"The House of the Seven Gables"

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It's been a very long time since I read anything quite as boring as this. I've been reading it for months just a few pages at a time to get it off my Guilt List and I did succeed in doing that so I guess it wasn't completely pointless. Let me explain why I'll never recommend this book to anybody.

 My copy had 342 pages and nothing actually happened till page 251. The first 250 pages were spent describing the old house, the old woman who lived in the old house, her old brother, their young cousin and a couple of other people. And the garden. It wasn't really that much of a garden but there were pages and pages and pages about the trees, leaves, flowers, bumble bees, how the sun looked on the leaves and flowers and how the breeze moved the leaves and flowers and how the bees moved around the leaves and flowers. Ugh. I've read some wordy authours over the years - Hardy and James can ramble with the best of them - but Hawthorne is in a class of his own. And yet he says quite seriously: "But we strive in vain to put the idea into words." Trust me, there was no striving. He had no problem finding words. Many, many words.

The basic outline of the story is this: (Spoiler alert...but this book is 162 years old so the ending probably isn't much of a secret) Rich guy cheats little guy out of his rightful property. The family living on the property doesn't prosper. The old woman tries to earn money by operating a cent shop out of the house. She rents a room to an idealistic young artist. Her frail, addle-pated brother comes to stay. Their sweet young cousin comes to stay. They sit in the garden. A lot. The young cousin goes home but is coming back very soon. Then, on page 251, their filthy rich evil cousin comes to the house and threatens them. He dies from choking...or something...it's not quite clear. Everything that happens from this point on takes place with the evil cousin's cold, dead body sitting in the parlour. The old woman and her brother take a train to no place in particular and back. The sweet young cousin comes back and has a romantic scene with the artist. They finally tell the authourities about the body, they inherit all the money and they live happily ever after. It's not much of a story and at no point in what little there is did any of the characters feel real or make me care about them. It's like a very dismal fairytale with some - and by some I mean too much -  heavy handed preaching thrown in.

The writing is quaint and old fashioned, with words like quidnuncs and eleemosynary, and would have been pleasant to read if only there hadn't been so many words about so few things.There is lots of foreshadowing in passages like this one: "But Hepzibah did not see that just as there comes a warm sunbeam into every cottage window, so comes a lovebeam of God's care and pity for every separate need." so whatever was coming was never a surprise. (lovebeam...?)

When I read The Scarlet Letter years ago I don't remember it being this much of slog to get through and can only hope The Blithedale Romance won't be as bad because it's still on my list. As for The House Of The Seven Gables, unless you absolutely have to read it for some reason beyond your control, skip it and spend your precious reading time on something more interesting.


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