For once, I found Goodreads to be entirely unhelpful to me. I simply couldn’t find a decent summary that didn’t already begin to dissect the book, or didn’t have an enormous commentary on footnotes and whatnot, or wasn’t paired up with the Scarlet Letter. Ah well. I suppose I’ll just have to supply my own.
Here goes nothing:
“God will give you blood to drink!”
So declared Maule, a man convicted as a wizard during the Salem Witch Trials, addressing one Colonel Pyncheon who had been key in seeing to his hanging. For although it could not be proven, more than a few few rumors that suggested that Colonel Pyncheon had accused Maule of witchery because he wanted to get his hands on Maule’s property.
The fact that he bought this property as soon as it went up for auction did nothing to help this rumor.
At once, the Colonel hired a contractor to build him an enormous house on the newly-purchased land, and erected the House of the Seven Gables, a legacy for posterity.
On the day of the celebration of the mansion’s completion, however, Maule’s prophecy comes to pass, and the Colonel is found in dead in his office, blood upon the white ruff of his necktie.
Centuries later, the house is inhabited by the lonely old Hepzibah Pyncheon, who has been driven to desperate measures to keep herself afloat. Living with her is her brother, Clifford, whose mind has been ruined by some wrong that has been done to him. Renting a separate gable is Holbrooke, a strange young man who never seems to stay in one place. Young Phoebe Pyncheon has come to live with her cousin, and is the only one who can manage to draw Clifford out of his listless state.
But the venerable town judge, Jaffrey Pyncheon, wants something from Clifford, and he will stop at nothing to get it.
Nathaniel Hawthorne has long been one of my favorite classical American authors. When I read the Scarlet Letter some years ago, I loved it. And that was before I had even really begun to become interested in classics, which rather elevates his standing as one of my favorite authors. (On reflection, I really do need to go back and reread the Scarlet Letter… But that’s beside the point.)
That being said, I loved the House of the Seven Gables, which I know to be a relatively uncommon opinion, considering that the average rating on Goodreads is only a little over three stars. It was a very slow-paced book, with a several chapters being devoted largely to how Hepzibah, Clifford, and Phoebe lived together. There is very little action, and there were a great many words that I was more than a little unfamiliar with that I occasionally stumbled over.
So why did I love it?
Well, simply put, I loved it because I love that style.
I love slower-paced books. They’re relaxing to me. It gives me the time to process things and think things over. It gives me more time to ponder where the story is going, and what the author is actually saying. It gives me the chance to understand the book better. Also, the book has to be kept in the context of when it was written. Books back then were never so fast-paced as they are now. They were always much more verbose and took much more time to tell us anything. So, I don’t mind it.
But there was so much to this book that I loved! There was so much mystery in it, so many things that you don’t find out until the very end! And throughout the book, Hawthorn kept in such suspense! Even when I thought, thought I knew what would happen, what had just happened, he still did not betray it with such finality that I still just wasn’t certain.
And I loved the characters! They were so diverse and so real, and he painted them with such clarity! Everything about them, one got to know. The perpetual scowl on Hepzibah’s brow, Phoebe’s smile, Clifford’s flighty state of mind… They were all so vivid!
In truth, I feel like I just need to go back and reread this one as well. There’s so much more to be gathered from it than what I did on the first time through, so much more for me to look into and grapple with and dissect! That’s just the nature of books like this: no matter how many times you go back to reread it, there’s always something that you didn’t catch before.
My overall recommendation for the book? If you don’t like older works, if you prefer faster-paced books, then this book won’t be for you. But if you do like classics, and slowly-paced books, then I would recommend it. It was a wonderful read.