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The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne

THE STORY, continued


After one day away from the country, Phoebe feels the need to spend time in the garden. She finds it in better shape than she had supposed it to be. While the signs of long neglect are apparent, it also seems that some of the fruit trees have been recently tended and pruned. There is also a small vegetable garden almost ready to be harvested. Phoebe wonders for a moment who the gardener is, quickly rejecting the possibility that it might be Hepzibah.

It seems to Phoebe that the eye of heaven must smile down onto the garden, happy to see Nature surviving somewhere in the dusty town. In the garden's center, surrounded by mossy stones, is a fountain that spouts water into the air. In the corner is a hen coop that houses one rooster, two hens, and a single chicken. They are all of an unusual breed- an heirloom of the Pyncheon family for generations. At their peak, the fowls had been the size of turkeys, laying eggs the size of ostrich eggs. But the hens are now no larger than pigeons. Their withered look and stiff movements show their degeneration over the years in spite of- or perhaps because of- the purity of the breed. Phoebe is disturbed to find that the crest, the distinguishing feature of the birds, reminds her of Hepzibah's turban.

When Phoebe calls to the birds, they seem to recognize the sound, and the chicken runs to her. When he flies up and lands on her shoulder to be fed, a voice behind her remarks with surprise how familiar the birds are with her. Turning, Phoebe finds a young man with a hoe, who has come into the garden from another gable. The young man says that Hepzibah would explain the bird's behavior by saying that Phoebe is a Pyncheon. Phoebe replies that it is merely because she has learned how to talk with chickens and hens.

Phoebe realizes that this must be the daguerreotypist- Holgrave- and she behaves toward him in a manner more reserved than is natural for her. He explains that gardening is a refreshing pastime for him and that his real occupation is "making pictures out of sunshine." When Phoebe says that daguerreotypes are disagreeable-looking, Holgrave counters that they are disagreeable only when their subjects are disagreeable. He contends that sunshine has greater insight than humans have into a person's character.

Handing Phoebe a miniature in a leather case, Holgrave explains that while most people think of this man as having a pleasant face, he himself has never been able to achieve an image other than sternness. Phoebe thinks she recognizes the face of her Puritan ancestor, the Colonel, without his cap, beard, or old- fashioned clothing. Holgrave laughs at her mistake, assuring her that the subject of the miniature is very much alive, and that she will certainly meet him one day. He marvels at the difference between the actual face, seen by most people as benevolent, kind, open-hearted, and good humored, but pictured here as "sly, subtle, hard, imperious, and cold as ice." Refusing to look again at Holgrave's picture, Phoebe mentions a miniature that Hepzibah has shown her, and challenges the sun to make that face look fierce and tough. Holgrave's extreme interest in Hepzibah's miniature puzzles and embarrasses Phoebe. When Holgrave asks if there is anything sinister or criminal in the man's looks, Phoebe suggests that he ask Hepzibah to show it to him. Holgrave would rather see the original, he says, and adds that the character of the man has been judged already. Phoebe does not have a clue that the person in Hepzibah's miniature is Hepzibah's brother Clifford, who has been imprisoned for thirty years for murder.

Phoebe isn't sure she likes Holgrave. While his manner is polite, she resents the magnetic aspect of his personality. When the garden is in shadow, Holgrave suggests that they stop for the day; he invites Phoebe to come to his studio some time when the sun is shining, so he can make a daguerreotype of her. Before retreating into his gable, he warns Phoebe not to drink or wash her face at the fountain, called Maule's Well, for it is said to be bewitched.

NOTE: When Phoebe and Holgrave meet, she isn't sure she likes him. If you look closely, you will see that it is not the young man that Phoebe dislikes, but her attraction to him.

What does Phoebe's reaction tell you about her, and how does it affect your impression of her character? Does it influence your feelings toward Holgrave at all? How does it foreshadow the story of Alice Pyncheon?

When Phoebe returns to Hepzibah's part of the house, she finds it so dark she is unable to see. She can just make out Hepzibah's figure in a straight-backed chair, and asks if she may light a lamp. Hepzibah's voice in answer sounds strange to Phoebe. While she is lighting the lamp she thinks she hears Hepzibah say something to her, and cries, "Just a minute!" She expects to hear Hepzibah's voice in reply, but instead hears an unfamiliar murmur. The sound is so indistinct that after a while she decides she must have imagined it.

In the lamplight from the passageway Hepzibah becomes a bit more visible, but the rest of the room remains as dark as before. When Phoebe asks Hepzibah if she has just spoken to her, Hepzibah says no in a melancholy voice. After sitting still for a moment, Phoebe becomes aware of irregular breathing in one of the dark corners of the room. Reluctantly, she asks Hepzibah if there is someone in the room with them. Hepzibah reminds Phoebe of how busy she has been and how tired she must be, and suggests that she get some sleep. When Hepzibah rises and embraces her, Phoebe feels Hepzibah's wildly beating heart and wonders at the overflow of emotion.

Phoebe retires to her room, but she does not fall asleep right away or stay asleep for very long. In the night she hears footsteps on the stairs and Hepzibah's voice rising with the footsteps. In response to Hepzibah's voice, Phoebe again hears the strange murmur, a shadow of a voice. The chapter ends here, with Phoebe's suspicion that there is someone else in the house. You must wait until the next chapter to learn if her suspicions are well founded.

NOTE: Notice how Hawthorne ends the chapter on a suspenseful note. He leaves you hanging, eager to press on and discover the identity of the presence on the stairs. But when you begin the next chapter, you don't find the answer right away. Instead, Hawthorne trades on this suspense as he describes the mechanics of preparing breakfast.


After her fitful night, Phoebe awakens to the sound of movement from downstairs. When she investigates, she finds Hepzibah at a kitchen window with her nose in a cookbook. With a sigh, Hepzibah asks Phoebe to see if Speckle (one of the hens) has laid an egg. Just as Phoebe returns empty-handed, they hear the fisherman blow his conch (seashell). Hepzibah calls him to the house and buys a fat mackerel.

Hepzibah's breakfast feast promises to be a very cheerful one. The aroma of fish, coffee, Indian cakes, and clover-blossom butter spreads through the dark-paneled parlor, and the china and family silver sit proudly on the table. Only the face of the Colonel seems out of place. Phoebe arranges some cut flowers in a pitcher, and everything is ready. But who will be their guest this morning? The table is set for three.

All morning, Hepzibah has seemed both jumpy and moody. One moment she is ecstatically happy, the next she is in tears. When their work in the kitchen is finished and Phoebe asks what has happened, Hepzibah quickly wipes her eyes and tells Phoebe to be quiet. "He is coming!" Drawing the curtain to achieve a perfect mix of sun and shade, she murmurs that he always liked bright faces and never could stand tears... "poor Clifford."

Just then a step is heard at the head of the stairs, followed by a very slow and halting descent. It is the same step Phoebe heard climbing the stairs in what she thought was a dream the night before. After a long pause at the threshold of the parlor, someone on the other side of the door grasps the knob and then, without opening the door, lets it go.

Unable to endure the suspense, Hepzibah throws open the door and leads an elderly man, with very long, white hair and in an old-fashioned dressing gown, into the room. He seems to lack not the physical strength to walk freely, but the spirit to do so. His expression wavers on his face. When, with a slight and graceful movement, he acknowledges the bright and cheerful Phoebe, Hepzibah introduces her as his cousin.

At his assigned place in the parlor, Clifford looks around the room as if trying to be certain of where he is. His spirit still seems to waver; as it flickers in his eyes, Phoebe recognizes him as the man in Hepzibah's miniature. He wears the same dressing gown, now old and faded. His worn face and body are evidence that he has suffered a terrible wrong. Every once in a while an expression of refinement and imagination flashes through the decay and ruin that separate him from the world, showing that whatever has happened has not destroyed him completely. As if talking to himself, he asks if this is Hepzibah and why she scowls so. Is she angry?

At Hepzibah's reply that he is at home where he is loved, Clifford responds with a feeble but charming smile. When his smile fades, it is replaced by a look of hunger. When he eats, he is so completely absorbed in the mindless enjoyment of the food that Phoebe is repulsed and must look away.

The flowers, the open window, and Phoebe's pretty face all seem to Clifford suddenly like a dream masking the four walls of a prison. His face darkens at the thought. Phoebe, in an attempt to cheer him, shows him a rosebud from the garden. It is, by chance, a flower Clifford loved long ago, and he thanks her. While enjoying the rose and the memories it evokes, Clifford notices the portrait of the Colonel and starts out of his chair in alarm. Hepzibah reminds him that, according to the Colonel's will, the portrait must stay in the house, but offers to cover it with some cloth.

While Clifford is dozing, the shop bell rings. Hepzibah explains that she has opened a cent-shop, and wonders if Clifford is ashamed of her. Asking how Hepzibah could speak of shame to him, Clifford bursts into tears.

When Clifford finally falls asleep, Hepzibah sits and studies his aged and ruined face, and moans in sorrow. She lowers the curtain on the sunny window and leaves Clifford asleep in the parlor.


In the shop Phoebe finds the eater of Jim Crow, little Ned Higgins. Having no money of his own left, he is getting eggs and raisins for his mother. When she hands him his package, Phoebe slips him a gingerbread whale which he devours. With the food still in his mouth, the boy asks on his mother's behalf how Hepzibah's brother is doing. Phoebe does not answer, but is surprised to find out who Clifford is.

As the boy leaves the shop, a man comes in. He is portly, wears a black suit, a white necktie, and polished boots, and carries a gold-headed cane. With its shaggy eyebrows and fat chin, his face would look nasty if he were not smiling so deliberately. A careful observer would conclude that his expression of good humor and kindness is not quite real, but in any event, it intensifies as he enters the shop. When the man asks if she is Hepzibah's assistant, Phoebe says that she is, and is also her cousin. At this the man exclaims that she must be his cousin as well, and introduces himself as Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon.

NOTE: In this introduction of Jaffrey, the narrator looks carefully enough to notice the difference between the Judge's appearance and the reality of his disposition. Compare this description to the description of Hepzibah, and the difference between her appearance and her reality.

Just as the Judge bends over the counter to kiss her, Phoebe steps aside, leaving him stupidly kissing the air. While he seemed pleasant enough from across the street or across the room, Phoebe does not want his fat, rough face to touch her. She blushes at the thought and when she looks again, his face seems to be covered by a thundercloud. Suddenly it occurs to Phoebe that this is the face in Holgrave's daguerreotype, and that the nastiness she is witnessing now is identical to what the sunlight has seen. The strong resemblance between his expression and that of the Colonel might almost imply that more than physical characteristics are passed down from one generation to the next.

The Judge tries to regain his composure and pride by saying that Phoebe is a good girl for being so cautious. Still, Phoebe finds herself unable to warm up to him and can't shake the idea that the old Puritan has just stepped into the shop. There are differences between the two men: As heavy as the Judge is, he is not as heavy as his ancestor, and he does not have the Colonel's ruddy English complexion. But in their character, integrity, and courage they are the same. In addition, both are greedy and both pretend to be kind.

Phoebe does not know enough about her family history to recognize any of the less obvious parallels, but she has heard of Maule's curse. Thus, when Judge Pyncheon clears his throat with a gurgling sound, she jumps. For a moment the two men blur in her mind.

When the Judge asks Phoebe what she is afraid of, Phoebe offers to call Hepzibah for him. He detains her a moment longer to ask about Clifford's return. After Phoebe describes Clifford as a gentle but weak- minded man, the Judge seems pleased and expresses his hope that Clifford has enough intellect to repent of his past sins. When she answers that no one could have fewer sins than Clifford, it becomes clear to the Judge that Phoebe knows nothing of Clifford's history. He urges her to think the best she can of "unfortunate" Clifford.

As the Judge tries to enter the house unannounced, Phoebe- unsure that she is doing the right thing- blocks his way. Claiming great familiarity with the house and its occupants, the Judge pushes her aside just as Hepzibah appears, looking like the dragon that guards over beauties in fairy tales. At this moment her scowl is unrelated to her nearsightedness. Shooing him away, she plants herself in the doorway. The Judge offers her his hand and another of his warm smiles. He says he has come to assist in making Clifford comfortable, and asks if he may enter. He seems hurt when Hepzibah replies that Clifford cannot see visitors.

Jaffrey then offers to be the host, and invites Hepzibah and Clifford to his luxurious house in the country. Phoebe is startled when Hepzibah coldly rejects his offer. When the Judge tries to force his way past Hepzibah so that he might see Clifford, she again blocks the doorway. A weak and defenseless voice from inside the house begs Hepzibah not to let the Judge inside. No matter how he might smile later, the flash of anger in the Judge's eyes at the sound of Clifford's voice is a sight no one could ever forget. The Judge claims that Hepzibah does him a great wrong. With a bow and a nod he leaves the shop and goes, smiling, down the street.

When he is gone, Hepzibah- white as a sheet- calls him the horror of her life and asks if she will ever have the courage to tell him what he is. It seems unlikely to Phoebe that a judge- a man of a respectable position- could be anything other than upright and good. Unwilling to face the disorder that would follow in her mind if anything else were true, she rejects her suspicion that the Judge is an evil man and dismisses Hepzibah's declarations as bad feelings created by a family feud.


NOTE: Some readers complain about this chapter, saying that it lacks action, that nothing happens to develop or enhance the plot. The chapter is uneventful. It considers the characters of Clifford and Phoebe and the relationship that develops between them. Why do you think Hawthorne included this chapter? What can you point to as its strength?

Several days pass after Clifford's arrival, and the three Pyncheons work out a routine that suits them all. Hepzibah, who has never asked for anything for herself, wants nothing more than to make her shattered brother happy. But she wears hideous clothing; her voice croaks; she is clumsy and ugly. Her efforts only offend her brother, and she knows it. She turns to Phoebe for help.

Again and again you are told how fragile Clifford is. His only pleasure (for he has no purpose) is the appreciation of beauty. In Phoebe he finds much to appreciate. Her purifying influence purges the house of its shadows. Her movements remind him of a fountain. She sings like a bird. Clifford becomes more youthful in her presence- his face glows and shows traces of its former beauty. He never talks to Phoebe or says that he enjoys her company, but when she wanders out of sight or earshot he grows restless and irritable.

Clifford is aware of Phoebe as a beautiful woman. But his attraction to her is neither sexual nor paternal. In her physical beauty, her simplicity, and her natural grace, Phoebe is a symbol of what Clifford will never have. Hers is the kind of beauty with which Clifford should have lived all his life. After years in prison imagining what a woman is, Phoebe is just what Clifford needs to bring him back to the real world.

Hawthorne says that Phoebe does not really know what to make of Clifford. To explain this, he uses a wonderful image, saying that Phoebe has no more understanding of Clifford than a fire has of the faces it illuminates. This is a perfect image to describe the relationship between them. Phoebe, in her cheerfulness and warmth, is always described in images of fire and sunshine. The old and gloomy Clifford is drawn to her warmth. In her fire he sees a number of images. When she goes away, Clifford feels as if a fire has gone out or the sun has gone behind a cloud.

Phoebe is drawn to Clifford, not by his exotic nature, but by his need for her. Like the fire or the sun, she does not reflect his gloom but generates her own heat and light. This is not to say that life in the house does not take its toll on Phoebe's nature. With so much to think about, she does grow more thoughtful, but she never tries to discover what Clifford has endured. Their relationship develops in complete ignorance on Phoebe's part. In her innocence, she judges Clifford by her own standards- and when she finally learns his story, she knows him too well to be influenced by it.


At Phoebe's urging, Clifford spends time in the garden, where she reads to him and where he delights in the natural world of flowers, insects, and birds, as well as the Pyncheon hens and Maule's Well.

Clifford prefers Phoebe's chatter about the flowers, insects, and birds in the garden to her reading aloud to him. It helps him focus on the present. He loves the flowers, and he studies each one not just for its fragrance, color, or form, but for its life and individuality.

Hepzibah, whose role is both mother and sister to Clifford now, watches him with both sadness and pleasure. His childlike happiness contrasts sharply with his actual state of aged ruin. His present lies between a terrible past and a blank future. And if you study Clifford's present closely, you see that it is a deep void. He knows this, for he has looked into the "mirror of his deeper consciousness," and has seen that he is always at odds with the world. He has learned so well how to be unhappy that he can no longer understand how to be happy. Pain is most real to him, and often his experience of pain- the prick of a thorn or a pinch- is what tells him that he is not dreaming.

At Clifford's request, the Pyncheon fowls are allowed to roam freely in the enclosed garden. They are the oddest birds imaginable, both in appearance and behavior. When one of the hens finally lays an egg (which might hatch into a hen and continue the breed), Hepzibah serves it to Clifford for breakfast. Hawthorne's use of the withered birds as a symbol of the Pyncheons is very obvious here. Holgrave muses that the chicken's odd markings are like the odd traits of the Pyncheons and that the chicken is a symbol of life in the old house. It is yet another restatement of the theme of decaying aristocracy.

The hens sit on the edge of Maule's Well and savor the water that people find so foul. Clifford sees a changing display of figures in the fountain's dancing water- beautiful faces that symbolize his character, and dark ones that symbolize his fate.

On Sundays, after Phoebe returns from church, the three Pyncheons are joined in the garden by Holgrave and Uncle Venner. Clifford likes Uncle Venner: the fallen gentleman is most at ease with a member of the lower class. Uncle Venner's extreme old age makes Clifford feel young, and sometimes Clifford forgets that he does not have a lifetime ahead of him. Holgrave tries to draw Clifford into conversation; his interest in Clifford seems at times to be greater than any a stranger might have in the old man. On these sunny afternoons, Clifford becomes animated and even speaks his mind, but when the sun goes down the excitement fades from his eyes. "I want my happiness," he says at one point, and the narrator answers him, saying that he is too old, that fate has no happiness in store for him, and that he should make the most of the life he has.

NOTE: Readers often point to this passage when accusing Hawthorne of being an "intrusive" author. He answers Clifford's remark as if he can see and hear the characters as their story unfolds, but he is invisible to them.


Over the porch of the front gable is a very large arched window that opens onto what was once a balcony with a railing. As a change of scenery, Phoebe and Clifford- shaded from view by large red curtains- look down onto the street and watch the world go by.

There is always something for Clifford to look at. After so many years in isolation, the world and its ways are strange and infinitely interesting. What pleases him most are sights and sounds that are either familiar or beautiful. He misses stagecoaches on the street, but when a scissors grinder sets up his wheel under the Pyncheon elm, Clifford is ecstatic at hearing a sound from his childhood.

While life on Pyncheon-street can be monotonous, it is often quite lively. One day an Italian organ grinder and his monkey pause on Pyncheon-street to play. Spying Phoebe and Clifford in the arched window, the organ grinder stands below them so they can hear his music. The monkey bows and begs for money while the organ grinder plays a tune on his organ, where, at the turn of a crank, a collection of little figures dances to his tune. A lady fans herself, a soldier waves his sword, a milkmaid milks a cow. When the dance is finished, each little character is in exactly the same position as before it began. The cobbler has not finished his shoe and the miser has no money in his strong-box. Delighted at first by the music and the little figures, Clifford is struck by the ugliness of the monkey and bursts into tears.

NOTE: The organ grinder and his organ become symbolic here. As all the little figures- from all walks of life- dance to the same tune, they accomplish nothing. These symbols seem to favor the pursuit of individuality.

When, on another day, a political parade passes through the street, the sight is too much for Clifford. A parade is silly when seen up close, when each individual is discernible. But from where Clifford sits, the parade streams through the street like a "river of life," a human tide that pulls him into its undertow. Hepzibah and Phoebe do not understand the look Clifford gives them, and think only that he is disturbed by so much commotion. Moved either by the magnetic force of the parade or by the terror that pushes people over the edge, Clifford tries to join the humanity below him. He steps onto the window sill and struggles to reach the balcony- from where it is a two-story drop to the crowd below.

Hepzibah and Phoebe grab him by his clothes and pull him back. Phoebe bursts into tears and Hepzibah screams at Clifford, asking if he is crazy. He answers that he doesn't know. But if he had taken the plunge and survived, he adds, the shock would have made him another man. It might have restored him to the world.

NOTE: Considering what you know of Hawthorne and his ideas about individualism vs. the tide of humanity, how is this scene a comment on his own time?

Clifford's desire to be part of humanity returns one Sunday morning as he and his sister watch from the arched window as their neighbors are going to church. Phoebe steps out of the house, looks up at them, and waves. She wears clothes that seem never to have been worn before. She looks to Hepzibah and Clifford like a "religion in herself," a "spirit capable of heaven." Moved by the way the spirit of the day seems to transform even their unspiritual neighbors. Clifford says that if he were to go to church he thinks he would be able to pray once more.

Hepzibah and Clifford, dressed in their damp, moldy, old-fashioned clothes, offer quite a contrast to Phoebe. They open the front door and step out, feeling as if all the world is looking at them. Saying they are but ghosts among the living, Clifford finds himself unable to take another step. They retreat, defeated, into the house. After their breath of fresh air, though, the house is ten times as dismal as it had been. There is, it seems, no prison as dark as a person's own heart.

It would be wrong to represent Clifford as always miserable. Unlike most people, Clifford has none of the worries that come with responsibilities. In this, he is like a child. Even in his dreams, he always appears as a child or a young man. In his own "lingering near childhood," he loves the sound of children's voices and the sight of them at play.

One afternoon, Clifford indulges his desire to blow soap bubbles out the arched window, an amusement he loved in childhood. The people on the street below exhibit a number of reactions. Some stop; some look up angrily; others break the bubbles with their fingers. One bubble bursts on the nose of an elderly gentleman. He looks up sternly and then smiles, saying, "Aha, Cousin Clifford, still blowing soap bubbles?" At the sound of Judge Pyncheon's sarcastic tone, Clifford is paralyzed by fear. Weakness feels only horror when faced with such massive strength.


By mid-afternoon, Clifford is usually worn out from his mental activity and Phoebe has a little time to herself. Though in some ways she seems to be immune to the dreariness of the house, she needs to escape from its damp, rotting atmosphere and the sickly spirits of her cousins. Already she seems less girlish than when she arrived: Her eyes look larger, darker, and deeper. Without occasional walks by the ocean, shopping trips, or lectures, she will grow shy and unwholesome.

The only young person Phoebe sees often is Holgrave. Though they are both New Englanders, they could not be less alike. If they had met each other under different circumstances, they probably would not have given each other another thought. From the start, Phoebe has hung back from Holgrave. She's not sure if she likes him or even if she knows him well enough to trust him.

Little by little Phoebe learns about Holgrave's past. His family background is humble; he has had almost no formal education. Almost twenty-two, he has supported himself since he was a boy. His former positions include schoolmaster, salesman, newspaper editor, perfume peddler, and dentist. He has traveled to Italy, France, and Germany, and has spent several months in a utopian socialist community. Recently, he delivered a lecture on mesmerism. He confides to Phoebe that he has great powers of mesmerism, and to prove it he puts the rooster to sleep. Daguerreotypy is simply his latest occupation, a way of earning a living.

Despite constantly changing environments and occupations, Holgrave has managed to retain his identity, to "carry his conscience along with him." Although this quality inspires confidence, his lack of respect for tradition and Phoebe's sense that his laws differ from hers make her nervous.

Holgrave always observes a situation without becoming emotionally involved in it. He is attentive to the three Pyncheons, but doesn't seem to become more deeply involved with them as he gets to know them better. He remains more interested than involved. To Phoebe he seems especially interested in Clifford, but she is not forthcoming in response to his questions about the old man. Phoebe tells Holgrave that when Clifford is cheerful, when the "sun shines into his mind," she looks only at what the light illuminates. She tells Holgrave that Clifford has a "great sorrow" and that where its shadow falls is holy ground. When she questions Holgrave's interest in Clifford, Holgrave replies that he suspects that "a man's bewilderment is the measure of his wisdom."

NOTE: As our knowledge increases, it sometimes takes the greatest intelligence to realize how much we do not know. Hawthorne's age was marked by great discovery and progress, one in which the ability to admit bewilderment was important.

Holgrave believes that his own lifetime will see a golden age. While he is right in thinking that better times are coming, he is wrong in thinking that any change would be complete in his lifetime, or that the change would even come in his lifetime.

Although Holgrave has read little, he nonetheless considers himself a thinker. He has an inner resource, his youthful enthusiasm. His ambition may take him far, but it is hard to say in which direction he will go.

Inadvertently, Phoebe makes the house more like a home to Holgrave. He is charmed by her though he considers her transparent and accessible. He speaks openly and reveals his dreams to her. When Phoebe asks how he became acquainted with Hepzibah, Holgrave speaks of the influence of the past, saying "Shall we never, never get rid of this Past! It lies upon the present like a giant's dead body!" He says that we are slaves to death, that our lives are determined and ruled by dead men, and that we must be dead ourselves before we influence our world, by which time it belongs to somebody else. Predicting that he will live to see the day when "no man shall build his house for posterity," Holgrave says he doubts that even the public buildings should be made of anything as permanent as brick or stone. Even the house of the seven gables comes under Holgrave's fire when he claims to love nothing moldy, and calls it an unwholesome place that should be purified.

When Phoebe asks him why he lives there, Holgrave says he dwells in the past to learn how to hate it. He claims to believe the story of Maule's curse, not as a superstition, but as a proven theory. He feels that the Puritans' desire to "plant a family" is at the bottom of the wrong and mischief that men do, and he suggests that every family merge with the masses every fifty years and forget its ancestors. Human blood, to be fresh, must run in hidden streams. When he portrays the Pyncheons as lunatics, Phoebe doesn't know whether or not to take offense. Holgrave defends his thoughts as the truth, and suggests that the original offender- the Puritan Colonel- has perpetuated himself in an image that still walks the streets in the body of Jaffrey and will probably bequeath the same inheritance. When she asks if this lunacy that he speaks of is contagious, Holgrave is embarrassed and explains that he has become absorbed in the subject since moving into the house. He has even written a story, he says, about one incident in Pyncheon family history. Surprised that Phoebe doesn't know that he writes for magazines, Holgrave first brags about his accomplishments and then offers to read his story to her. Phoebe agrees to listen if the story is not too long or too dull.

NOTE: Hawthorne believed that family pride was at the root of much of the world's evil. He states this belief here, in Holgrave's theory. In view of his theme of the wrongdoing of one generation living on in subsequent generations, is merging with the masses ever possible?


This chapter consists of the story that Holgrave reads to Phoebe. It is a flashback to an earlier time in Pyncheon family history and supplies some information you haven't heard before, as well as reminders of details you may have forgotten.

The story takes place thirty-seven years after the death of Colonel Pyncheon in the house built by Thomas Maule. The three main characters include two Pyncheons and one Maule. One Pyncheon is the Colonel's grandson Gervayse, who as a boy discovered the Colonel dead in his study. Now a handsome, middle-aged man, he occupies the house of the seven gables with his large family. The other Pyncheon is Alice, his daughter, who is beautiful and exotic. Alice has just returned from Europe where she was educated and where she learned to play the harpsichord. As proud as she is beautiful, Alice manages to combine cold dignity with womanly tenderness. The third character is young Matthew Maule, a carpenter, whose father, Thomas, built the house of the seven gables. His grandfather- also named Matthew Maule- was the wizard who originally owned the Pyncheon homestead.

Physically, young Matthew Maule is a very attractive young man, but he is not popular in the town. Although he has never done anything to make people dislike him, their dislike seems a result of his standoffishness and of their suspicions of inherited evil. For example, he is suspected of having control over people's dreams, of having Maule's Eye (which reads people's minds), and of having the Evil Eye (which gives him power over everything from crops to babies). His naturally withdrawn nature and the fact that he doesn't attend church feed these suspicions.

Young Maule is bitter about the Pyncheon property, which he believes was rightfully his family's. He refuses to be treated like a second-class citizen by the Pyncheons. Thus, when he is summoned to the house at the beginning of Holgrave's story, he arrives at the front door rather than at the back or side doors, where servants and craftsmen usually enter. When Pyncheon's servant goes to fetch his master, Maule tells him to give his regards to Alice. The servant is outraged that a carpenter would pretend such familiarity with a lady.

It is plain to young Maule that Pyncheon has not called him to make any repairs to the house: the place is in fine condition. The house is said to be haunted by young Maule's grandfather's ghost, but no carpenter can keep spirits out of a house. Gervayse's parlor is furnished with articles from Europe, as well as with the portrait of the Colonel and the map of the eastward land that the Pyncheons still hope to claim. Pyncheon has asked to see young Maule about this claim. When the young man asks what a carpenter can have to do with this matter, Pyncheon explains. He says that his grandfather was on the verge of settling the claim at the time of his death, and that he suspects there was a document or deed behind his grandfather's confidence in such a settlement. It was commonly said that the wizard, Matthew Maule, had gotten the better of the old Puritan, that he had gotten possession of the huge territory in exchange for an acre or two of homesite. It was also said that miles of Pyncheon land had been shoveled into Maule's grave, and that the deed would only be found in Maule's skeleton hand. In desperation, Pyncheon lawyers had Maule's grave searched. Not only was there no deed, but the right hand of the skeleton was missing. Many of the rumors can be traced to Thomas Maule, the builder of the house; and Gervayse remembers that either on the day the Colonel died or the day before, Thomas had come to the house to do a small job in the Colonel's study, where "certain papers" were spread on the desk. Matthew objects to this insinuation that his father may have lifted the documents. Gervayse disregards his objection and offers him great sums of money for information leading to the lost documents.

After rejecting many offers, young Maule asks if he could have the house of the seven gables and its grounds as a reward for return of the deed. At this point, the portrait of the Colonel is said to have frowned and appeared as though it might descend from its frame. Gervayse, who is not so attached to the house, considers the deal for a moment. The house does not compare to a vast territory. He draws up a written agreement to Maule's terms. But before Maule will say a word about the missing deed, he insists upon seeing Alice and speaking with her. This stipulation shocks Pyncheon more than the idea of giving up his house and grounds. Maule indicates that his only chance of discovering the deed is through the mind of a virgin such as Alice, and Pyncheon finally agrees that he may see her.

Alice comes when she is called. The moment she lays eyes on young Matthew Maule it is apparent that she finds him attractive. It would have thrilled other men to be looked at in such a way by the beautiful Alice, but young Maule feels that he is being appraised like an animal. He is infuriated. Gervayse explains to Alice that she is to follow Maule's instructions, and that he will remain in the room with her. Gervayse turns away and seems to study a painting, but is really worried about all he has heard about the Maules and their wizardry.

When he catches a glimpse of Maule in a mirror, gesturing as if he were lowering a weight on Alice, Gervayse tries to halt the proceedings, but Alice urges him not to interrupt Maule's "harmless efforts." Rationalizing that an increase in the family's fortune would benefit Alice most of all, her father allows Maule to continue, and does not interrupt even when he hears his daughter moan. In a gesture of triumph, Maule points to Alice, who sits quite still with her eyes downcast, leaning a little in his direction. Nothing Gervayse does can rouse Alice from this trance. He shouts at her, shakes her, kisses her- but nothing works. Losing control of himself, he demands that Maule restore his daughter to him. Maule answers that Alice is now his, and proves his control by making her stand and sit with a wave of his hand.

When Maule tries to make Alice reveal the location of the deed, he has no luck. She describes three figures, easily recognizable as the Colonel, Matthew Maule, and Thomas Maule. The Colonel has the deed, but the two Maules prevent him from giving it up or saying anything about it to his family. When he tries to speak, the Colonel seems to choke on his secret. Young Maule explains the imagery of Alice's vision, saying that keeping the secret is the Colonel's punishment. He tells Gervayse to keep the house. When Gervayse tries to speak, his fear produces a gurgling sound in his throat. Young Matthew repeats the curse: Gervayse has old Maule's blood to drink.

With a gesture from Maule, Alice awakens from her trance and remembers nothing of it. Maule leaves Alice with her father, no closer to the missing deed. From then on, Alice is never the same. A martyr to her father's greed, she remains under the spell of young Matthew Maule. Wherever he is, he has only to wave his hand and Alice, wherever she is, laughs, cries, or dances at his bidding. She is left with no self-control and, therefore, with no dignity. One night Maule calls Alice out into the rain and mud to wait on a laborer's daughter who is about to become his bride. Wearing only a sheer dress and satin slippers, Alice obeys. From the exposure she develops a cold and fever. She plays her harpsichord, happy because she knows she will no longer be humiliated. Days later, as her funeral procession goes by, the saddest of all is Matthew Maule, who meant only to humble Alice, not to kill her.


Holgrave's dramatic reading of the story is complete with gestures showing how young Matthew Maule hypnotized Alice. As he reads, he notices that Phoebe herself is becoming drowsy. With her eyes downcast, she leans a little toward him and seems aware only of him. Slowly it dawns on Holgrave that he has cast a spell over Phoebe and that- with a wave of his hand- he could control her spirit as completely as Matthew Maule mastered Alice's.

Nothing is as tempting or seductive to Holgrave as the prospect of power over another human spirit. Yet Holgrave makes a slight upward gesture with his hand, freeing Phoebe and resisting temptation. He has an uncommon respect for her individuality. When he teases her for dozing during his reading, she has no idea what he means.

Both Phoebe and Holgrave fall under the spell of the beautiful moonlit evening that has stolen over the garden during the reading of the story. In a melancholy voice, Phoebe admits that she feels older than she did before she met her cousins. She says that because she has given them her sunshine, she cannot keep it for herself. Holgrave says reassuringly that she has lost nothing that was worth keeping. He encourages her with a description of a person's second youth, which he says is the state of being in love.

Phoebe reveals that she plans to travel to the country in a few days to visit her mother. She says she will return to the house of the seven gables, where she feels wanted and needed. Holgrave credits her with the health, comfort, and natural life of the household. He says that Hepzibah, in her isolation from society, is as good as dead, and that Clifford, too, is dead and buried. Without Phoebe, he adds, they both may become piles of dust.

NOTE: In Holgrave's remarks about Hepzibah and Clifford, you find the most emphatic statement yet of Hawthorne's theme of isolation and its effect on the human spirit.

Phoebe protests that she can't tell if Holgrave wishes them well or not. He then tries to explain how different his mind is from hers. His impulse, he says, is to analyze rather than to help or hinder. Phoebe puzzles at his words and at his unattached, spectator attitude. She uses a metaphor- that the house is a theater. She says the play costs the performers too much and the audience is too coldhearted. Holgrave has mentioned that he feels that the family drama is coming to an end, but when Phoebe asks him to explain, he will not. He says only that he has no secrets but his own and questions Judge Pyncheon's motives in ruining Clifford's life. Extending Phoebe's theater metaphor, he wonders if destiny is "arranging the fifth act for a catastrophe." Phoebe, already described as being as hostile to mystery as the sunshine is to a dark corner, bids Holgrave both good-night and good-bye.

A couple of days later she prepares to leave. As she says good-bye to Clifford and Hepzibah, she wonders how in just a few weeks she has become so attached to these people and this place. Everything she sees or touches responds to her thoughts as if driven by a human heart. Clifford calls her close to him and looks into her face. After an inspection that makes her blush, he announces that she has developed from the prettiest girl he has ever seen into a beautiful woman.

On her way out of the shop, she meets little Ned Higgins on the doorstep and gives him either a gingerbread rabbit or hippopotamus (she cannot see which it is through her tears) as a gift. Uncle Venner, seeing her in the street, says they will miss her at their Sunday garden party, and marvels at how quickly she has become familiar to him. He urges Phoebe to return soon- not only for his sake, but for the sake of the poor souls who will never be able to do without her. When he compares her to an angel, Phoebe replies that she is no angel but agrees that she feels most like one when doing what good she can. For that reason, she says, she will return soon.

THE STORY, continued


ECC [The House of the Seven Gables Contents] []

[Transcript of The House of the Seven Gables]

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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