The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Contributed by Marinda Dreiling
Chapter 13
Summary

Alice Pyncheon: This chapter, narrated by Holgrave, is a flashback to the years following the construction of the House of the Seven Gables. It has been forty years since the house was built. Scipio, the black servant of Gervayse Pyncheon, brings a message to young Matthew Maule, the grandson of the old wizard of the same name, desiring his presence at the House of the Seven Gables. Scipio claims that Colonel Pyncheon still haunts the house, proof that it is a very good one. Matthew Maule refuses, but does tell Scipio to give his respects to Gervayse’s daughter, Alice. The grandson supposedly had inherited some of his ancestor’s questionable traits, such as a strange power of getting into people’s dreams and heretical religious beliefs. Matthew Maule visits the house, and goes to the front door instead of the side or back doors proper for a worker, for his heart was bitter with the sense of hereditary wrong. Maule meets Mr. Pyncheon in the parlor, where two objects appear prominently. One is a large map of a tract of land, the other is a portrait of a stern old man in Puritan garb. Matthew Maule brings up the dispute over ownership of the house, but Mr. Pyncheon does not want to discuss it. He brings up a claim that the Pyncheon family has on an Eastern tract of land. He tells Maule that Colonel Pyncheon had a deed to this land that has since disappeared. Mr. Pyncheon suspects that the disappearance of this deed had something to do with the Maule family, and there is an ordinary saying that Maule took miles and miles of the Pyncheon land to his grave. Mr. Pyncheon theorizes that Maule’s father took the deeds when he was working for Colonel Pyncheon on the day before the Colonel died. Mr. Pyncheon offers Matthew Maule monetary compensation for information leading to the discovery of the lost deed, and Matthew Maule inquires whether Pyncheon would give him the old wizard’s rightful land (together with the House of the Seven Gables now standing on it). It is rumored that as Mr. Pyncheon and Matthew Maule spoke, the portrait of the Colonel appeared to frown and clench its fists and finally the picture descended bodily from the frame, but such an incredible incident is mere legend. Mr. Pyncheon does consider the offer, since he does not plan to live in the house and considers it inadequate, and consents to the offer. The two men draw up a deed, and Maule asks the favor of talking with Alice Pyncheon. Mr. Pyncheon claims that he is mad for wanting anything to do with his daughter. Still, he calls for his daughter, a lady born and set apart from the vulgar masses by a gentle and cold stateliness, but still retaining a womanly capability of tenderness. Maule believes that Alice looks upon him as a cold brute. With a wave of his hand, by some magic Maule renders Alice incapable of movement, then awakens her. Matthew Maule claims that he now controls her spirit. She describes seeing three figures while in her trance: an aged, stern-looking gentleman with a bloodstain on his richly wrought band, an aged man with a halter about his neck, and a middle-aged man with a carpenter’s rule. These three visionary characters possessed a mutual knowledge of the missing document. From this point Matthew Maule could control Alice Pyncheon’s actions. He did not use this power to ruin her, but to wreak a low, ungenerous scorn upon her. One night Matthew Maule summons Alice to wait upon his fiancee. She returns home that night in inclement weather; from this she falls sick and eventually dies. Matthew Maule did not mean to kill her, but to humble her.

Analysis

In this chapter Hawthorne returns to the history of the Pyncheon family in order to bolster the story of the contemporary Pyncheons. This story serves as a bridge between generations. Gervayse Pyncheon is the young grandson of Colonel Pyncheon who found the old man dead, and the Matthew Maule of this chapter is the grandson of the original wizard of the same name. The chapter establishes a continuity among the generations of the Pyncheon family. The Pyncheon line may be directly connected from Colonel Pyncheon to Gervayse to Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, all of whom share identical qualities. Even Matthew Maule the younger seems a replica of his grandfather; both men share heretical beliefs and the ability to possess others’ dreams.

The reintroduction of the Maule family into the Pyncheon history demonstrates how closely the two families are connected. They share the same fate even generations after the event that first brought Colonel Pyncheon in contact with Matthew Maule. The Maule family holds a serious grudge against the Pyncheons that has not abated. The sin that has remained as a mark among the Pyncheons also exists as a continued injustice against the Maules. The continuity in both families’ histories suggests that there may be a contemporary connection between the Maules and the Pyncheons that has not yet been revealed and may be a critical factor in absolving the family sin.

The chapter, told as legend rather than as direct history, includes a number of supernatural manifestations of the perpetuation of Colonel Pyncheon’s misdeeds. Scipio mentions that Colonel Pyncheon haunts the house, and folklore claims that when Matthew Maule argues with Gervayse the Colonel descended from his own portrait. Along with these incidents relating to Colonel Pyncheon is the mysterious fate of Alice Pyncheon, who is subjected by Maule’s mystical powers. Since the chapter is narrated by a character with a reputation as a fanatic, the literal events may be dismissed as exaggeration or rumor.

The fate of the eastern lands becomes an even more significant part of the Pyncheon family history upon its mention in this chapter. The eastern province proved an obsession for Colonel Pyncheon and Gervayse; since Hawthorne establishes that events recur, one can safely assume that Judge Pyncheon, the character who shares characteristics similar to these two ancestors, will show an interest in the eastern land. The solution to this, however, requires three disparate characters. The stern-looking gentleman is Judge Pyncheon, while the aged man with a halter about his neck is likely Clifford. The one figure who remains unclear is the middle-aged man with a carpenter’s rule.

Hawthorne associates Alice Pyncheon with the elderly Hepzibah. While the young Alice does not have the disadvantage of Hepzibah in her old age, they both share a stately adherence to the codes of conduct for a lady while remaining capable of kindness and generosity. Both characters also serve as the victims among the Pyncheon family, cursed with scorn and humbled by fate. For Hepzibah the indignity comes from a poverty late in life, while Alice suffers humiliation wrought upon her by Matthew Maule.

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