
- Alterations in the Manuscript
- Compositorial Stints in the First Edition
- The Centenary Texts: Editorial Principles
- Appendix to the Second Printing
Reading Group Guide
1. Hawthorne considered this novel to be a romance, which in literary terms refers to a narrative, allegorical treatment of heroic, fantastic, or supernatural events. Do you think this term accurately describes the book? Why or why not?
2. What do you make of the relationship between interior consciousness and external appearance in the novel? How does this conflict, as experienced by each of the central characters, inform the novel? And how does the house serve as a metaphor for this struggle?
3. Discuss the theme of class and social structure in the novel. What do you think Hawthorne intends in his depiction of Hepzibah's and Clifford's slow decline, and the curse on the Pyncheons' house? Are these related in any way? What about the role of the Maules?
4. Is the house a kingdom or a prison? Neither, or both? What is the curse that afflicts the Pyncheons? Discuss.
5. Discuss the role played by Holgrave in the novel. How does his nomadic, rootless existence stand in contrast to the Pyncheons? How does his marriage to Phoebe complicate this?
6. Discuss the scene in which Clifford attempts to join the procession. How does this illuminate the fundamental struggle of the Pyncheon family?