William1's Reviews > The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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Mar 24, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 19-ce, fiction, us
Read in April, 2012

This narrative, published in 1850, starts with a preface by Hawthone explaining his concept of the Romance, which is to be distinguished from the Novel because it provides the writer with greater latitude to takes risks. The Novel is somehow more straightforward, more conservative, less flexible as a vehicle for experimentation.

The first chapter gives us the backstory in a kind of lump sum. Most contemporary novelists probably write such a backstory but often cut it, since, lacking action and character, it can seem too schematic and impersonal. Hawthorne's backstory is perhaps no exception. But, it has the virtue of being 160 years old, and that, combined with its antiquated vocabulary, deftly wielded, combines to hook the reader. The backstory spills all the beans of this fantastic narrative, including the heinous crime, the resulting curse, the astonishing event at the housewarming--and the collective guilt that is said to course through each suceeding generation of the Pyncheon family.

When we reach the action of the present day, it's a particularly low moment in the Pyncheon family's fortunes. Hepzibah, the permanently scowling seemingly sole survivor of the line, is forced to open what was at the time known as a "cent shop" in a corner of the grand though decaying house. There's nerve-wracking suspense here. Hawthorne seems to wring it from every word. His mode of storytelling is simultaneously achingly and beautifully slow. There's one scene, for example, in which he lingers over a simple breakfast. Each item seems lovingly revealed; there's a sumptuousness to the language that seems to belie the meal's simplicity. The gaze throughout smacks of the voyeuristic; as if the dead, who are no longer permitted such pleasures, were narrating.

The narrative is marked by a number of oppositions in terms of imagery: gloom and sunshine, animal and spiritual, age and youth, ugliness and beauty, exhaustion and vitality. Clifford embodies many of these. He is put forth as the spoiled and decadent figure and symbol of the family's fortunes. He is obviously homosexual, something Hawthorne, working in the era he did, could only vaguely touch upon. Yet in the end he is mindful enough to turns this cliché on its head. For Clifford, it turns out, is not the "symbol" of the decaying family, but an individual, just one, from whose shoulders at the end of the book all unfair connotation seems justly lifted.

Clifford has an artist's sensibility without the artistry. He is a dilettante. The Daguerrotypist, who lives beneath one of the House's gables, is referred to as "the artist." The contrast is intentional. The fellow with the so-called artistic sensibilities is not an artist at all, but one who makes his living from a simple mechanical process. Clifford, by contrast, lives for beauty. It infuses his every happy moment. Without it he is corpse-like, almost inert.
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02/12/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie I sorta feel an urgent need to read this book now - but I shall escape in my troika! and change my name to Hepzibah! - ha ha ha haaaa, you won't catch me


message 2: by William1 (last edited Apr 13, 2012 01:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

William1 Thanks P. and B. The book's a corker!


message 3: by Don Incognito (new)

Don Incognito This is one of the best reviews I've ever read.


Morgan I liked the first chapter a lot. Got me hooked.


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