Book Review #1

“The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: 

A New England Book Review

By: Shauna Onofrietti

Vintage books possess a unique grandeur and the “House of the Seven Gables” is a perfect example.

Antique literature can provide a fresh outlook on modern life, as well as inspire endless ideas to broaden one’s imagination. For as long as I can remember, I’ve adored vintage novels; in fact, I spend more time than I care to admit watching black and white films, exploring antique shops and living through characters within old texts.

Books from before the 21st century generally have a studious sentence structure, with detail and creativity that is rare in this modern era. Most people today dislike spending countless hours patrolling book stores and divulging into the world the mind creates when reading novels. Sometimes the school environment will force students to read critical stories that are supposed to have an impact, but the majority will openly admit not completing the novel and blowing it off instead. Even my interest lessens when assignments start piling up and teachers start badgering these tales onto me.                          I prefer reading on my own terms, at my own pace.

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Ever hear of the Rory Gilmore book challenge? Don’t ask me how many I’ve read from this list.

With this blog I will dedicate my time and ability to structure analysis’ on literature from before the 21st century. This will primarily be a review blog, with a minimal amount of spoilers – if there will be a spoiler, a warning will be issued beforehand.

Now, on to the first book review, one of the most curious books I’ve ever read: “The House of the Seven Gables,” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I regretfully do not possess my own vintage copy, but I purchased a version from 1999 in Allaire Village located in New Jersey in early autumn of 2016. For those who do not know, Allaire Village is a historical site that is preserved almost in entirety. It is currently a living history museum, where people are costumed in colonial outfits as a job. I wish.

I had been wanting to read “The House of the Seven Gables” for ages, but I had a gigantic stack waiting to be investigated and took awhile to get around to it.

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My edition of the “House of the Seven Gables,” from 1999.

“The House of the Seven Gables” was originally published in 1851, and Hawthorne established the novel’s main events as taking place in the mid-19th century. With this being said, he also uses the concept of flashbacks to discuss the direct history of the gloomy New England house.

Unlike the typical novel, Hawthorne dedicates the whole first chapter to the Pyncheon family, a descriptive archive of the multiple brooding character’s ancestors and establishing the backstory of a haunted past that impact the family’s luck by creating a cursed land – the land which, the seven gables mansion sits on.

With a colonial America theme, it is easy for Hawthorne to grasp the reader’s attention by utilizing his knowledge of moral good verses evil, citing events such as religion, land negotiations, and witchcraft from the Salem Witch Trials that took place in the late 17th century.

Michael Maul, a character based on the flashback portion of the novel’s beginning, was accused of witchcraft and executed, causing well-known Colonel Pyncheon to seize the land that was rightfully Maule’s in the process. The big question is: Did Colonel Pyncheon frame Michael Maule in order to gain access to the ideal land in the perfect heart-of-Salem location?

Before executed, Maul cursed the land and the Pyncheon family. Once Colonel Pyncheon completed the seven gabled building, he threw a boastful party full of desirable members of the Massachusetts society. When Pyncheon fails to join the party, he is found dead in his notable armchair before a burning fire in his study. Above the fireplace is an incredibly realistic portrait of Pyncheon himself. This painting is still sulking in the same location when the book lurches forward.

This background information is relatively quick and to the point, and may even seem exhilarating as a plot. I believe Hawthorne executes this novel beautifully, with such vivid detail and an extensive vocabulary it is nearly impossible for someone not to visit a dictionary or search for a definition online at least once. Despite my utter enjoyment at the challenge, I can attest to the novel being intriguing. It features eccentric yet mysterious characters, betrayal, family passion and hatred, and ghosts with a knack for miserably floating around the house. However, if you aren’t up to a challenge, I would not recommend this particular piece of historic literature. The pace is sluggish, particularly if you’re impatient and aren’t one to enjoy that “steadily climbing to the top of the mountain” sort of plot.

The remainder of the novel follows Hepzibah Pyncheon, an unmarried woman who is of the upper class but is forced to convert the seven gabled house into a penny shop; Holgrave who is a daguerreotypist and is not a member of the Pyncheon family, yet boards with them despite being viewed as odd and dangerous; Phoebe Pyncheon, Hepzibah’s seemingly perfect younger cousin from the country who comes to live at the seven gabled house; Alice Pyncheon, a ghost rumored to haunt the halls of the house; and Clifford Pyncheon, who hasn’t ventured out of the house as he served a lengthy sentence for murder. Oh, and there’s also the pestering Judge Jaffrey who frequently comes to the house in order to harass the inhabitants.  

 “The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy of the present and the future.” 

                  -Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The House of the Seven Gables.”

I would personally rate “The House of the Seven Gables” as a 9/10. Hawthorne had an excellent way with words, and if you can appreciate sentence structure and vocabulary as much as I do, you won’t be sorry you read this novel. Although, if you on the other hand need an exhilarating plot throughout a book’s entirety, you will probably throw the novel out a window by the fifth page. It’s a wonderful concept, but progresses at a leisurely rate. At times, you may not even realize something is happening until after it already occurred. 

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The Seven Gables Mansion is now a museum. You can view a few pictures of the inside here.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. Hawthorne’s family was thrown into Puritan ideas. An ancestor, William Hathorne, arrived in Salem in 1630 following the trend of England to America emigration, and became a judge. Known for brutal sentencing, his son John followed his father’s footsteps and became a judge. John Hathorne was one of the three judges who participated in the Salem Witch Trials.

Hathorne to Hawthorne? That is no spelling error. Hawthorne was terrified by his ancestor’s decisions and added the “W” in order to distance himself from the family name.

Where did Hawthorne get his ideas for the Seven Gables from? The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, was the home to Susanna Ingersoll in the mid-1800s. Ingersoll was Hawthorne’s second cousin, who he visited often when working at the Custom House.

 

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