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The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Chapter 20 : The Flower of Eden | Summary



Phoebe Pyncheon does not know who brought her into the house. The hand applied a "gentle and warm pressure ... which caused her heart to leap and thrill with an indefinable shiver of enjoyment." She soon sees Holgrave, who is happy to see her. Holgrave tells Phoebe what has happened. She is in shock and wants to let people know what has occurred. Holgrave is reluctant to do so because he feels people will suspect Clifford Pyncheon because Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon's death occurred in a similar way to that of Uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon, which Clifford was blamed for. Holgrave does not share this belief, as he sees similarities between the deaths of Judge Pyncheon and past Pyncheons. He notes that a reasonable court would see that the judge came to his end by means of the same hereditary condition that afflicted and ultimately killed the colonel. He does not want to announce the death until Clifford and Hepzibah Pyncheon return or until they are brought back.

Holgrave feels that keeping the situation to himself and Phoebe "bound them to each other." Holgrave then confesses his love for Phoebe. When asked if she feels the same, Phoebe is reluctant as she believes she is too simple for him and they cannot appreciate each other's ways. She ultimately confesses to loving Holgrave in return.

Hepzibah and Clifford return home. Clifford is afraid the house will be even more dreary because Phoebe is not there. Phoebe runs toward her cousins. Hepzibah breaks down in tears, happy to be relieved of the responsibility. When Clifford sees Phoebe and Holgrave together, he says the "flower of Eden has bloomed."


An indication of Nathaniel Hawthorne's imitation of the Radcliffe variation on the Gothic, Holgrave plays the role of detective, rationally piecing together the story and proving that supernatural forces were not likely to blame for the Pyncheon family's history of tragedy. Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon died under similar circumstances as his uncle, and Clifford Pyncheon was blamed for this death. Yet Judge Pyncheon's death in the family is due to natural causes, says Holgrave. He also believes the death of the uncle 30 years ago was arranged by Judge Pyncheon. Though more fully developed than her Gothic models of the previous century, Phoebe Pyncheon still does not possess the analytical skills of her male counterpart, indicating Hawthorne's allegiance to conventional notions of femininity. In the chapter opening scenes, Phoebe's fear is causing her to act rashly, which could cause trouble for Hepzibah and Clifford. Holgrave's methodical thought process and planning ultimately saves the siblings.

The declaration of love between Phoebe and Holgrave ostensibly fulfills the narrator's promise to offer a romance. But readers should not forget Hawthorne's definition of that genre: it involves elements of the "Marvelous," a term implying its origins in fantastic literature. In other words, Hawthorne is not just talking about courtship and romantic happenings but rather lofty, idealized events carried out by characters whose actions have heightened or symbolic significance. Key examples of the sort of romance Hawthorne was thinking of include medieval tales of dashing knights, damsels in distress, and supernatural quests. Phoebe's role as angel is one such example of the romance elements. But the novel involves its own series of quests—though without much actual physical journey—that is, until Phoebe makes the all-important journey back to the House of the Seven Gables. Otherwise, for Phoebe, Holgrave, Clifford, and Hepzibah,there has been spiritual or internal quests, which reflect the medieval romance tradition but also reiterate Hawthorne's transcendentalist themes. Reform in the novel might be on the social scale, with the end of an aristocratic legacy and the beginning of a middle-class lifestyle (the implications of which are further apparent in Chapter 21); but reform happens in the soul, in the heart, and there's no better example than Holgrave's and Phoebe's union.

Perhaps the relationship between these two is hard to fathom for the reader; it is certainly unconventional as far as traditional romance goes. As Phoebe says, "How can you love a simple girl like me?" and adds, "You have many, many thoughts ... but I have not scope enough to make you happy." While Phoebe is described in glowing terms—multiple times she is called an angel—her gifts should not appeal to a man like Holgrave whose desire for movement make him an unlikely person to marry. However, the goodness in Phoebe attracts Holgrave, and he even admits that he has undergone a kind of reform: "I have a presentiment that, hereafter, it will be my lot to set out trees, to make fences,—perhaps, even, in due time, to build a house for another generation,—in a word, to conform myself to laws and the peaceful practice of society. Your poise will be more powerful than any oscillating tendency of mine." Even when Phoebe seems doubtful, the narrator explains that, when she admits her love for Holgrave, a "miracle" takes place: "The bliss which makes all things true, beautiful, and holy shone around this youth and maiden. They were conscious of nothing sad nor old. They transfigured the earth, and made it Eden again, and themselves the two first dwellers in it."

Hawthorne's domestic theme has come full circle here, as both Holgrave and Phoebe have returned to the place where they first met. They show the transformative power of both nature and the homestead; here again, readers should see a divergence from both romance and Gothic literature (particularly with the domestic theme). Previously a radical in his mindset, Holgrave has more recently undergone a change in his embrace of "fences" and "laws"; he is tired of "oscillating," seeing the full bloom of Phoebe's more stable beauty and love.

More change occurs in this turbulent chapter. Just as he echoed Holgrave's nomadic philosophy of doing away with borders and barriers, Clifford also yields to domesticity. As he declares upon his arrival: "A dreary home, Hepzibah! But you have done well to bring me hither!" Like Holgrave, Clifford has come around to the view that the homestead, which supplies foundation and stability, might be a better choice than nomadic rambling—or what Holgrave calls the "oscillating tendency." In his remark, "the flower of Eden has bloomed," Clifford also makes more explicit the link between two agents of beauty, love, and growth: Alice and Phoebe. Both women have had a lasting impact on domesticating the Gothic horrors of the Pyncheon home by offering a more moderate (or in the case of Phoebe, middle-class) alternative to both aristocratic decadence and lower-class vengefulness.

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