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The House of the Seven Gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapters 13–14

Chapters 11–12

Chapters 15–16

Summary — Chapter 13: Alice Pyncheon

This chapter is the text of Holgrave’s story about the Pyncheon curse, which he reads aloud to Phoebe. Gervayse Pyncheon, the grandson of Colonel Pyncheon, summons a carpenter named Matthew Maule, the grandson of the same Matthew Maule who placed the curse on the Pyncheon family. The younger Maule, a bitter and unpopular carpenter, knows the family legend well and has a deep hatred for the Pyncheons. Maule believes that the house of the seven gables is rightfully his and that the curse will never end until the house has been returned to the Maule family. Although he is only a laborer, Maule defiantly barges into the house through the front door and demands to know what Pyncheon wants. Pyncheon, now a middle-aged man, has not lived in the house for very long. He spent his younger years in Europe, where he got married and traveled the continent. Now that Gervayse has returned to New England, however, he is interested in the large area of land in Maine that Colonel Pyncheon was in the process of acquiring when he died. Gervayse believes that the Maule family may know where the missing deeds to the land are, since the current Matthew Maule’s father, the first Maule’s son, was working on the Pyncheon house when these deeds disappeared.

The Pyncheons have searched thoroughly for the missing document, even digging up the grave of the first Matthew Maule to look for it, but have been unable to find it. The younger Maule turns a deaf ear to Gervayse’s offers of money if he can produce the desired documentation, but he eventually agrees to help Gervayse in exchange for the house of the seven gables. After some deliberation, Gervayse decides that the exchange is worth it, and they have a celebratory drink. Before giving the information, Maule asks to see Gervayse’s young daughter, Alice Pyncheon. Gervayse reluctantly agrees. When Alice enters, she admires the strength and artistry evident in the younger Maule, but he mistakes her glance for haughtiness. He makes her sit down and hypnotizes her. Gervayse has a premonition that Maule is doing something terrible, but Alice waves her father off, and this dismissal, combined with his greed, keep Gervayse from protesting. Maule uses Alice as a medium to contact the spirits of Colonel Pyncheon, the older Matthew Maule, and his own father. In Alice’s vision, the two Maule spirits physically restrain the ghost of the Colonel from divulging the document’s location, and he is so choked with his own secret that he begins to cough up blood. The younger Maule declares that the secret will not be revealed until the deed no longer has value. He tells Pyncheon to keep the house of the seven gables and glories in the fact that he now has control over Alice.

Over the next few years, Maule uses his power to toy with Alice. Regardless of where she is, she is at his beck and call. He can make her happy or sad at the most inopportune times, or have her dance a vulgar jig anytime he pleases. Alice suffers greatly from this indignity, and she refuses to marry while her life is not her own. One night, she is summoned by Maule from a bridal party to a laborer’s home, and trudges through the dark and snow wearing only a light evening gown. She arrives at the home, where Maule is marrying the laborer’s daughter, and he uses his powers to force Alice to wait upon and serve his new bride. Alice wakes up from her trance once the ceremony is over and humbly kisses the new bride before heading back home. Inappropriately clad for the cold weather, however, Alice catches pneumonia and dies. The last marcher in the elaborate funeral procession is Matthew Maule, who is broken with guilt by the way his petty antics, which were only meant to humble, have cost the innocent girl her life.

Summary — Chapter 14: Phoebe’s Good Bye

Holgrave finishes his story and realizes that his graphic description of Maule’s hypnotic techniques have succeeded in mesmerizing Phoebe. For a moment, Holgrave is close to having the same tight grasp on Phoebe as Maule had on Alice, and we are told that for young men of Holgrave’s temperament, there is no greater temptation than this power. The narrator tells us, however, that Holgrave’s integrity and respect for individuality win out and prevent him from taking advantage of his captive audience member. Holgrave wakes Phoebe up. The sun begins to go down, and the young couple is struck by the romantic beauty of the moonlight. Phoebe mentions that she must soon return to her country home for a short time but that she will be back. She expresses some sadness at the fact that she has become less cheery than she used to be, though she also feels that she is wiser, too. Holgrave says this should be cause for celebration, not sadness. Phoebe is now entering the second phase of her youth, Holgrave says, in which she will be able to appreciate her life much more than before.

They then discuss Hepzibah and Clifford, whom Holgrave says are already dead and cannot be brought back. Phoebe is surprised at Holgrave’s pessimism and a little offended by his lack of sensitivity. Holgrave asks her forgiveness and explains that he senses trouble. Judge Pyncheon is a cruel man, he suggests, capable of doing horrible things, but his secrets remain a mystery to Holgrave. Holgrave and Phoebe part as friends. When Phoebe prepares to depart, Hepzibah sadly observes that she has lost her smile because “there has been too much weight on [her] spirits” at the house of the seven gables. Clifford has a good look at her face and notices she is now a woman, beautiful rather than pretty, and no longer a girl. As Phoebe leaves, she runs into Uncle Venner, who again refers to her as an angel and tells her to be sure to come back. He tells her, too, that her presence in the house has greatly brightened the lives of her cousins. Phoebe replies that while she is certainly no angel, she has done what little good she can.

Analysis — Chapters 13–14

The tale of Matthew Maule the younger and Alice Pyncheon is particularly difficult to analyze because even its accuracy is suspect. Throughout the chapter, the exact nature of events is thrown into question—whether the younger Maule and Gervayse sealed their deal with a handshake or with lawyers, what exactly was said in their meeting, and so on. Even the protagonists themselves speak in insinuations and rely on rumors. This story functions as the romantic centerpiece of the novel, combining near-wizardry, spirits, and the tragic death of a young innocent. The chapter may be said to encapsulate the whole of The House of the Seven Gables in exaggerated form, as it is a tale of relative realism laced with a strong dose of the fantastic. Holgrave, who has written this story, becomes representative of the author, and we, in turn, are cast as the captive, hypnotized audience. This representation of storytelling is not particularly cheerful or even tongue-in-cheek. Instead, storytelling is represented as a sort of dark art, capable of giving its practitioners enormous power—a strange commentary for Hawthorne to offer on his own craft of fiction.

The story also introduces a number of close parallels between Holgrave and the Maule family that have been largely dormant until now. Like Holgrave, the younger Matthew Maule is an artist, and though he is a tradesman by profession, Alice is primarily struck by the artistry evident in Maule’s craft. Even more obviously, Holgrave shows the same hypnotic capabilities as the younger Maule, and he ends his story in much the same state as his protagonist does when his spell is over, elated that his subject is now under his spell. Although Maule clearly does not have Gervayse’s best intentions in mind when he casts his spell, he is pleasantly surprised by the power he has over Alice, and his ultimate grief over her death suggests he is not fully aware of the extent of his power. Holgrave’s intentions appear to be purer, but he too is not entirely aware of his abilities. Though he is tempted by the fact that Phoebe has fallen under his spell, it does not appear to be his goal in telling the story. It is important that Holgrave does not follow through on his newfound power—his connection to the Maules remains murky, but he seems to be exercising the willpower necessary to break family patterns.

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