The House of the Seven Gables


Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables: Preface Summary & Analysis

Hawthorne classifies his work as a “romance,” not a novel. A novel, he explains, is supposed to adhere very closely to ordinary experience. A romance, on the other hand, must present the truth of the human heart, but it may do so with greater creativity on the author’s part. The author may “mellow the lights and deepen […] the shadows” as he sees fit. However, he must exercise that privilege modestly and “mingle the Marvelous” into the narrative in a delicate way.
Though Hawthorne draws a distinction between a romance and a novel (he understands the latter to be more realistic than the former), today The House of the Seven Gables is classified as a Gothic novel today—a novel which incorporates supernatural and romantic elements.
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The House of the Seven Gables is a romance because the author seeks to connect the past with the present. That “legendary mist” may be disregarded, or it may create a “picturesque” effect around the events and characters described; that is up to the reader.
Hawthorne extends freedom to the reader to take the more “legendary” aspects of the story in the spirit they prefer; the meanings he intends will implicitly come across either way.
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This book also has a moral: “the truth […] that the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones, and […] becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.” Hawthorne hopes that this romance might convince readers that passing down wealth or property is foolish and has a damaging effect on posterity. However, he acknowledges that when romances succeed in teaching a lesson, it’s usually a moral more subtle than the stated one. Finally, Hawthorne adds that the characters and location described in the story are of his own invention and are not meant to be a commentary on an actual town or family.
One of the primary meanings Hawthorne intends to convey is that wrongdoing has repercussions over many generations—especially where wealth and property are concerned. However, he encourages readers to be alert to more subtle messages, too. Although the precise setting of the story is not named, Hawthorne was inspired by a gabled mansion in his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts.
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