Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

We had to read The House of the Seven Gables in eighth grade and I remember really enjoying it, but virtually nothing else. When my family and I vacationed in New England this summer I wanted to take along a few books set in the area so I picked this up again. Over twenty five years later, though, I found it plodding and difficult to get through. I wish I could go back and ask my younger self what he liked!

The overall theme is hammered home without much subtlety: the sins of past generations are inherited by successive generations. Colonel Pyncheon arranged for a man to be wrongly accused and hanged in order to usurp his land. A massive house is built on the land, but karma finds the patriarch dead at the housewarming party. Nearly two centuries later, the once proud family has seemingly decayed right along with the mansion, never quite escaping the sins of their ancestor. Hawthorne goes on to suggest that this curse may be tied to the original act of avarice; a Pyncheon seeking excessive wealth or power seems to trigger his downfall.

The heavy-handedness with which this fable unfolds I found unappealing; the morality tale is presented much more effectively in The Scarlet Letter or The Picture of Dorian Gray. As much as I’ve enjoyed rediscovering classic literature, I was disappointed in this.

First Sentence:
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.

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