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*
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.
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.