My connection to Nathaniel Hawthorne is influenced by the fact that there was a man in, and later out of, our family who was an expert on him. He wrote Hawthorne’s biography in Hungarian. I don’t know whether it was the first such book or not, but it appeared in 1982 in a popular series of biographies of famous people. So, whenever I think of Hawthorne my primary reaction is the emotionally charged, mixed memory of his Hungarian biographer. Beyond that I only remember that I read The Scarlet Letter during high-school. Whether it was part of the school curriculum or our family’s, I don’t recall. I haven’t read anything else from him so far.
Having cleared the above I can admit that I enjoyed “The House of the Seven Gables”. I won’t bother explaining the plot as there are so many places online you can do that if you opt not to read the book. Which would be a mistake in my opinion as it is a fun read. If you don’t have some Gothic sensibility, if you do not appreciate the juxtaposition of dark and light then it may be less fun, but nevertheless it is quite educational.
Based on the large number of available study guides, abridged versions and other cheat sheets for students I have to assume that this is part of the curriculum in many schools in the US. That’s understandable as it was written by an American classical writer, has plenty of literary value and plenty of aspects from which it can be analyzed. However, as generations of people wrote essays for schools about it, it became difficult to say anything original about the book. I am vain enough that I thought I have a unique voice, but in this case I will practice self-restrain and won’t attempt to say anything new. Otherwise I would not need to admit to myself, that maybe I cannot.
Instead I will just share some minor points that popped in my mind in relation to the book, but not necessarily analyzing it. For once you cannot rush reading a 19th century book in the 21st century. It just doesn’t work to page through quickly, you really have to immerse yourself in the book to be able to enjoy it, forget about your addiction of checking your email every hour, turn off your cellphone and no texting while reading. Otherwise you will have a hard time to get back to the slower pace required and described here.
Hawthorne summarizes the moral of the story in the preface as “wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones.” That is true to some degree and our actions often have long term consequences. Global warming, pollution anybody? But I have a beef with punishing descendants for their father’s crimes. So did Hawthorne apparently, as he wrote an end for the novel, where all major characters have a comfortable living independently of which side of the Pyncheon/Maule debacle they were on. So on one had every action draws a reaction and on the other hand in every generation there is wrong doing on both sides.
On a final note the building of The House of the Seven Gables very much exists and can be visited in Massachusetts. You can visit them in person and I love that you can also do that virtually on their website, Facebook and Twitter.