I've Got Your Gables Right Here

I like to use summers to further my own education. I go to museums, and I watch documentaries I Tivo'd back in January, and I read books that have some sort of literary merit.

It's sort of like being on a diet, actually. This might explain I kept falling off the wagon when it came to reading The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Here's the thing: I read The Scarlet Letter when I was twelve, and loved it. Hawthorne's short stories are awesome, and I force encourage my kids to read them whenever possible. (Seriously. "Young Goodman Brown." "The Minister's Black Veil." "Rappacchini's Daughter." Read them.) So I fully expected to cakewalk my way through THotSG and come away feeling all cultured and whatnot.

It took me a month to read it and my feelings could best be expressed with a wordless scream and a punch in the mouth.

The story boils down to this:

A long time ago, this mean old Puritan Pyncheon cheated a Puritan Maule out of his land. He accomplished this by accusing Maule of being a wizard, and then watching him hang before he went down to the land deeds office and snapped himself up some land at a REALLY good price. Then, to show there were no hard feelings, Puritan Pyncheon got Dead Maule's son to build his fancy new house for him. Oh, and in the meantime, PP was fixing to sign a deal that would trick a whole bunch of Indians out of a nice piece of land in Maine.

Then, on the day of his housewarming party, PP died. This, so say the townspeople, is because of a curse laid on him by the Dead Puritan Maule.

The house and the family both fall into disrepair, until it's a hundred years later. Hepzibah Pyncheon, an old spinster lady, lives in the house with her brother Clifford. They're really poor, and she just wants to make a nice home for Clifford, so she opens up a little shop in one of the rooms of the house. There's also a dagguer daguerrotyp photographer who boards at the house.

So Hepzibah is really old, right, but she's also nearsighted, so she squints and scowls at things, so people think she's this really mean old lady. She's not; she just doesn't have much in the way of social interaction. And Clifford is not right in the head, or something.

Then their cousin Phoebe comes to visit. Phoebe is young and carefree and all sunshine and lollipops, and when she comes in everybody in the house is sort of cheered up. She takes care of the shop for Hepzibah and the garden for Clifford, and in general, everybody is happy for about two minutes.

That's when the Judge comes in. Judge Pyncheon is this highly respected man in town, and he's the heir to the Pyncheon "fortune," such as it is. And he is a jerk. He is that guy at your office that you HATE, who acts like he's really interested in what you're doing, and he is always really nice to your face, but you know that he's just trying to figure out the best way to screw you over.

Evidently Clifford has just returned to the house after a long absence, which I didn't understand for a long time, either because I didn't read it carefully or because Hawthorne convoluted it up so much with the words and the -- and the ; that it just got all mixed up in my brain. But what it comes down to is this: Clifford was in jail.

And now Clifford is half-senile, and the Judge wants to put him in a home. But first, he wants to torture him a little, because the Judge thinks Clifford knows where the deed is that could get him all that land in Maine that supposedly the old Puritan Pyncheon laid claim to. Oh, and the reason the Judge thinks this is that he himself had been disinherited by their uncle because he'd been caught snooping through the uncle's papers, and Clifford had said something that made him think that he (Clifford) knew where the deed was. And then the uncle died, I think of a heart attack, but they didn't know what that was back then. So the Judge hid the will that disinherited him and implied that Clifford had killed their uncle, and then Clifford went to jail for thirty years and the Judge got all the money.

So one day, Phoebe is out of town and Hepzibah is in a bad mood anyway, when the Judge comes in and demands an audience with Clifford. And Hepzibah dilly-dallies around until the Judge dies. That is not to say that she killed him; it's just that Hawthorne spends about twenty pages talking about how sad she is and how the garden looks deserted and how she's trying to figure out how to save Clifford, and in the meantime the Judge dies. He's sitting in the study in the same chair the Puritan Pyncheon died in, and he's facing the portrait of the PP.

About this time, Clifford comes to life, or something, and he rushes Hepzibah out of the house and they take off on a train. I'm not really clear on whether or not he knows the Judge is dead, but it would all look really suspicious if I didn't have an image of Clifford that is a lot like Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life.

So then there is AN ENTIRE CHAPTER about how the Judge is dead. I KNOW.

Phoebe comes back after a couple of days, and the photographer, whose name is Holgrave, has discovered the body in the meantime. Only he hasn't told anybody about it because he doesn't want Clifford and Hepzibah to get in trouble. So that body has been in that old rotting house for two or three days. But THEN Phoebe and Holgrave go in to look at it, and that is where they declare their love for each other. IN FRONT OF A CORPSE.

Clifford and Hepzibah come back, and of course they didn't kill the Judge. Apparently, the Pyncheon family has a history of high blood pressure or something, because a lot of them had died during fits of rage. The Judge had been extremely stressed with his busy schedule of trying to put Clifford in an asylum and trying to find his mythical deed and also he was fixing to start nominating himself to be the next governor of the state. It was all too much for him and he croaked.

And then Holgrave punches a button on the portrait of the old Puritan Pyncheon, and it falls off the wall because it's so old that button trick doesn't work anymore, and it reveals a hole in the wall. And in that hole is the deed to all that Indian land up in Maine. And the reason Holgrave knew about it is that his last name is really Maule, not Holgrave, and his ancestor who built the house had hidden that deed there a hundred years ago. That was a little bit like a Scooby-Doo ending, if you ask me.

All the Judge's money goes to Hepzibah and Clifford and Phoebe, and they decide to leave the House of the Seven Gables, because it's old and musty and maybe cursed, and everyone lives happily ever after, I presume.

I tried, I really really TRIED, to read this book thoroughly and carefully. But along about the third chapter, I started skipping over the big words, and then along about the tenth chapter, I began skimming paragraphs for the important information. I think you could pretty much read the last five chapters and get the whole story, if you didn't already have this excellent summary.

As for me, I can check this one off the list, but it's going to be a while before Hawthorne and I are friends again.

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