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Haunted Houses in Literature: House of the Seven Gables

The creaking of stairs, howling noises at night, and shutters that close on their own are just some of the things that authors have described when using a haunted house as part of their tales of horror. Whether the house is haunted by ghosts or in some cases, alive all on its own, the following literary piece includes a spirited house.

The House of the Seven Gables (1851) ”“ written by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne penned this Gothic novel in 1851 where it was published the same year. The tale centers on a New England family that touches upon the supernatural and witchcraft. Hawthorne gained inspiration for the tale from a gabled house in Salem that his cousin (Susanna Ingersoll) owned. He also had ancestors who were involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 that sparked some of the points in the tale. People enjoyed the book, which would go onto strongly influence other writers. Some of the themes explored in the story include guilt, retribution, and atonement.

Plot

A reader is transported back to the mid-19th century where they learn the history of the house throughout the book. Built in the late 17th century, the New England mansion is described as gloomy with a haunted past. Accusations of witchcraft, fraudulent business deals, and sudden death have cast a dark cloud over the property. In the book, the current occupant in the house is Hepzibah Pyncheon ”“ a descendent of the Pyncheon family who is down on her luck. She is a poor, desperate unmarried older woman that opens a shop in one of the rooms in the house so that she can thrive, as well as help support her brother (Clifford), who will soon be released from prison after serving 30 years for killing someone that  we later learn he did not. A wealthy cousin named Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon offers assistance, but she refuses to accept help from him.

A lot is going on in the book. A distinct relative named Phoebe comes to the house and begins to help turn around the circumstances. She does not belong to the Salem aristocracy, but offers assets to the family because she is pretty and full of life. Her role is pivotal because she helps to ease Clifford’s depression, serves as his caretaker in a way, and attracts customers to the shop.

There is also romance that develops between Phoebe and a lodger named Holgrave, who is living in the attic and writing a history of the Pyncheon family. Holgrave is a mysterious fellow who is a descendant of the original Matthew Maule, who had been put to death for witchcraft. It was at the influence of Colonel Jaffrey Pyncheon that he was hung ”“ simply because the Colonel wished to obtain Maule’s property. No one knows the bloodline of Holgrave.

The family is one that is plagued by great burden that lasts for nearly 200 years. The preface of the novel reveals “the wrongdoing of one generation lives into the successive ones and… becomes a pure and uncontrollable mischief.” Throughout the story, there are mentions of ghosts and witchcraft.