The House of the Seven Gables | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The House of the Seven Gables | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables is a chilling narrative famous for its eerily evocative descriptions of the Puritan period in New England. The house for which the novel is named is featured as prominently as any individual character and provides the perfect setting for Hawthorne's Gothic tale.

The House of the Seven Gables centers on the Pyncheon family, a New England dynasty that has faced numerous troubles over the years, seemingly because of witchcraft and curses. Hawthorne portrays the house as a looming connection to the Pyncheons' mysterious history and shows that the family is only able to overcome the perceived curse by abandoning the house altogether and starting a new life in the country. The House of the Seven Gables features the town of Salem, Massachusetts—home of the infamous witch trials in 1692–93—to represent the dark side of 19th-century America, then a nation torn between new innovations and lingering, old superstitions.

1. The House of the Seven Gables was inspired by Hawthorne's cousin's house.

Also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, the House of the Seven Gables is a home in Salem, Massachusetts, built by sea captain John Turner in 1668. The house was eventually sold to Hawthorne's uncle, who left it to his daughter, Susanna. Hawthorne visited his cousin's family frequently at the house, and the setting inspired The House of the Seven Gables.

2. When Hawthorne visited the real House of the Seven Gables, he likely would have only seen three gables.

By the time the House of the Seven Gables had fallen into the hands of Hawthorne's family, it was in a state of disrepair. Hawthorne likely would've only noticed three prominent gables on the structure. The home was eventually acquired by philanthropist Caroline Emmerton, who paid for extensive renovations that returned the house to its former glory, allowing it to serve as a historic site and museum.

3. Hawthorne gave his publisher with colorful excuses about why it took him so long to write The House of the Seven Gables.

Hawthorne repeatedly delayed the preparation of his manuscript and chose unique symbolism to describe his writing process to his publisher. At one point, he wrote, "I must not pull up my cabbage by the roots, by way of hastening its growth." When asked once more about his progress, he noted, "[my] House of the Seven Gables is, so to speak, finished; only I am hammering away a little on the roof, and doing a few odd jobs that were incomplete."

4. Moby-Dick author Herman Melville wrote a letter to Hawthorne praising The House of the Seven Gables.

The two authors were good friends, and Melville wrote a lengthy letter to Hawthorne explaining how pleased he was with The House of the Seven Gables. Melville opined, "The contents of this book do not belie its rich, clustering, romantic title ... This book is like a fine old chamber, abundantly, but still judiciously, furnished with precisely that sort of furniture best fitted to furnish it."

5. Horror author H.P. Lovecraft cited The House of the Seven Gables as an inspiration.

H.P. Lovecraft, famous for his 1928 short story "The Call of Cthulhu," cited Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables as an inspiration for his literature. Lovecraft praised Hawthorne's use of both the house and the eerie town of Salem as the perfect backdrop for horror fiction. Though Lovecraft's fiction contains monsters and hideous, mythological beasts Hawthorne never described in his texts, both authors exhibit a fascination with the tone of Gothic horror.

6. Hawthorne included the character Phoebe as an homage to his wife, Sophia.

Hawthorne created the character Phoebe as a tribute to his wife; Phoebe appears as one of the only cheerful and morally righteous characters in the novel. Upon reading The House of the Seven Gables, Sophia reportedly told her husband, "There is unspeakable grace and beauty in the conclusion ... and a dear home-loveliness and satisfaction." This was in contrast to her comments after reading Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter which, according to Hawthorne, "broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache."

7. A real family with the name Pynchon claimed Hawthorne had slandered them.

Though the family's surname was spelled slightly differently in the book as Pyncheons, the Pynchons were descended from a revolutionary-era resident of Salem named Judge Pynchon. After the publication of The House of the Seven Gables, the Pynchon family accused Hawthorne of painting their family in a negative light. In response Hawthorne denied knowing of any connection to the family and referred to them as "jackasses."

8. Hawthorne's birth home was relocated next to the setting of The House of the Seven Gables.

After the House of the Seven Gables in Salem had been restored and preserved as a historic site, the modest home in which Hawthorne was born in 1804 was relocated onto the property in 1958. Hawthorne's birthplace was originally located a short distance away on Union Street in Salem, but it now stands on the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables as part of the historic landmark. The Hawthorne family lived in the house only until 1808, upon the death of Hawthorne's father.

9. The House of the Seven Gables in Salem also inspired Hawthorne to write a children's book.

Although Hawthorne is most famous for his adult fiction, he also published several children's narratives throughout his career. His first venture into children's literature was an 1840 volume entitled Grandfather's Chair: A History for Youth. The collection of stories was inspired by an ancient chair sitting in Salem's House of the Seven Gables, which a friend suggested he use as a subject for a children's story.

10. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was also inspired by the real House of the Seven Gables.

Hawthorne was not the only authored inspired by the real House of the Seven Gables; his friend and fellow author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was as well after hearing a story about the house. The son of Hawthorne's cousin Susannah had met with Hawthorne and recounted to him a story of two forlorn lovers. Hawthorne proceeded to tell this story to Longfellow, who used the story as the basis for his poem Evangeline. The 1847 poem, considered an epic, tells the tale of an Acadian woman searching for her lost lover, Gabriel. Upon reading The House of the Seven Gables, Longfellow commented that the novel was "a weird, wild book, like all he writes."

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