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Hawthorne informs us that we are reading a “Romance,”
a type of work that differs substantially from the traditional novel.
Hawthorne claims that novels adhere closely to the framework of
everyday circumstance. Romances, on the other hand, give the writer more
freedom to present another version of truth, which may be enhanced
with facets that transcend reality. Hawthorne tells us that this
story is actually something of a mix between the two genres, but that
it is primarily a romance. Hawthorne also states that his book exemplifies
the moral that the sins of one generation will be passed on to future
generations; he expresses his hope that he has not made the story
too heavy-handed or moralistic. He concludes with a disclaimer that
we are not to make too many associations between the places and
characters in the story and any possible real-life counterparts.
Hawthorne establishes The House of the Seven Gables as
a definitive break with The Scarlet Letter, placing
great emphasis on the elements of his work that make it a romance.
He portrays the novel as a limited form that is required to remain
true to life, whereas calling his work a romance frees him to dip
into the fantastic and supernatural. Hawthorne also discards the
notion that by saying that his story is a romance he must now present
an unadulterated fantasy, for his narrative will retain the familiar
style of a novel. Hawthorne gives himself the freedom to indulge
in the mysticism necessary to chronicle a cursed family. If we have
any objections to the hypnosis and spontaneous hemorrhages that
will occur later in the novel, we can no longer hold Hawthorne accountable
for our inability to suspend our disbelief. At the same time, by
calling his novel a synthesis of the romance and the novel, Hawthorne
can still ground his novel and its characters in the everyday life
of New England.
Hawthorne is adamant that The House of the Seven
Gables be understood as a work of fiction. Consequently,
he devotes the final passage of the Preface to dispelling the notion
that the novel is a critique of any actual place. Despite their
lineage and prominence, Hawthorne says, the families in this novel
are entirely of his own creation, although, in the case of individual
characters, this may not actually have been so. The feuding ancestors,
for example, were most likely inspired by actual participants in
the infamous Salem witch trials of the 1690s,
when many residents of the Puritan city of Salem, Massachusetts,
were accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death, often without
real trials. The menacing figure of Judge Pyncheon was probably
loosely based on a politician who got Hawthorne fired from his customhouse
Ace your assignments with our guide to The House of the Seven Gables!