The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | Preface | Summary

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Summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne notes that The House of the Seven Gables is a romance, not a novel. A novel "must rigidly subject itself to laws" and adhere to normal circumstances. A romance, in contrast, gives the writer "a certain latitude" to include elements that do not adhere to everyday life. Hawthorne explicitly states that the book includes elements of the "Marvelous."

The story that follows, according to Hawthorne, includes elements of both genres, but the author would prefer it be read as a romance. Further, the book includes a moral: "wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones." Hawthorne follows this up by saying that he will not "impale the story with its moral as with an iron rod"—in other words, he will let the "moral" be presented more subtly, more organically. He also offers a disclaimer that, despite some resemblance to historical facts and personages, this tale is of the "author's own making."

Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne felt that the novel was too rigid a form for the story. Describing the book as a romance—not a love story, but one with some elements of the fantastic—gave him the leeway he felt he needed to tell the story. He frequently chose this genre for his fiction; The Scarlet Letter is its best-known example. The House of the Seven Gables contains elements of romance but also departs from the genre; characters may have lofty traits, but they are more grounded in reality.

The story includes supernatural elements such as curses and hypnosis, suggesting Gothic components embedded in the romance narrative. The inclusion of these elements may have been what prompted Hawthorne to include the preface. The preface also doubles as a preview, as he reveals the moral that drives the story and serves as the fulcrum of the action. The moral of the story—the "wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones"—is supported by the themes of guilt and retribution. This moral, or theme, is a key characteristic of most Gothic fiction (like Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, one of Hawthorne's influences) and had a major impact on the development of the horror genre throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As Hawthorne notes, however, he wishes to convey his message organically, through the story, rather than "impale" his story with it.

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