19 Dec 2011
After reading The Blithedale Romance, I was feeling pretty gung-ho about Hawthorne so I decided to jump into my 2012 To be Read list early and read The House of the Seven Gables next. I finished the book over a week ago and it did not leave me running to the computer to write a review. In fact, the Seven Gables drained the Hawthorne love right out of me.
It was just so boring!!
Phew, I feel better now. You might know from reading the blog that I rarely find a book truly boring. I might struggle with it at the beginning but by the end I almost always find something to love. But not so with The House of the Seven Gables. I don’t even know for sure what it was that held me back from really enjoying it. Maybe my brain was just too busy with other things; Christmas planning, stress over having a new roof built, being sick. I don’t know though, often a book is the perfect escape for these kinds of mental drags. I just could not immerse myself in the Seven Gables.
The House of the Seven Gables is about the last remaining members of the Pyncheon family. Scowling spinster sister Hepzibah, loony old innocent brother Clifford, and angelic country cousin Phoebe. Together with an unrelated lodger, transcendentalist Holgrave, they spend their days and nights holed up in the old Pyncheon house. Part of the reason that I lacked interest in this book was because the entire story is set in the house, or for variety, in the garden out back. You catch on quickly to the metaphor of the seven gables house as an embodiment of the past, sin, greed, and a wickedness being passed down, or pulling down, one generation to the next. The garden on the other hand is your typical Eden. The transcendentalist belief in the purity of hard work and nature is clear here as Phoebe and Holgrave weed the old overgrown garden and create a paradise in the midst of looming house of sin.
Like The Scarlett Letter, which I was also not a huge fan of, the theme in the Seven Gables is so narrowly focused that I think a short story would have sufficed. For me there was just not enough variety to fill an entire novel. The Seven Gables was not particularly gothic, although it is said to be. It was not funny, even though Hawthorne tries very hard to make you see the humor in Hepzibah (I just felt sad for her). Nor was there a twist in the narration or in any of the characters that made your mind keep turning after you set the book down. The very end of the book left some questions but not enough to save the other 275 pages.
Like all of Hawthorne’s work, you could see the seven gables as his transcendentalist vs anti-transcendentalist struggles. He seems to want to believe in the movement and the good that can come out of it. But like Melville, Hawthorne is too much of a realist. The guilt of Calvinism and Puritanism is too ingrained in his soul for him to believe in the natural goodness of man. The Seven Gables hints at this struggle but I found the idea more stimulating in other Hawthorne stories.
So while I didn’t despise The House of the Seven Gables, I just never got over a Meh and a Shrug.