The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12

Chapter Ten:

The Pyncheon Garden: Phoebe would often read to Clifford in the garden. Holgrave would supply her works of fiction and poetry; the fiction did not interest Clifford, either because he lacked experience to test the fiction or because his grief was a touchstone of reality that few feigned emotions could withstand. He preferred poetry to fiction, and even more than reading preferred to discuss the flowers and life in the garden. As Clifford tasted more happiness, he became more sad: with a mysterious and terrible past and a blank future, he had only this visionary and impalpable now. For Clifford the garden was an Eden. The small hens amused Clifford. They were an immemorial heirloom in the Pyncheon family, tiny and queer looking. On Sundays after church there was ordinarily a little festival in the garden attended by Clifford, Hepzibah, Phoebe, Holgrave and Uncle Venner. Holgrave took pains to establish an intercourse with Clifford, but there was something questionable about his actions.


Clifford, as Hawthorne writes, is "partly crazy and partly an imbecile," with no remaining hopes for the future and no past from which he can take satisfaction. Since he lives within the immediate present, Clifford responds with great force to the various pleasures he experiences, yet each moment of satisfaction makes him more aware that he can only grasp temporal pleasures while avoiding things that may pain him. If Clifford is infantile and even suffers from delusions, he still cannot deny the pain of his past and therefore avoids confronting anything that corresponds to that reality. His greatest enjoyments are representations of human life rather than the actuality of experience. He enjoys the secluded garden with his small circle of companions because it gives the appearance of nature and reality, but is still cut off from any dangers of actual life. For Clifford the garden is an Eden: perfect and harmonious but nevertheless a fantasy separate from the world outside of the House of the Seven Gables.

Holgrave, in contrast, is the only person in Clifford's social circle that belongs to a society outside of the House of the Seven Gables, for Since the eccentric Uncle Venner is an odd outcast from society. The interest that Holgrave shows in Clifford is questionable, as Hawthorne writes, for he seems to take an instrumental interest in Clifford that is not yet discernible. Holgrave observes Clifford as the means to some end that the author has not yet revealed. He approaches Clifford as a person to be studied; just as Phoebe represents femininity to Clifford, Clifford himself represents something undetermined for Holgrave.

Chapter Eleven:

The Arched Window: Clifford seemed content to spend one day after another interminably in the way previously described, but Phoebe often would suggest that he should look to life outside of the house. Clifford was the most inveterate of conservatives. All antique fashions were dear to him. One afternoon a scissor-grinder stops by Pyncheon Street in front of the arched window. Children come running with their mothers' scissors for sharpening. The disagreeable sound annoys everyone but Clifford, who listens with rapturous delight, for the sound had a brisk life and was a reminder of the past. Clifford would lament that there were no stagecoaches nowadays. Only those things that Clifford found beautiful did not need the association of the past. Often Italian boys with barrel-organs would be on Pyncheon Street. They would grind the organs and out would pop little figures, such as a scholar with his book, a miser with his gold, and two lovers kissing. The lovers' kiss was the saddest of these when it ended. Clifford became sad when the organ-grinder would stop, and others could not comprehend his emotions. He went into a tumult, and Hepzibah and Phoebe thought that he went mad. Clifford needed a shock to return to human life; perhaps he even required the great final remedy of death. Clifford mentions to Hepzibah that he could pray again if he went to church, if only because he would have others around him praying. They prepare to go to church, but Clifford relents. He claims that they are ghosts who have no right among human beings, doomed to haunt their house. However, this is not a fair picture of his existence, for Clifford spent most of his time with a childlike lack of grief. One afternoon Clifford was blowing soap bubbles when Judge Pyncheon passes by the house. He makes a sarcastic comment about Clifford still blowing soap bubbles. A palsy of fear overcomes Clifford, as he felt the original horror of the judge proper to a weak character in the presence of such strength.


From the arched window of the House of the Seven Gables, Clifford has a view of the outside world but cannot actually be part of it. Clifford shows the most affinity for those things in the window that remind him most of childhood in general and his experiences as a youth in particular. Clifford is not simply a man who exhibits childlike characteristics; he exists as a youth whose maturation was completely interrupted by his prison sentence. He can only experience fragments of that life he experienced before convicted of murder.

Hawthorne uses the organ grinder and its dancing figures as a metaphor with multiple meanings. The miniature figures on the organ are dense with meaning. They share some affinity with the existence that Clifford experiences. They go through the motions of life but are nevertheless only replicas of actual life. And like Clifford, these figures are subjected to periodic interruptions; just as Clifford experienced decades of cruel stasis while in jail, the figures stop at the whim of the organ grinder. The kissing lovers are the most tragic of these figures because, like Clifford, they are barred from human intercourse. The other figures are solitary persons engaged in simple labor, thus the interruption in their activity only stops them from performing simple, isolated tasks. Hawthorne does not limit the metaphorical implications of the organ grinder to Clifford. He instead inflates the metaphor to encompass all of society. The interruptions in the figures' movement exposes the absurdity of the individual act when examined in a static state. Each of these figures is subject to the whims of the organ grinder, unable to control his fate, but Hawthorne sees this as ridiculous rather than the cause for cynicism. Hawthorne does mention that the scene may indicate how all persons are subject to the same fate and how one's actions eventually come to nothing, but he dismisses this as the musings of a bitter cynic. Rather, Hawthorne adopts for a less nihilistic perspective, intending the scene to show how each of these figures returns to its original state. All return to precisely the same condition as before, corresponding to the novel's theme of the recurring past. Hawthorne does not find the actions of these figures meaningless, for the action is an end in itself. The figures are defined by their actions, thus they cease to have meaning when they stop performing that action. This relates back to Clifford, who exists as one of the figures in stasis. He lacks the humanizing quality of action.

Clifford finally loses his final traces of sanity when he has his most firm grip on reality. He realizes that both he and Hepzibah are not fit to be around normal people, for they exist as ghosts haunting the House of the Seven Gables. He can only find comfort in his childlike behavior, which contrasts sharply with that of the imposing Judge Pyncheon, whose appearance is a sharp reminder that Clifford is not completely isolated within the house. Although Clifford believes he is a ghost, his actions are visible through the arched window. This is particularly painful for Clifford because the Judge intrudes upon Clifford's fragile reality. Clifford demonstrates a palpable fear of the Judge based on past events; these events, Hawthorne indicates, may conform to Pyncheon custom and repeat.

Chapter Twelve:

The Daguerreotypist: When Clifford slept, Phoebe was free to follow her own tastes for the remainder of the day and evening. This freedom was essential to Phoebe's health, for the old house had dry-rot in its walls and was not good to breathe. Phoebe began to understand Clifford better, and Clifford liked that she was not so constantly happy, for her eyes seemed larger, darker and deeper. The only youthful mind with whom Phoebe had regular contact was Holgrave. Both were true New England characters. Holgrave did not come from an elite family, and was self-dependent while still a boy. He was now twenty-two and had been a schoolmaster, a salesman and the political editor of a country newspaper. His present phase as a daguerreotypist was likely to be as impermanent as the previous professions. It was remarkable that he had not lost his identity among these various changes. Holgrave made Phoebe uneasy by his lack of reverence for what was fixed. He appeared to study Phoebe, Clifford and Hepzibah; he seemed to be in the quest of mental food, not heart-sustenance. Phoebe asks what Clifford is to Holgrave, and he answers nothing except an odd and incomprehensible world. He views Clifford and Judge Pyncheon as complexities. Holgrave's error lay in supposing that this age was to trade antiquity entirely for what is new. He had a deep consciousness of inward strength and considered himself a thinker. Holgrave hopes to see the day when no man shall build a house for posterity. He even claims that he lives in the house that he finds abominable in order to know how better to hate it. Clifford mentions the story of Maule to Phoebe. Holgrave believes that the Pyncheons that live in the house have been infected with a kind of lunacy (although he exempts Phoebe from this). Holgrave has been writing a family history of the Pyncheons that he intends to publish.


While Phoebe's domestic gifts and beauty provide Hepzibah and Clifford with sustenance, living within the House of the Seven Gables is no ideal situation for the young woman, who deserves a vital existence that the house and her relatives cannot provide. Her physical appearance reflects this more mournful quality, as Phoebe ceases to appear as the idealized country maiden and becomes more pensive and aware. She does retain some measure of innocence, however; she shares with her older relatives a faith in the conservatives values that the House embodies, despite the fact that those values are contrary to her own status and longings.

Among the Pyncheon dynasty, Mr. Holgrave is the one self-made man. Although the one character who is employed in a profession, he cannot be defined by his career; he retains his identity even as his career path changes from journalist to salesman and daguerreotypist. Rather, Holgrave defines himself by his belief system. He is a clear political liberal, even approaching extremism, who has a strong belief in the efficacy of the solutions he proposes for society's ills. Hawthorne portrays Holgrave as the opposite of the Pyncheon clan while they draw their value solely from posterity, Holgrave believes in regeneration and the foolishness of antiquity.

Hawthorne nevertheless portrays Holgrave as a sinister character with veiled intentions. He studies the Pyncheon family as if gathering information from them, and even reveals to Phoebe aspects of the family history that indicate that he has gathered information about the Pyncheons. In fact, in this chapter Holgrave directly reveals that he has been working on a history of the Pyncheon family. This history thus brings the commercial concerns of Hawthorne's contemporary society together with the aristocratic and monarchical past of Colonel Pyncheon. Furthermore, Holgrave's sense of history serves a dual purpose, foreshadowing later events and allowing Holgrave to serve as a narrator of the Pyncheon past as a juxtaposition with the Pyncheon present.