This section contains 5,276 words
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The House of the Seven Gables Summary & Study Guide Description
The House of the Seven Gables Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains For Further Reading on The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The House of the Seven Gables begins with a preface in which Hawthorne makes a point to tell readers that the tale they are about to read is a "Romance" rather than a traditional "Novel." He proceeds to say that because the story is written as a Romance, it gives him creative license to present reader's with his selective understanding of the truth instead of binding him to being true to life. He notes that Romances give writers a creative and subjective license to "mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture." Hawthorne also tells readers that the moral purpose of his work is to convey the notion that "the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones." Despite this claim, however, he notes that he has not tried "to impale the story with its moral." Finally, Hawthorne concludes that he did not intend to correlate the location or events in the story with any particular place or happenings in the County of Essex.
II: The Little Shop-Window
Hepzibah Pyncheon rises from bed, dresses, examines herself in the mirror, and pulls out a miniature (a very small portrait) of a young man, who readers later learn is her brother, Clifford. She cries as she readies herself for the day and notices how cross she looks as a result of the scowl caused by her near-sightedness. Despite her almost permanent scowl, Hepzibah is said to have a "heart that never frowned. It was naturally tender, [and] sensitive." Hepzibah faces the day in low spirits as she sets up the shop that she intends to open. Opening the shop is mortifying for her because she is an aristocrat by birth; however, she has no choice and must commence a business of her own in order to save herself from starvation. When she finally opens the shop door, she immediately runs inside the house to cry.
IV: A Day Behind the Counter
Toward the afternoon, a large, elderly gentleman (Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon) passes by the shop and gazes upon it with both a frown and a smile. When he sees Hepzibah his "smile changed from acrid and disagreeable to the sunniest complacency and benevolence." Hepzibah shows dislike for the man and draws a comparison between his likeness and that of the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, which hangs in the house. The shop bell rings when Uncle Venner enters the shop. He is the oldest resident of Pyncheon Street and is happy to see that Hepzibah has opened a shop instead of remaining idle. He discusses the possibility of his retirement to what he calls his farm. Although he praises Hepzibah for working, he tells her that it is an embarrassment that her wealthy cousin lets her do so. Hepzibah tells him that the judge is not to blame. Uncle Venner leaves Hepzibah after inquiring when Clifford will be home. Hepzibah is quite jarred by Uncle Venner's question and spends the remainder of the day dazed and clumsy. Just after she closes the shop for the day, an omnibus arrives, bringing Phoebe to Hepzibah's doorstep. Phoebe's letter was unfortunately delayed and thus her arrival is a surprise to Hepzibah, who decides that her country relation cannot stay lest she upset Clifford.
VI: Maule's Well
After having tea, Phoebe goes out to the garden, which she finds in a state of decay that has been only slightly modified by a small effort of evident care. While in the garden, she is happy to find flowers, vegetables, a robin's nest in a pear tree, a fountain, and a hen-coop. Within the hen-coop, she finds a rooster, two hens, and a chick, all having seen better days. Holgrave surprises Phoebe as he enters the garden. Holgrave notes the positive way the hens react to Phoebe, who approaches the conversation hesitantly. Holgrave tells Phoebe that he has been caring for the garden and offers to show her one of his daguerreotypes. He shows her one of Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, and she mistakes it for Colonel Pyncheon. Holgrave continues the discussion by saying that it has been impossible for him to create a pleasing rendering of the judge despite more than one attempt. Pictures apparently cannot cover up the truth of a man's character as a subjective painter might. Holgrave asks Phoebe if she would care to tend to the flowers and the hens while he cared for the vegetables. Although her reticence about Holgrave remains in tact, she complies with the request and weeds the flower-bed. As Holgrave leaves, he warns Phoebe not to drink or bathe in the fountain, which is called Maule's well, because the water is believed to be bewitched. Phoebe also goes inside and finds Hepzibah in the dark. Phoebe has a strange feeling that someone else is in the room with them, and after she goes off to bed, she continues to think that she hears Hepzibah talking with someone.
VIII: The Pyncheon of To-Day
When Phoebe enters the shop, she finds Ned, the young boy who favors the shop's gingerbread cookies. Before leaving, Ned asks Phoebe how Clifford is. Phoebe learns through the inquiry that the man at breakfast is Hepzibah's brother. Just as the boy leaves, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon enters. He introduces himself and attempts to give Phoebe a kiss, which she instinctively rebuffs. He turns cold in response and then thinking better of it, warms again. She apologizes, yet is struck by the similarity between the judge and Colonel Pyncheon. Noticing her ill-ease, the judge asks if she is afraid of something. She tells him no and asks if he would like to see Hepzibah. He delays her and surmises that she fears Clifford. She assures him to the contrary and says that Clifford is not frightful in the least. He goes to enter the house just as Hepzibah comes out and prevents him from doing so. The judge offers Hepzibah anything he has to make Clifford comfortable and asks to see him. Hepzibah refuses his request. The conversation escalates with the judge offering more and more and Hepzibah refusing everything. The two are interrupted by Clifford's cry to not let the judge enter the house. The judge is deeply angered and tells Hepzibah that when she and Clifford realize their injustice, he will simply hope that they will accept his generous offers. He leaves and, while Hepzibah laments his evil ways, Phoebe questions if he is truly ill intentioned. Phoebe goes off to tend to Clifford, confused by the events of the day and certain that Hepzibah's contempt for the judge is rooted deeply in the past.
X: The Pyncheon-Garden
Phoebe often takes Clifford into the garden, where she reads to him. Clifford prefers poetry and is deeply delighted by the flowers in the garden. He is particularly fond of the scarlet blossoms found on some of the bean-vines, which Holgrave planted after finding the presumably ancient seeds in one of the garrets. The blossoms attract an ongoing stream of hummingbirds, which Clifford watches with childlike enthusiasm. Hepzibah is both happy and sad to see her brother's reaction. She remembers that the hummingbirds had the same effect on him in his youth, yet she is saddened by his present state. For his part, Clifford wants to be sure that what he is experiencing is real and sometimes asks Phoebe to pinch him or to give him a rose so that he can prick himself with the thorns. One day, Clifford asks that the hens be freed from their enclosure. When Hepzibah cooks one of the hen's recently layed eggs, the rooster "delivered himself of a harangue that might have proved as long as his own pedigree." Clifford likes to spend time looking into Maule's Well, where beautiful faces formed from the colored pebbles at the bottom greet him. Occasionally, dark faces appear and hamper his mood for the remainder of the day. On Sundays after Phoebe attends church, Clifford, Hepzibah, Holgrave, and Uncle Venner gather for picnics in the garden. Clifford feels young in Uncle Venner's presence and is uncharacteristically social with him. Holgrave tries to engage with Clifford as well, but seems to be motivated by something other than beneficence. One Sunday, Clifford sadly declares that he wants his happiness. The narrator calls Clifford part crazy and part imbecile and cautions him to enjoy what he has because happiness other than this may always elude him.
XII: The Daguerreotypist
When Clifford retires for the day, Phoebe spends her time shopping and reading the Bible. She has grown pensive and more mature under the influence of her relations and her stay in their home. Her only social outlet is Holgrave, who despite their almost daily encounters she feels she does not really know. Holgrave was independent early in life and has held many jobs, including schoolmaster, salesman, peddler, and dentist. He has traveled in Europe and lectured about mesmerism. Despite such experiences, he is not learned and is marked by youthful passion more than intellect. In one of his meetings with Phoebe, with whom he appears smitten, Holgrave shares his views about the past and the future. He argues that everything in the past should be discarded and that before men can make their own mark on the world, they must rid themselves of the influence of previous generations. He believes that each new generation should start fresh, building their own public buildings and even homes. He argues that the House of the Seven Gables should be burned and cleansed of its awful past. Toward the end of their conversation, the legend of Colonel Pyncheon and Matthew Maule surfaces, and Holgrave tells Phoebe that he means to publish some of the Pyncheon history in a magazine. After Pheobe accedes to hearing it, he produces his manuscript of the story and begins to read.
XIV: Phoebe's Good Bye
Having listened carefully to Holgrave's detailed story, Phoebe is mesmerized. Holgrave is attempting to keep Phoebe under his spell; however, his integrity and value of the individual inspires him to awaken her. As the two watch the moon come up, Holgrave comments on his current happiness while Phoebe reflects that she has seen gayer days. Her time with Hepzibah and Clifford has aged her and, she hopes, made her wiser. Holgrave assures her that she is simply maturing and that what she is experiencing is an important part of the development of her soul. Phoebe gets up to help Hepzibah with the day's accounts when Holgrave acknowledges that she will briefly be returning to her country home. He tells Phoebe that her presence has much improved the lives of Hepzibah and Clifford, who for the most part are dead souls. When Phoebe wonders if he means well by the Pyncheon siblings, he responds that unlike her, he is not compelled to help them, but rather to observe them. Holgrave says that he believes that Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon is ill-intentioned and that trouble is brewing. Two mornings later, Phoebe is tearful as she leaves, and Hepzibah notices that the young woman's smile is not as bright as it was upon her arrival. Clifford bids her goodbye, telling her that she has matured into a beautiful woman. Phoebe passes Uncle Venner, who like Holgrave, tells her what a boon she has been to the Pyncheon siblings. He likens her to an angel and hopes she will return quickly.
XVI: Clifford's Chamber
While Hepzibah slowly ascends the stairs to Clifford's room, she wonders if he could possibly know anything about the missing portion of their uncle's estate. She concludes it is impossible and ponders going for help. She knows the community would favor the judge and instead attempts to find Holgrave, who she discovers is not in his room. Giving in to the inevitable meeting, she knocks on Clifford's door and after receiving no answer, she enters to find that he is not in bed. Fearing he may have left and drowned himself to escape his cousin's inquiry, Hepzibah returns to the parlor to summon the judge for help. Despite Hepzibah's emotional and animated outbursts, the judge does not move or respond. Clifford appears and pointing into the parlor, tells Hepzibah that they are now free to dance, sing, play, and be as happy as Phoebe. Going into the parlor, Hepzibah realizes that the judge is dead. Clifford tells Hepzibah that they must go and the two leave the house.
XVIII: Governor Pyncheon
Judge Pyncheon remains motionless in the parlor. Despite having open eyes, he is not breathing. His watch continues to tick as the narrator inquires why he lingers. The narrator addresses him, asking if he has forgotten his appointments for the day, especially his dinner with important personages from throughout the state who he was hoping to persuade to nominate him as a candidate for governor. The narrator encourages the judge to make haste; however, he of course does not. A procession of Pyncheon spirits then enters the room, starting with Colonel Pyncheon followed by the next six generations. Noticing that Judge Pyncheon's son is among the spirits, the narrator notes that the judge's wealth will now go to Clifford, Hepzibah, and Phoebe. When the next morning comes and the judge still does not stir, the narrator gives up the address just as the shop-bell rings.
XX: The Flower of Eden
Holgrave, not Hepzibah, leads Phoebe into what had been the grand reception room. He tells her that Hepzibah and Clifford are gone and shows her the daguerreotype of the judge he made some time ago. He then shows her one he just completed, and she surmises that the judge is dead. Holgrave tells Phoebe that he has not told anyone about the death because he believes that with Hepzibah and Clifford gone and the similarity between the judge's death and uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon's, the two will be implicated. Holgrave believes that the judge's death, if evaluated properly, will show that his death occurred because of an inherited family condition. He also tells Pheobe that he believes the judge made uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon's death look violent after the man had already died of the same affliction. Holgrave then professes his love for Phoebe and vice versa. Just then, Hepzibah and Clifford return home. Clifford is glad to be home and seems stronger than Hepzibah, who is in tears.
This section contains 5,276 words
(approx. 14 pages at 400 words per page)