The House of the Seven Gables  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic novel written beginning in mid-1850 by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne and published in April 1851 by Ticknor and Fields of Boston. The novel follows a New England family and their ancestral home. In the book, Hawthorne explores themes of guilt, retribution, and atonement and colors the tale with suggestions of the supernatural and witchcraft. The setting for the book was inspired by a gabled house in Salem belonging to Hawthorne's cousin Susanna Ingersoll and by ancestors of Hawthorne who had played a part in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The book was well received upon publication and later had a strong influence on the work of H. P. Lovecraft. The House of the Seven Gables has been adapted several times to film and television.

Plot

The novel is set in the mid-19th century, but flashbacks to the history of the house, which was built in the late 17th century, are set in other periods. The house of the title is a gloomy New England mansion, haunted since its construction by fraudulent dealings, accusations of witchcraft, and sudden death. The current resident, the dignified but desperately poor Hepzibah Pyncheon, opens a shop in a side room to support her brother Clifford, who has completed a thirty year sentence for murder. She refuses all assistance from her wealthy but unpleasant cousin, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. A distant relative, the lively and pretty young Phoebe, arrives and quickly becomes invaluable, charming customers and rousing Clifford from depression. A delicate romance grows between Phoebe and the mysterious attic lodger Holgrave, who is writing a history of the Pyncheon family.

The house was built on ground wrongfully seized from its rightful owner, Matthew Maule, by Colonel Pyncheon, the founder of the Massachusetts branch of the family. Maule was accused of practicing witchcraft and was executed. According to legend, at his death Maule laid a curse upon the Pyncheon family. During the housewarming festivities, Colonel Pyncheon was found dead in his armchair; whether he actually died from the curse or from a congenital disease is unclear. His portrait remains in the house as a symbol of its dark past and the weight of the curse upon the spirit of its inhabitants.

Phoebe arranges to visit her country home, but plans to return soon. Clifford, depressed by his isolation from humanity and his lost youth spent in prison, stands at a large arched window above the stairs and has a sudden urge to jump. The departure of Phoebe, the focus of his attention, leaves him bed-ridden.

Judge Pyncheon arrives to find information about land in Maine, rumored to belong to the family. He threatens Clifford with an insanity hearing unless he reveals details about the land or the location of the missing deed. Clifford is unable to comply. Before Clifford can be brought before the Judge (which would destroy Clifford's fragile psyche), the Judge mysteriously dies while sitting in Colonel Pyncheon's chair. Hepzibah and Clifford flee by train. The next day, Phoebe returns and discovers the Judge's body. The townsfolk begin to gossip about Hepzibah and Clifford's sudden disappearance. Phoebe is relieved when Hepzibah and Clifford return, having recovered their wits.

New evidence in the crime that sent Clifford to prison proves his innocence. He was framed for the death of his uncle by Jaffrey, who was even then looking for the missing deed. Holgrave is revealed as Maule's descendant, but he bears no ill will toward the Pyncheons. The missing deed is discovered behind the old Colonel's portrait, but the paper is worthless: the land is already settled by others. The characters abandon the old house and start a new life in the countryside, free from the burdens of the past.

Characters

  • Hepzibah Pyncheon – Hepzibah is an unmarried older woman. Though a member of the upper class, she is destitute. At the beginning of the novel, she opens a shop in the first floor of the house to support herself and her brother.
  • Holgrave – A daguerreotypist who boards at the house. He is secretly a descendant of Matthew Maule, who had been hanged as a witch. He falls in love with Phoebe.
  • Phoebe Pyncheon – She is from the country and not a member of the Salem aristocracy. She moves in with her cousin Hepzibah and takes over the shop. Her cheerfulness and beauty make the shop a success, and charm the reclusive Clifford, to whom she serves as a kind of caretaker. Phoebe shows a willingness to work that is absent in Hepzibah and Clifford. She falls in love with Holgrave.
  • Alice Pyncheon – Alice was a haughty beauty whose ghost haunts the House of the Seven Gables. Holgrave writes a story about Alice, which he reads to Phoebe. In Holgrave's story, Matthew Maule, grandson of the accused witch, is recruited by Alice's greedy father to assist in finding documents that will make him rich. Maule hypnotizes Alice, supposedly to help locate the documents. In reality, Maule intends revenge on the Pyncheons by making Alice permanently susceptible to his commands. He uses this to force her to publicly embarrass herself and her family. Alice dies when her humiliation becomes too great. Maule is mortified that he has caused the death of a beautiful and refined young woman.
  • Colonel Pyncheon- The founder of the Pyncheon family, the colonel was cursed by Matthew Maule. He died on the day that the House was completed, built on the site where Maule’s house had been.
  • Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon – A jurist and political aspirant who lives on a comfortable estate out of town. In appearance and character he so strongly resembles Colonel Pyncheon that some people mistake portraits of the ancestor for the descendant. He is just as ruthless as his ancestor in his hunt for a lost land deed, the intended source of new wealth for the dissolute Pyncheon clan.
  • Matthew Maule- Original owner of the land where the House of Seven Gables is built. Colonel Pyncheon had him hanged as a wizard so that Pyncheon could seize his property.
  • Clifford Pyncheon – Clifford is Hepzibah's elderly, unwell brother who lives in the house after serving a sentence for the murder of his uncle; he was framed by his cousin, Jaffrey.
  • Uncle Venner – A jovial old man (older than Hepzibah) who is the only neighbor still friendly with the Pyncheons.
  • Ned Higgins – A precocious boy who visits Hepzibah's shop periodically to deplete her supply of gingerbread cookies.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The House of the Seven Gables" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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