October Books 7) The House of Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

But as for the old structure of our story, its white-oak frame, and its boards, shingles, and crumbling plaster, and even the huge, clustered chimney in the midst, seemed to constitute only the least and meanest part of its reality. So much of mankind’s varied experience had passed there,—so much had been suffered, and something, too, enjoyed,—that the very timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a heart. It was itself like a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and sombre reminiscences.

When I was about six, I remember a family trip to Salem, MA, where apart from the various witchy stuff we were encouraged to look at the House of Seven Gables. I’m not a huge architecture fan now, and I definitely wasn’t then, and I was left a bit confused as to what a gable actually was, and very confused as to why it should matter. Forty years later, I am now tolerably certain of what a gable is, but just as unsure as to why the House of Seven Gables matters. I thoroughly bounced off The Scarlet Letter a few years back, and I did not find The House of Seven Gables any better. To be honest it lost me in the second chapter, where the author attempts to engage our sympathy for poor Hepzibah, whose unearned income has dwindled to the extent that she must, horror of horrors, face the awful humiliation of opening a shop. Apparently H.P. Lovecraft was inspired by Hawthorne’s luridly over-written style, and the hints of supernatural operation across the generations that form background colour to the story; if so, I think Lovecraft did it better, and certainly more subtly (not an adverb often used of Lovecraft). But the characters are dull and stereotypical, the narrative both meandering and predictable, and the whole thing just not worth reading.

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