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The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables


by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The House of the Seven Gables Chapter 1 Summary

The Old Pyncheon Family

  • In a New England town, on a street called Pyncheon Street, there is an old house with seven gables belonging to the Pyncheon family.
  • (A gable is the pointy part of a sharply angled roof.
  • To see an example, check out this picture of the seven-gabled Turner-Ingersoll house in Salem, Massachusetts.
  • This house is supposed to be the model for Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables.)
  • Before the street became Pyncheon Street, it was called Maule's Lane.
  • Our narrator takes us back in time about 150 years, to the late 1600s.
  • In the early days of the Puritan settlement, Matthew Maule builds a hut there.
  • (For more on the Puritans, check out "In a Nutshell.")
  • As the town grows up around Matthew Maule, a powerful man named Colonel Pyncheon starts trying to take Maule's land.
  • Maule's acre sits next to a much larger property owned by the Colonel.
  • It also has an excellent spring of water, "a rare treasure on the sea-girt peninsula" (1.3).
  • But Maule refuses to give up his acre, which he has worked hard to build up.
  • This fight between Colonel Pyncheon and Matthew Maule over Maule's land goes on for years.
  • It is only resolved with the Maule's death: he is executed for witchcraft.
  • The narrator calls the witch hunts of the Massachusetts colony a "terrible delusion" (1.4).
  • The motives of Colonel Pyncheon in particular seem less than pure, since he is the most insistent accuser of Matthew Maule.
  • When Maule is executed, he points at Colonel Pyncheon and says, "God will give him blood to drink!" (1.4).
  • When Colonel Pyncheon decides to build his family home over the place where Matthew Maule's hut had once been, the townspeople get a little freaked out.
  • They don't actually say that he falsely accused Maule to steal his land, but they do hint "that he [is] about to build his house over an unquiet grave" (1.5).
  • Colonel Pyncheon doesn't care at all about these superstitions.
  • It is a bit weird that, as Colonel Pyncheon starts digging the foundations for his new house, the spring suddenly stops being drinkable.
  • Maybe the digging ruined the water source, but maybe it's something more sinister.
  • The head architect for the House of the Seven Gables is none other than Thomas Maule, Matthew Maule's son. (Whoa.)
  • Thomas Maule builds the house so "faithfully" (1.7) that it's still standing today.
  • It's hard to imagine now – looking at this old, dark house 160 years later – what it must have been like when Colonel Pyncheon held his housewarming party.
  • This housewarming party is supposed to bless the enormous, lavish new home.
  • But something odd happens on the day of the party.
  • The Lieutenant Governor (who represents King William III – this is long before the American Revolution) arrives and expects to meet with Colonel Pyncheon.
  • But Colonel Pyncheon's servant refuses to disturb his master, even if it is for the Governor of the colony.
  • The Governor won't listen to this and goes straight upstairs to find Colonel Pyncheon.
  • He opens the door to Colonel Pyncheon's bedroom.
  • All the other guests crowd around in the doorway.
  • The Colonel's young grandson (Gervayse Pyncheon) walks up to his grandfather, who is seated below a portrait of himself.
  • Gervayse starts to scream.
  • Colonel Pyncheon's throat is covered with blood.
  • He is dead!
  • The town gossips swear that, just then, a "voice spoke loudly among the guests" (1.20), saying: "God hath given him blood to drink!" (1.20).
  • Colonel Pyncheon's sudden death in his new house is a huge scandal.
  • One famous doctor, John Swinnerton, claims that Pyncheon died from "a case of apoplexy" (1.22) – in other words, a stroke.
  • No one thinks Colonel Pyncheon can have been murdered because he was so highly ranked and rich. (Um...those are both great motives for murder. Just saying.)
  • Before Colonel Pyncheon's death, his family seemed set to become one of the richest, most established families in Massachusetts.
  • In addition to his personal wealth, Colonel Pyncheon had successfully made a claim to a huge parcel of land in Maine.
  • But with his death, this claim falls to pieces.
  • His son lacks the "talent and force of character" (1.24) to make this claim stick legally.
  • For almost 100 years the Pyncheon family tries to reclaim this land in Maine, but they always fail.
  • Their claim seems academic and hard to take seriously once English settlers start actually living on this land in Maine.
  • All the same, the Pyncheon family's belief that they own huge tracts of land gives them a sense of personal pride and importance.
  • The Pyncheon family also hangs on to the House of the Seven Gables, even though many of them feel the guilt of that original wrong against Matthew Maule.
  • The villagers don't forget either: whenever a Pyncheon chokes on something, bystanders will say, "He has Maule's blood to drink" (1.27).
  • The Pyncheons sided with King George III during the American Revolution. But the head of the Pyncheon family changed his mind just in time to keep the House of the Seven Gables from getting confiscated after the establishment of the United States.
  • Thirty years before the novel takes place, another terrible death occurs in the Pyncheon family.
  • This one seems to be the murder of an uncle by his nephew.
  • The nephew has enough political connections to get his death sentence changed to life imprisonment.
  • The murder victim was the head of the Pyncheon family at the time, an elderly bachelor named Uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon.
  • He had been researching the case of Matthew Maule, "the wizard" (1.29).
  • He decided that the Pyncheon family had cheated Matthew Maule out of his rightful property.
  • He felt that the Pyncheon family was "in possession of [...] ill gotten spoil [...] with the black stain of blood sunken deep into it" (1.29).
  • So Uncle Jaffrey Pyncheon resolved that the only thing to do was to hand the House of the Seven Gables over to a representative of the Maule family.
  • But he dies before he can complete his plans.
  • The next heir in line is another nephew, the cousin of the "miserable young man" (1.30) who (appears to have) murdered his uncle.
  • This heir is very well placed in Massachusetts society. In fact, he is more successful than any other Pyncheon since "the original Puritan" (1.30), Colonel Pyncheon.
  • He is a judge. His name is also Jaffrey Pyncheon, so we will call him Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon to avoid confusion.
  • By this time, the Pyncheon family appears to be dying out.
  • Judge Pyncheon has one son, who is traveling in Europe.
  • He has his cousin, the murderer, who has been in prison for the last 30 years.
  • The unmarried sister of this murdering cousin lives in the House of the Seven Gables.
  • Judge Pyncheon has offered to support her, but she refuses all of his promises of money.
  • Judge Pyncheon also has a 17-year-old orphan niece.
  • The Maule family seems to have died out entirely.
  • The Maules have two characteristics: 1) They are unusually reserved (and for a New England family to be called unusually
  • reserved, that's saying something); and 2) they are supposed to have unusual power over other people's dreams.
  • Meanwhile, the House of the Seven Gables has also changed.
  • It's no longer in a fashionable part of town.
  • It has an enormous elm out front called the Pyncheon-elm.
  • This elm was planted by a great-grandson of Colonel Pyncheon and is now over 80 years old.
  • The house has grown mossy and run-down with age.
  • In one corner of the house's roof, near the chimney, there are some flowering plants called Alice's Posies.
  • Alice Pyncheon was supposed to have thrown the seeds into the air as a game many, many years before. Against all odds, they took root.
  • The narrator finds it sad and touching to see how Nature tries to cheer up the gloomy old Pyncheon house.
  • The most embarrassing thing about the Pyncheon house is that there is a shop door under one gable.
  • All the Pyncheons are embarrassed at this sign of declining financial and social status.
  • This door was put in about a hundred years before by a Pyncheon head of the household who found himself in a bad financial position. He was forced to buy and sell goods in his own home.
  • As soon as he died, the shop door was closed and locked forever.
  • All of his shelves and ledgers are intact.
  • The villagers say you can see his ghost looking frantically through the shop at night, trying to balance his checkbook.

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