The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/House of the Seven Gables

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The Encyclopedia Americana
House of the Seven Gables
Edition of 1920. See also The House of the Seven Gables on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES. A romance written by Nathaniel Hawthorne immediately after the ‘Scarlet Letter’ (q.v.) and published in 1852. The scene is laid in Salem, the author's native town, which he had quitted for a residence in western Massachusetts when his fellow townsmen became incensed over the personalities in the Introduction to the ‘Scarlet Letter.’ Something of the resentment shown in this unfortunate sketch is seen in the creation of Judge Pyncheon, the villain of ‘The House of the Seven Gables,’ who is said to have been drawn after the local politician whom Hawthorne held chiefly responsible for his removal from the Salem custom-house. Other materials in the tale which have a personal or family origin are the inherited curse of the Pyncheons, which was really invoked on an early Hawthorne who was one of the witch-judges, and the account of lost title-deeds to vast estates in Maine, which was one of the traditions in the family of the author's mother. The story involves the aristocratic Pyncheons, who own the house of the seven gables, and their humble fellow-townsmen, the Maules. Between these two families has existed a strange relationship since early colonial times when Matthew Maule pronounced a dying curse on his enemy, a Pyncheon who had brought about his condemnation as a wizard. The reader, however, cares far less for the plot which brings about the removal of the curse than for the treatment of characters and scenes, and the atmosphere which pervades the whole. There is an element of humor which is lacking in the ‘Scarlet Letter’ and no work of the author shows better his delicacy and subtlety. The portrayal of Hepzibah, the poverty-stricken but proud descendant of the Pyncheons, is masterly in its blending of sympathy and playfulness. While inferior to the ‘Scarlet Letter’ as a unified work, ‘The House of the Seven Gables’ is richer in passages that linger in the reader's memory, and is the romance of Hawthorne most frequently studied in schools and recommended for the reading of young persons.

William B. Cairns.