Study Guide

The House of the Seven Gables Chapter 12

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 12

The Daguerreotypist

  • Clifford usually gets tired long before sunset, so Phoebe is free to entertain herself in the evening.
  • This is lucky because the House of the Seven Gables is not a cheerful place.
  • The only young person she regularly sees is Mr. Holgrave.
  • Even though they don't have much in common, they are still thrown into society together, so they have to get to know each other.
  • Mr. Holgrave tells Phoebe something of his personal history.
  • He has been supporting himself since he was a kid.
  • Even though Mr. Holgrave is only 22, he still has experience as a teacher, a salesman, and the political editor of a newspaper.
  • He has traveled throughout New England and the Midwest as a peddler and a dentist.
  • He has worked on a ship that sailed to Europe and saw France, Italy, and Germany.
  • He has also given public lectures on hypnotism.
  • Now he takes photographs, but that doesn't seem to be a permanent career for him either.
  • Phoebe continues to find Mr. Holgrave worrisome. She doesn't understand how he can be so stable a person while being completely unstable in his habits.
  • Mr. Holgrave doesn't seem like a warm, friendly person. He spends his time studying people intellectually rather than with sympathy.
  • One day he asks about Clifford. Phoebe says Clifford is happy but easily upset.
  • She doesn't know what upsets him, though: she feels that it's Clifford's private business.
  • Mr. Holgrave promises that he would have no hesitation about finding out everything about Clifford if he could.
  • Mr. Holgrave doesn't understand the mystery between Judge Pyncheon and Clifford, but he lets the topic drop for now.
  • Phoebe can't understand why Mr. Holgrave is so interested.
  • Mr. Holgrave is an idealist, and he thinks it's time for all of the monuments of the past to be torn down in favor of new, modern ways of living.
  • The narrator comments that Mr. Holgrave's ideals are good. His only mistake is in believing that this age will be the one to get rid of the old ways and start all over again.
  • It won't happen, but Mr. Holgrave's ideals will help keep him young.
  • It's tough to know what Mr. Holgrave's career will wind up being, but he's good company for Phoebe for now.
  • Even though Mr. Holgrave thinks he understands Phoebe completely, he is still fascinated and charmed by her. He finds that she makes the House of the Seven Gables seem like a home to him.
  • Phoebe asks how Mr. Holgrave came to lodge with Hepzibah.
  • Mr. Holgrave goes off onto a whole rant about how we need to get rid of the Past.
  • Why should we be slaves to bygone times?
  • Mr. Holgrave wants people to stop passing down these gloomy, weighty homes to their children.
  • It does more harm than good.
  • He thinks the House of the Seven Gables should be "purified with fire, – purified till only its ashes remain!" (12.29).
  • He claims he's living in the house so he can learn better how to hate what it symbolizes, the dead past.
  • After all, the whole crime Colonel Pyncheon committed against Matthew Maule came about from his crazy desire "to plant and endow a family" (12.33).
  • Mr. Holgrave thinks that families should be broken up at least once every 50 years. That way, people won't have time to grow crazy with pride about their families.
  • Mr. Holgrave points to Phoebe's own family as an example. He claims that the committer of the first Pyncheon crime seems to have reproduced himself so that he is now walking the streets once more, with a good chance of passing on "as rich and as wretched an inheritance as he has received" (12.35).
  • Phoebe thinks Mr. Holgrave is getting a bit crazy.
  • Mr. Holgrave blushes. He admits that he is preparing to fictionalize the story of the Pyncheon family and put it in a magazine.
  • Phoebe is surprised that Mr. Holgrave writes for magazines.
  • Mr. Holgrave offers to read Phoebe his story.
  • She agrees, as long as it's not too boring.