The House of the Seven Gables: Taking the Mickey

PLEASE NOTE: This post will ultimately contain spoilers about the book. If you’re not the type of person who likes endings disclosed, please return at a later date. 

Who doesn’t love a quasi-supernatural novel with a predictable ending? *raises hand emphatically*

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Get a haircut, ya hippy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I finally, finally, finally finished reading The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I chip away at reading when I can. Depending on how interesting the book turns out, it can take quite a while with (better) diversions. As you may suspect already, I wasn’t a huge fan. This is very disappointing, as I thought The Scarlet Letter often over-simplified and dismissed as a high school read. Those conclusions are riddled in misconception, as people miss Hawthorne’s other messages in the novel. The crossover lecture here being the vices of ambition.

1966 ... Star Trek   'The Man Trap'

Ol’ Nate could have gained great insight from DeForest’s pithy diagnostic abilities. By the way, Happy Birthday Big D! (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

Why The House of the Seven Gables was such a letdown is easy for me to summarize. It was too little, too late and neatly folded up in a syrupy storybook ending. Jaffrey Pyncheon received his just deserts for placing his ends above familial compassion, and gets mocked gratuitously in an ancestral chair. Hawthorne obviously had a sturdy whip, because that judge was beaten like a horse and a dead one at that. He’s dead, Jim. For the love of God, please stop.

After plowing through the day-to-day turmoil of the Pyncheon family, Hawthorne decides it would be a wonderful idea to dump a truckload of back story in the final chapter. At that point, people like me have already surmised (and correctly at that) the judge set up a dastardly plot to send Clifford Pyncheon to prison. Us hard-working readers are also smart enough to know Holgrave is related to Maule in some capacity. After all, what other family outside of the Pyncheons and Maules would give a flying fig about the broken down mansion? No one. NO ONE, I TELL YOU!

The pleasant surprises for me were the brief glimpses of personal philosophy woven into the novel in the meantime. Let us examine a quote from a wild-eyed Clifford Pyncheon:

“My impression is, that our wonderfully increased and still increasing facilities of locomotion are destined to bring us round again to the nomadic state. You are aware, my dear sir,–you must have observed it, in your own experience,–that all human progress is in a circle; or, to use a more accurate and beautiful figure, in an ascending spiral curve. While we fancy ourselves going straight forward, and attaining, at every step, an entirely new position of affairs, we do actually return to something long ago tried and abandoned, but which we now find etherealized, refined, and perfected to its ideal. The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy of the present and the future. To apply this truth to the topic now under discussion.–In the early epochs of our race, men dwelt in temporary huts, of bowers of branches, as easily constructed as a bird’s nest, and which they built,–if it should be called building, when such sweet homes of a summer solstice rather grew than were made with hands,–which Nature, we will say, assisted them to rear, where fruit abounded, where fish and game were plentiful, or, most especially, where the sense of beauty was to be gratified by a lovelier shade than elsewhere, and a more exquisite arrangement of lake, wood, and hill. This life possessed a charm, which, ever since man quitted it, has vanished from existence. And it typified something better than itself. It had its drawbacks; such as hunger and thirst, inclement weather, hot sunshine, and weary and foot-blistering marches over barren and ugly tracts, that lay between the sites desirable for their fertility and beauty. But, in our ascending spiral, we escape all this. These railroads–could but the whistle be made musical, and the rumble and the jar got rid of–are positively the greatest blessing that the ages have wrought out for us. They give us wings; they annihilate the toil and dust of pilgrimage; they spiritualize travel! Transition being so facile, what can be any man’s inducement to tarry in one spot? Why, therefore, should he build a more cumbrous habitation than can readily be carried off with him? Why should he make himself a prisoner for life in brick, and stone, and old worm-eaten timber, when he may just as easily dwell, in one sense, nowhere,–in a better sense, wherever the fit and beautiful shall offer him a home?” ~ Chapter XVII, “The Flight of Two Owls”

Even 160 years ago, people were suffering from wanderlust. It points out the problem with settlement and the human spirit. I think the beat poets would have made fast friends of Nater Potater.

Another point in favor of a flexible society is made by Holgrave:

“But we shall live to see the day, I trust,” went on the artist, “when no man shall build his house for posterity. Why should he? He might just as reasonably order a durable suit of clothes,–leather, or gutta percha, or whatever else lasts longest,–so that his great-grandchildren should have the benefit of them, and cut precisely the same figure in the world that he himself does. If each generation were allowed and expected to build its own houses, that single change, comparatively unimportant in itself, would imply almost every reform which society is now suffering for. I doubt whether even our public edifices–our capitols, state-houses, court-houses, city-halls, and churches–ought to be built of such permanent materials as stone or brick. It were better that they should crumble to ruin, once in twenty years, or there-abouts, as a hint to the people to examine into and reform the institutions which they symbolize.” ~ Chapter XII, “The Daguerreotypist”

It’s an interesting thought, and one that isn’t completely without merit. Society needs change. Buildings will crumble, and philosophies revised. What Hawthorne does not take into consideration is the economic cost of constant replacement. Municipalities are already struggling to keep up with the demands of expansion, let alone the replacement of existing structures. Reinventing the wheel sounds great, but we have to build on it someday.

This is the reason I don’t give up on books. There has never been a time where I said, “I didn’t get one ounce of value out of that book!” To be fair, I’ve never read Twilight. I may have to revise my viewpoint one day. For now, I’m happy with what I gleaned from this novel. That doesn’t make it any less of a pain in the neck to read, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

Reading Rainbow

Hey! That’s MY line! (Photo credit: Mad African!: (Broken Sword))

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11 thoughts on “The House of the Seven Gables: Taking the Mickey

  1. All of my literary studies professors have cautioned against taking the “I” of the speaker or narrator, and attributing that “I” to the author. They have also said that it is erroneous to ascribe the thoughts of a character, as those thoughts being the personal thoughts or philosophy of an author. I have not read this book, and I don’t know if the character Pyncheon, really represents the philosophy of Hawthorne as you attest. That aside, interesting review though.

  2. kerbey says:

    I have to put my thinking cap on to process these long quotes, as there is a lot of meat on which to chew. I have googled “gutta percha,” so now I know what it is, although I doubt I could use it in a context sentence. People are so nostalgic now for their old homes, old town buildings, that it’s just the opposite of what Holgrave proposed. I thought we wanted to be the little pig who built his house of bricks, so it could stand for generations. People are now so desperate for remnants of the past, that flea markets and shows like “American Pickers” appeal to us, just for the glimpse of history. But then I think about Cuba, where no buildings have been constructed since basically pre-1959, and everything around them is crumbling and in ruins. I imagine the people there would love to do away w/ the old and start anew. I have construction workers on every side of my house right now, building 10 new houses around us, so I am especially sensitive…

    • This philosophy was borne of an inexperienced nation. America was only 75 years old at the time, Manifest Destiny was in full swing, and huge tracts of land were still unsettled territory. People were building new houses left and right anyway. It’s real easy to throw out ideas like this when many events had not yet come to pass.

      My position lays with truth in materials and quality of work. I have been raised to “make it last” and improve existing real estate. We have witnessed for several decades what a disposable society becomes and, suffice it to say, I’m not impressed. That doesn’t mean things can’t change in as much as not reinventing the wheel every 20 or so years.

  3. Sonya says:

    I am going to take your word for it. Your distain for this book was far more interesting then the “interesting” quotes you took from the book. I hardly ever give up on books either, though unlike you I would say that I have had my fair share where I walked away with nothing. Maybe that is just with books geared toward females, though I have read many different genres (I did work at Borders where we were able to rent books like the library BUT brand new books, like a freaking princess).

    One book called The Breakup Club (Melissa Senate) was an awful waste of my time and the paper it was printed on. It is the story of four recently dumped – divorced people living in New York and their struggle to cope with the lost of love. I myself was going through a horrible breakup… hoping to wallow in sadness with them, but accept the light at the end of the tunnel I expected would come. There was no light, the story just ended, everyone was still dumped and heartbroken. Boring lives about boring people… basically it was me, why would I want to read a book about me. It transported me nowhere and for that I say eff you book.

    I don’t know what genre you enjoy. Memoirs are my favorite and if you want a great one (and you aren’t super religious, the title is in no way indicative of what is to come) Jesusland is for you.

    • That book sounds lifeless. I’ll be sure to avoid it. 😉 I have enough misery in my love life, I don’t need commiseration.

      I want to say, at least from this vantage point, that I’m sore on the schlock peddled to the female reader. Harlequin Romance? I… don’t… even. I’m not a feminist, nor will I ever be one, but I know I would be down right insulted if I were a woman browsing a bookstore.

      I’m more a person to read the “classics.” After all, Mark Twain had a point with, “a classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” This isn’t because I want to have an elitist leg up over cocktail party liars, but my curiosity is piqued with all the titles I hear in conversation. The eighty year-old inside me says, “what’s so damned good about them?!” Sometimes I pull nuggets of wisdom from these dusty tomes, and sometimes I think people are full of it. That’s why I’m a little iffy on the upper echelon of the literary profession. I get so worked up on the pompousness of writers I want to scream, “can’t you people be real for moment?!” I would have surely slapped Hemingway and Joyce. I just know it.

      • Sonya says:

        There’s a lot of really stupid crap aimed at women, but then again a lot of women go for it so maybe we are just looking at it wrong. I made the mistake once as a young adult – teen (I guess I was a teen); I picked up an adult book (geared toward women) while on a family trip. I had literally no idea what I was getting myself into, but halfway through the book it turned into a graphic novel and I am just outside in public reading about crazy monkey sex (not actual monkeys) in a park with my family. Pretty much the best place I could have ever been in that moment. That was my first experience with a book geared toward women.

        The next book I read was The Devil Wears Prada (actually that was on another family trip, but it had zero sex), The DWP was a horrible piece of shit story… I hated the characters, it went nowhere, it was frustrating as fuck, if anyone worked for a boss like the one portrayed in the story they would have either quit or murdered her. It was just unbelievable, and I truly believed it would be better as a movie, when the movie came out I watched it to test my theory and I was totally wrong, it was a POS movie too.

        HAHA, well at the very least you have found a genre that interests you! I assume that you have read some of George Orwell’s work… I read Animal Farm in 6th grade because my Dad told me I would have to read it in high school (I don’t know I think he wanted me to be ahead or some shit), I read it and absolutely loved it. If you haven’t you should. A few years ago I decided to read 1984; the story is one that has been told a million times over in different ways, the only difference is I am pretty sure it is the original version of it. If you haven’t read it I would suggest it, if for no other reason than to ruin oh so many movies and stories that are carbon copies of that tail.

        You should build a time machine just to yell that at both of them. Are there any books from that time period you have enjoyed reading?

      • I couldn’t finish Devil Wears Prada the movie. There was little way I could connect with it. The positioning was just so, and it was meant to capture a specific audience. I wasn’t part of that demographic.

        I have read 1984 and Animal Farm, and have both copies kept for reference. I do enjoy both books, as I could connect with Benjamin the Donkey and pull observations from Winston. It was genuinely sad to see Winston love Big Brother at the end.

        Of the books I’ve read in the last two years, I think the Stranger, the Metamorphosis, and All Quiet on the Western Front were valuable to me. I was able to gather bits and pieces of points of view and compare them with the current world.

      • Sonya says:

        Sometimes, while exercising at home in front of my TV I expect someone to yell at me that I, in the house on Crew Street, in the blue pants, that’s right you Sonya… you aren’t doing that correctly. It seems the only way that Winston could have lived was to finally concede. The part with the rats in the cage laying on his stomach (or someone’s stomach) as a form of torture will probably stay with me until the day I die. Horrible, it sounds just horrible.

        I genuinely love both books very much. I think Animal Farm had a more profound effect on me, and having read it at such a young age I can see how it applies to real life situations, real people becoming exactly what they hate, rather than one day having the epiphany on my own.

        I guess that is a good reason to read the classics, to see what is still true of people today. I would really like to read the book about the Titan, which is rumored to have “foreseen” the sinking of the Titanic. I wonder how much is really in it.

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