Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Review: The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Centuries before our story opens, Colonel Pyncheon set his sights on land that was already occupied by another man, Matthew Maule. In order to get rid of his rival, he accused him of witchcraft.  During Maule's execution, Maule is said to have cursed Pyncheon and his line.  Pyncheon builds the house of seven gables on Maule's former property, employing the son of the rival as head carpenter.  As the years pass, the Pyncheon line is struck by many tradegies, until only an old spinster, Hepzibah, and three other relations still live.  A teen girl, Phoebe, is one these relations, and her sunny presence in the old, foreboding house seems to promise that the family curse will finally be lifted...

This is a twisted tale of greed and its consequences. Though the basic plot is engaging enough, Hawthorne is exceedingly loquacious, and even pauses at times to apologize for his tangents.  For example, after a pages long description of the activities of chickens in the seven gables garden, Hawthorne writes: "The author needs great faith in the reader's sympathy, else he must hesitate to give details so minute, and incidents apparently so trifling, as are essential to make up the idea of this garden life."  Indeed!

Hawthorne's prose is also very ornate.  I often would read a line or two aloud to Daniel, and then "translate" it into plain English.  Here's a line describing a boy eating a gingerbread whale, after having eaten quite a few other gingerbread animals in the days before: "The great fish, reversing his experience with the prophet of Nineveh, immediately began his progress down the same red pathway of fate whither so varied a caravan had preceded him."

While the journey was often arduous, and the ending wrapped events up rather predictibly (though I am still not 100% sure what happened to cousin Judge Pyncheon), I am glad I read it.  Not only because it is the first completed novel of my Classics Monthly Challenge, but also because my mother tried to get me to read it for years (even to the point that she sent it to me to Ecuador to read). 

19 comments:

Allison said...

Hawthorne is pretty notorious for his writing I think...I guess that is part of the fun of classics though. Digging through (and mostly enjoying) the langague and writing style always gives me a huge sense of accomplishment.

Jamie said...

I've never read any Hawthorne but I've heard that about his writing. Congrats on finishing your first month of classics!! I'm looking forward to some of your other reviews throughout the months.

bermudaonion said...

I feel like I should read this book, but that style of writing just doesn't appeal to me.

S.Leighanne said...

This is on my to read list for this year.
I'm glad that I got to read a review of it before I pick it up. Thank you!

Charley said...

I've started but stopped this book multiple times, as I tend not to be a fan of ornate writing. I'll keep trying it, though. I visited the House of the Seven Gables when I was a pre-teen, and the thing I remember most is how short the beds were.

Trisha said...

I haven't read this one in so long - grade school I think! I do remember liking it, but I don't remember much else. Maybe I should pick it up again.

Amanda said...

I tried to listen to this awhile back and didn't get very far in, but I *am* determined to give Hawthorne another try at some point. It's been since high school since I read anything by him.

Amy said...

I haven't read Hawthorne since school but I remember how wordy his writing was and very ornate and overdone. I like The House of the Seven Gables for the most part, too, but probably won't read any Hawrhorne as part of my classics readings this year!

~ Amy

caite said...

wow, it is decades, several decades since i have read this one. an old one but a good one.
yes, the writing style is a bit difficult to get through but worth the journey as I remember.

Staci said...

Bravo for finishing this...after reading some of those excerpts I'm pretty sure I would've closed the book!!

Constance Reader said...

I haven't finished this book yet, but I loved the sense of history behind it. I'm not a HUGE Hawthorne fan, but this is one I've enjoyed so far.

Anupam karn said...

following you now!

Irish said...

You know...I don't think I've ever fully read this book. I've been to Salem many times & passed the Seven Gables house and other haunts of Hawthorne but I've never really been interested in his books. As you said they all tend to be a bit verbose - the theory among some tour guides in Salem is that he was paid by the page and so would be wordy to fill up lots of pages.

Glad that you enjoyed it though and are one step closer on your classics challenge. I hope to read more of them myself this year!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Sentences like the one you quoted would kill me. Don't know if any Hawthorne is in my future. I did read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde over the weekend, and I loved it!

Zibilee said...

Wow, Hawthorne is very loquacious, isn't he? I am not sure what I would make of this book, but I do find the synopsis interesting. I bet I would struggle mightily with it. Glad to hear that you made it through and you had some really interesting observations about it!

Andi said...

It's possible that this is one of the books that's been on my TBR the longest. 15 years easy. Right now I'm teaching an Early American Lit class online, and I've done The Scarlet Letter for the last couple of semesters. I might change it up and do House of the Seven Gables next time IF I can read it myself! :D

Beth F said...

I kinda like Hawthorne. But then, I like that whole Concord bunch.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've been wanting to pick this one up for years - especially after visiting Hawthorne's home in Massachusetts a couple of years ago.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

This is definitely one I've been meaning to read for years - I visited the Hawthorne home in Massachusetts and was especially interested to pick up all of his works!