Monday, June 19, 2017
The House of the Seven Gables is one of those books that has to be classified as an interesting failure. Nathaniel Hawthorne began writing it several months after The Scarlet Letter was published, and the theme he chose was an interesting one: the effect of the wrongs of earlier generations upon the present. The plot concerns the eponymous house built upon land that an aristocratic New England family effectively stole from a working-class family generations ago, and the way the crime and the house has shaped the two bloodlines since. Hawthorne worked in elements of murder, witchcraft, mesmerism, and all sorts of things that could have been grist for a fascinating story, but unfortunately it mostly falls flat. The book has a mix of fully realized three-dimensional characters and featureless ciphers with key roles in the story (like the male half of an inexplicable romance). The ending is trite and would seem intentionally satirical if Hawthorne wasn't such a sincere fellow. Unfortunately, whether standing alone or compared to The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables becomes a forgettable disappointment.
The Norton Critical Edition has the usual collection of contemporary reviews as well as later scholarship. The critical consensus is that the book is indeed a failure, though there are one or two pieces trying to defend it.