Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables is, as the author notes in a short preface to the novel, a romance. The story thus, as Hawthorne states, includes fantastical occurrences, improbabilities, and attempts to connect the past with the present, sacrificing literal authenticity for more abstract truths. The connection between the past and the present is the most pressing of Hawthorne's concerns in The House of the Seven Gables, which begins with the checkered history of the eponymous house. The house was constructed during the Puritan era in New England by the prominent Colonel Pyncheon. He acquired the property through dubious means: the property on which the house was built was originally owned by Matthew Maule, a relatively obscure man who was often called a wizard. Soon after Matthew Maule refused to sell the property to Colonel Pyncheon, he was charged with witchcraft and burned; Colonel Pyncheon led the charge against him, and thus acquired the property. Years later, Colonel Pyncheon himself died suspiciously, with a bloody hand-print on his throat. The Pyncheon family seemed poised to remain prominent, yet the family steadily declined throughout the subsequent generations. However, every generation or so another Pyncheon appeared who seemed to possess Colonel Pyncheon's characteristics and would instill hope that the Pyncheons would return to their former glory once more. Yet the most recent notable occurrence in the family history was the murder of a Pyncheon by his nephew years before.
Having traced the family history, the story begins in its contemporary period in which Hepzibah Pyncheon, an elderly woman and the current resident of the House of the Seven Gables, opens a tiny penny store in the house. She has been forced to do so because of a decline in the family fortune that reduced her to poverty. Her most prominent feature is an angry scowl, caused not by any ill temper, but rather because of vision problems. Hepzibah has few customers in this little store. One little boy, Ned Higgins, buys tons of gingerbread from her. Another customer, the young daguerreotypist Mr. Holgrave, is a boarder in the House of the Seven Gables and Hepzibah's only friend. When she sees her cousin Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, she retreats back into the house. Jaffrey is the current embodiment of Colonel Pyncheon's spirit among the Pyncheons. She blames Jaffrey for the imprisonment of Clifford, the Pyncheon mentioned earlier who was convicted of murder and whose return from prison after many years is imminent. That night, Phoebe Pyncheon, a seventeen year old relative, arrives from the country, wishing to stay at the House of the Seven Gables. Phoebe immediately brightens the dreary and decrepit house, and even helps Hepzibah establish her store. Holgrave tells Phoebe the history of the Pyncheon family, in particular the controversy surrounding the supposedly murderous Clifford.
Includes a biography of the Author