chapter  3
16 Pages

Immured in the Past: the House of the Seven Gables

LiketheRomeofTheMarbleFauntheHouseof theSevenGablesoccupiesapreviouslyEdenic space,butonewhichisinscribedbyhistoryand positstheproblemofrenewal,orredoingthepast. Thehouseisbuiltuponagardenplotthatis alreadysoiledbytheabuseofMatthewMaule's rightsasfirstownerandbuilderofacottageon thesite,andhispersecutionasasupposedwizard bythefirstAmericanPyncheon.WhenMatthewMaule builthishousehechoseanArcadianspot:"a naturalspringofsoftandpleasantwater-arare treasureonthesea-girtpeninsula,wherethe puritansettlementwasmadehadearlyinduced[him]tobuildahut,shaggywiththatch..•"(II,6)[1].Thesiteisthusmarkedashavinganoriginal innocence,whichisnotviolatedbytheshaggyhut withitsconnotationsofnaturalness.Thisspace thenbecomesdefiledbyhistory,sothatthepure watersofthespringturnbrackishandproductive ofillness,andthehousesubsequentlyerectedby ColonelPyncheonispopularlysupposedtobe hauntedbytheghostofoldMaule,whichhasasort ofrighttotheapartmentsbecausetheyincludehis oldhomewithinthem."Theterroranduglinessof Maule'scrime,andthewretchednessofhis punishment,woulddarkenthefreshlyplastered walls,andinfectthemwiththescentofanoldand melancholyhouse.Why,then-whilesomuchofthe soilaroundhimwasbestrewnwiththevirginforest leaves-whyshouldColonelPyncheonpreferasite thathadalreadybeenaccurst?"(II,9)Thiswas alsothequestionthatsomuchinterestedHawthorne inTheMarbleFaun:howcouldanysortofrenewal bepossibleinhistory,inaplacedefiledby erationsofexperienceandbyrepetitionsof

Immured in the Past

Immured in the Past

Immured in the Past

...manyofthethemescharacteristicofthe castemannersofthenobilityreappearedin thenineteenthcenturybourgeoisie,butinthe formofbiological,medical,oreugenic precepts.Theconcernwithgenealogybecamea preoccupationwithheredity;butincludedin bourgeoismarriageswerenotonlyeconomic imperativesandrulesofsocialhomogeneity, notonlythepromisesofinheritance,butthe menacesofheredity;familiesworeand concealedasortofreversedandsombre escutcheonwhosedefamatoryquarterswerethe diseasesordefectsofthegroupofrelatives [9]•

ThePyncheonhereditaryillnessprovidesanice exampleofthistransition:itchangesfromacurse onthefamilytoageneticdefectasthe interpretationsofscienceprogress,andinthe samewaythewizard'snecromanticpowersarereread asmesmerisminthenineteenthcentury.Butin itselfthenotionofgeneticismisflat:whatwe mustnoteisthewayinwhichtheideabecomes impresseduponallavailablesurfacesofthenovel. TheColonel'sportrait,forexample,whichisa sortofemblemofthedominantPycheongene, containswithinitselfanimpressionisticrendering ofthetheme:"Inonesense,thispicturehad almostfadedintothecanvass,andhiddenitself behindtheduskinessofage;inanother,shecould notbutfancythatithadbeengrowingmore prominentandstrikinglyexpresssive,eversince herfirstfamiliaritywithit,asachild.For, whilethephysicaloutlineandsubstancewere darkeningawayfromthebeholder'seye,thebold, hard,and,atthesametime,indirectcharacterof themanseemedtobebroughtoutinakindof spiritualrelief."Thenarratorexplainsthatthe artist'sdeepconceptionofhissubject'sinner traitsiswroughtintothepicture,andemerges "afterthesuperficialcoloringhasbeenrubbedoff bytime"(II,58,59).Hawthornewasalwaysconcerned withtheideaof"trace,"ageneralconceptof whichinheritanceisaspecificinstance[10].It proposesanantinomybetweeninnerandouterin whichtheessentialnatureoftheobjectorevent willemergethroughtime,howeveritmaybe temporarilydisguised.TheJudgemaydiffer superficiallyfromhisancestor,havinglessmeat onhim,andalesssternexpression,butheshares thesamedeepcharacteristics;Hepzibah'sgaunt

ImmuredinthePast

skeletonechoestheframeofthehouse,eatenaway bydryrot;Holgravehadwithinhimtheinheritance ofthefirstwizard,expressedinhisname,with itsreferencetotheearlyshallow(andnowempty?) grave;Phoebehastheharmonyandbeauty(ifnot thecoldness)ofAlicePyncheon;theshrunkenhens carryallthefeaturesoftheirgrander progenitors;andthelongdormantseedsplantedby Holgraveproducepeculiarscarletfloweringbeans, whichbringbackthelongdepartedhummingbirds, fortyyearsafterthelasthadflowered.