The House of the Seven Gables

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of prominent Puritan founders of Salem, Massachusetts—a setting and history he drew on prominently in his writings. As a child, Hawthorne read voraciously and spent several idyllic years in the Maine wilderness. In his youth, he was especially influenced by Gothic romances and the novels of Sir Walter Scott. He attended Bowdoin College, where he befriended Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and future president Franklin Pierce. As a young man, Hawthorne worked as a magazine editor and in the Boston Custom House, and he began to publish short fiction around the same time. In 1841, Hawthorne lived for a time among the experimental Utopian community at Brook Farm, not primarily because of its ideals, but because he wanted to save money to marry his fiancée, Sophia Peabody. They married in 1842 and settled in Concord, Massachusetts. The Hawthornes had a happy marriage and had three children: Una, Julian, and Rose. Hawthorne’s most prolific period began in 1850, when he wrote The Scarlet Letter; after a move to a red farmhouse in Lenox, Massachusetts, he wrote The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance. He and his family then lived for a time in a house called The Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts, and they spent several years in England after Hawthorne was appointed to a consulate position by his friend President Pierce. Soon after their return, Hawthorne’s health began to fail, and he died in his sleep during a vacation in the White Mountains.
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Historical Context of The House of the Seven Gables

The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 loom large over The House of the Seven Gables, as they did over Hawthorne’s own life. The Trials began after two little girls accused three women (a slave, a beggar, and a poor elderly woman) of supernaturally afflicting them with strange fits. Over the coming months, dozens of people, mostly women, were tried for witchcraft, and around 20 were executed for the crime. Within a few years, many of those involved in the trials and executions publicly expressed regret for their involvement, seeing them as a tragic error. Hawthorne’s ancestor, John Hathorne, was the only judge who did not repent of his actions—something Hawthorne seems to have felt as a personal shame. The House of the Seven Gables is also an example of the genre of Gothic fiction (also known as Gothic horror). With its emphasis on emotion and the “sublime” (things transcending ordinary experience), Gothic fiction is itself considered to be a subgenre of Romanticism. The Gothic literary movement developed in England in the second half of the 18th century, with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto often considered to be its first novel. It found success over the following century in the works of such writers as Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Edgar Allan Poe. The term “Gothic” refers to the medieval style of architecture which frequently characterizes the setting in Gothic works. Such novels also contain elements like shadowy, labyrinthine interiors, ancestral curses, wild weather, sensationalist crimes, and innocent maiden heroines—all of which are present in The House of the Seven Gables.

Other Books Related to The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables falls under the genre of Gothic literature. The first Gothic novel is considered to be Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is also set in an ornate, haunted dwelling with a history of evil and corruption. Edgar Allen Poe’s Stories are the best-known example of American Gothic fiction. Other major examples of the genre include Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Additionally, Hawthorne’s body of work was contemporaneous with the American Romanticism movement, which sprang up in reaction to the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution and focused on subject matter like aesthetic beauty, spirituality, and nature.  Other notable literary works from this era include Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Besides his famous novels, Hawthorne also wrote many short stories, including “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” (1837), and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844).
Key Facts about The House of the Seven Gables
  • Full Title: The House of the Seven Gables, A Romance
  • When Written: 1850–1851
  • Where Written: Lenox, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 1851
  • Literary Period: Romanticism
  • Genre: Gothic Novel
  • Setting: 17th- to 19th-century Massachusetts
  • Climax: Judge Pyncheon’s death
  • Antagonist: Judge Pyncheon (Cousin Jaffrey)
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The House of the Seven Gables

Gables Then and Now. Although Hawthorne claims in his preface that The House of the Seven Gables is not based on any location. However, the Turner House, or Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, in Salem, Massachusetts, was an inspiration for him. The Ingersolls were Hawthorne’s cousins, and he was struck by the house’s history (though, having been renovated to match popular trends, it only boasted three gables at that time). The mansion is a museum today, and citizenship and ESL classes are also offered there.

Peeved Pyncheons. Hawthorne says he chose the surname “Pyncheon” for his characters simply because it suited the tone of the book. After its publication, he received letters from a number of random Pyncheons (whom Hawthorne dubbed “Pyncheon jackasses”) who were offended by the way their family name was portrayed. Hawthorne wrote sarcastically to his publisher, Fields, “After exchanging shots with each [Pyncheon], I shall get you to publish the whole correspondence in a style to match that of my other works, and I anticipate a great run on the volume.”