Sunday, August 31, 2008

The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My review must begin with a brief walk down memory lane...

My introduction to the House of Seven Gables came by way of a 8x10 framed print of the house, which hung in the living room of my grandparents home when I was a child. Because my grandparents home had four gables I mistook the house in the picture for that of their own home. When I expressed this assumption my grandmother quickly corrected my error. It was at this time that I learned a little of the real house, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I was able to see the house for myself. I believe it was also at this time that I first learned of Nathaniel Hawthorn’s novel named after the house and indeed the reason that the house has become so famous.

For some reason I was intrigued by the house. I knew one day I had to read the book.

Through the years since I have often thought of reading The House of Seven Gables, but it was only this month that I finally undertook the task. I say task because reading Hawthorne is a task. I used to think Charles Dickens was a wordy author and his goal in life was to bore a reader to death. I’ve since learned to love his works and also realize that he was not the only author who loved to write a good long narrative... Nathaniel Hawthorne was another.

The House of Seven Gables was a hard start. As the novel begins the narrator must acquaint the reader with many details of the past before the reader can proceed with the story of the present. It is here that I found myself bogged down. So when I reached the second chapter (32 pages into the book) I couldn’t help but laugh when the narrator states, "All this time, however, we are loitering faint-heartedly on the threshold of our story..." Yeah, that about sums it up... It takes 28 pages just to get to one of the main characters and another half dozen pages before any action starts (chapter III). But if you push through you will be rewarded!

Like a train the story starts off at a very slow pace, but it gradually gains speed and within a few chapters I found myself caught up in the story and chugging along a decent speed. But don’t let this scare you away from reading this book. It is a classic that should not be missed! One critic wrote in 1851,
“Every chapter proves the author to be, not only a master of narrative, a creator of character, an observer of life, and richly gifted with the powers of vital conception and combination, but it also exhibits him as a profound thinker and skillful metaphysician.”

If that's not enough to convince you than maybe this excerpt will:

"Never had the old house appeared so dismal to poor Hepzibah as when she departed on that wretched errand. There was a strange aspect in it. As she trod along the foot-worn passages, and opened one crazy door after another, and ascended the creaking staircase, she gazed wistfully and fearfully around. It would have been no marvel, to her excited mind, if, behind or beside her, there had been the rustle of dead people's garments, or pale visages awaiting her on the landing-place above. Her nerves were set all ajar by the scene of passion and terror through which she had just struggled..."

Now how's that? It was worth wading through the first few chapters just to get to chapters like that.

So what exactly is the story of
The House of Seven Gables? It is more than the story of a house, though the way Hawthorne writes one certainly feels as though the house itself is a lead character in the story. It is the story of the Pyncheon family who is haunted through the generations by a dark family history of fraudulent dealings (which brought them into possession of their gabled home), the Salem Witch Trial, and even murder. It is a story of romance; it is tale of mystery and unexplainable events; it is a dark drama that ends as night does right before the dawn of a new day.

The copy of The House of Seven Gables that I borrowed from my library was 274 pages. It also included end notes and a few pages for commentary and a biographical introduction on the author bringing the book page total up to 312. It was as I mentioned a slow start, but picked up to average out to a steady read finished in less than a week’s time.

My final thoughts: I truly enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.
The House of Seven Gables is a classic that should be on everyone’s “Books To Read Before I Die” list. If you’re not a fan of Dickens you may not become a fan of Hawthorne, but that’s no excuse to skip this book. If you can’t bear to read the book, borrow an audio version from your library.


Lisa writes... said...

I wrote a paper on this novel when a senior in high school: hated it and never wanted to read anything else by Hawthorne again--and haven't! I may have to revisit this story. Maybe!

Sarah Mehrens said...

I can understand that. If I had read this book in high school I would have hated it. As it was it was more of a chore to read than other books I've read, including Jane Austen (why is that? -- she wrote around the same era, somewhat earlier.) but I still really liked it.

I'd be very curious to see a movie version of this book, but doubt they'd do it justice... unless maybe Masterpiece did it.

Carrie said...

Since I hate Dickens I'm not of the present opinion that I'd love Hawthorn. That being said, I don't think it'd be bad for me either. ;) We'll see after October . . .

(BTW, I've been hunting high and low for a copy of Wives & Daughters and have been completely unsuccessful. The copy at the library has even been checked out. I have every intention of reading that, per your recommendation, as soon as I can get my hands on a copy!)

Sarah Mehrens said...

Yeah, you might want to wait on The House of Seven Gables until 2009. It's a great story and I liked it better than The Scarlet Letter, though that was shorter.

As for Wives and Daughters. If you don't want to buy it online then check with Barnes and Noble. I bought my copy at the B&N store -- it was right on the shelf along with North and South and Cranford. Gaskell is in the same section as you'd find Dickens or Austen -- but of course amongst the "G" authors. Of course if your B&N doesn't have a copy on the shelf or if you don't have a B&N store you could buy through their online store. Also, do you have the option to request your library purchase a copy? Our library just started that and it was by that means I got them to buy a copy of Ruth (also by Gaskell). If you need a plug as to why they should buy a copy tell them it's highly desireable right now what with PBS' latest production of Cranford bringing more attention to Gaskell's works. :)

Oh and PS - I have not seen W&D in hardback, only paperback. Hope that's not a turn off.

Lenore said...

My mother loved this book and was always trying to get me to read it but I wouldn't. Then when I was studying abroad, I asked her to send me some English books to read and she sent this - still I wasn't THAT desperate. I have it on my shelf unread to this day, but you have inspired me to actually give it a chance. My mother would be happy I'm sure.

Carrie said...

We don't have a B&N but there IS one in Eugene.........and we went today! They had one copy of Wives & Daughters left and I snatched it up! Woo hoo! (Then I came home and saw your comment.) Great price at B&N. So much cheaper than Border classics. (We have a Borders. And they didn't have W&D or anything else by Gaskell for that matter!)