The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Chapter 13 : Alice Pyncheon | Summary

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Summary

Gervayse Pyncheon, grandson of Colonel Pyncheon, calls upon Mathew Maule (the younger), grandson of the original Matthew Maule. The younger Matthew Maule was neither liked nor understood, and he "was popularly supposed to have inherited some of his ancestor's questionable traits." Upon arriving at the house, Maule goes to the front door, as he is a proud man who feels his family has been cheated out of this land.

When Maule enters Gervayse Pyncheon's study, he finds him studying a map of the land the Pyncheon family owned but could not prove because the deed had been lost. Gervayse wants to find the deed and believes Maule would be able to help because the deed went missing while his father was building the House of the Seven Gables. Gervayse believes owning the land would bestow upon him a title such as lord or baron. Maule ultimately agrees to help find the deed once a deal is made. If Maule should find the deed, the House of the Seven Gables would be turned over to him.

Maule says he will need to speak to Gervayse's daughter, Alice Pyncheon. After initially hesitating, Gervayse agrees and his daughter is brought to the room. Alice is very proud and "set apart from the world's vulgar mass by a certain gentle and cold stateliness." When she enters the room, she admires Maule's strength and energy. Maule, however, sees the look Alice gives him as rude, and asks himself, "Does the girl look at me as if I were a brute beast?" He never forgives her for it.

Maule appears to hypnotize Alice Pyncheon. At first she is unable to move, which frightens her father. Gervayse tries to stop the proceedings, but his daughter assures him she is okay, and he allows them to continue. Through Alice, Maule talks to the spirits of three men who know the whereabouts of the deed. One of the spirits, who seems to be Colonel Pyncheon, is ready to share the secret location of the deed. However, the other two spirits hold him back.

Gervayse screams at Maule to give him his daughter back. When Maule reawakens Alice, he says, "Your daughter! ... Why, she is fairly mine!" From this moment on, Maule has control over Alice and can make her do anything he wishes. This causes her to lose herself as she "felt ... too much abased." On his wedding night, Maule summons Alice to care for his bride. Afterward, Alice returns home—the trance broken—in bad weather. She catches pneumonia and dies. Maule admits that his plan was to humble Alice Pyncheon—not kill her.

Analysis

Holgrave recounts his story, but it is unclear whether it is fact or fiction or some combination of the two. Here, Nathaniel Hawthorne again reminds readers of his novel's romantic and Gothic ingredients. As with narratives of the fantastic, some details of the story are particularly unclear (perhaps deliberately). It was insinuated in Chapter 1 that Colonel Pyncheon accused Matthew Maule (the older) of dealing in magic as a way of getting him out of the picture. Throughout subsequent chapters, readers are given further hints about such magic, with a variety of references to ghostly presences, strange noises, and the possibility that a curse still dominates the house. In the current chapter, the accusation of magical powers is accurate. Not only was Matthew Maule (the older) a wizard, Holgrave relates, but his descendants possessed similar talents. Matthew Maule (the younger) had the power to hypnotize people and could conjure up spirits. In this version of the Pyncheon family history, the spirit of the colonel haunts the House of the Seven Gables.

Reinforcing the Gothic theme, Gervayse Pyncheon has also apparently inherited a number of traits from the colonel. He is greedy and hungry for power—a Gothic villain in the making. Appropriately, when Matthew Maule (the younger) enters his study, Gervayse ignores him as he stares out at his desire—the land that will lead him to lordship. In addition to being rude, he shows insensitivity toward Maule, indicating the poisonous Pyncheon classism. When he brings up the dispute over the land the House of Seven Gables stands on, Gervayse does not want to engage, saying, "I shall not bandy words with you." He talks down to Maule because he feels he is a gentleman and does not owe anything to this man who is of a lower "station and habits." Yet Gervayse's worst trait is his greed. He is so desirous of the title of lordship, Maule can sense it. This desire is what convinces Gervayse to allow his daughter to be used to gain the valuable information.

The traits Gervayse displays show him to be a replica of his grandfather and a textbook Gothic villain. While he was sent off to Europe and claims not to care for the house (unlike his grandfather), Gervayse still shares similar traits. Another relative who seems to share these traits is Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon. Hepzibah and Clifford think of him as evil and refuse to go near him. He has already shown himself to be two-faced. As a counterpart to the narrator of the novel, Holgrave gives readers insight into the class dispute, fills in missing information about virtually unknown characters (like Alice), and allows readers to make connections between generations.

Reflecting Hawthorne's reluctance to champion lower-class revolt, Matthew Maule (the younger) is not much more likable than the Pyncheon patriarchs. He cannot let go of the past and has become an angry man because of it. He sees himself as judge and jury and views it as his job to humble both Gervayse and his daughter Alice. Because of his anger, he considers Alice's initial look at him as something negative—perhaps a sign of class prejudice. He cannot fathom someone from the Pyncheon family acting in a kindly manner, and maybe the reader can sympathize with his own prejudice against his upper-class rivals. The deal he and Gervayse agreed upon seems fair, but Maule has no intention of playing fair. He will take revenge for the slight he feels his family has received.

In Matthew Maule (the younger), readers see a demonic lower-class counterpart to the demonic aristocratic Pyncheons: both positions are extreme, Nathaniel Hawthorne seems to caution. In Maule's mind, he is taking control of Alice's emotions and actions as a way of returning honor to his family. The haughty Pyncheons will pay for their actions. However, he goes too far in bringing about the death of Alice—even by his own admission. He is no longer the redeemer of his family but is even more cruel than those he wishes to punish.

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