The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19-21

Chapter Nineteen:

Alice's Posies: Uncle Venner was the first person to stir the day after the storm. He traveled down Pyncheon street, where one mystic branch hung down before the main entrance of the Seven Gables. This golden branch was like the branch that gained Aeneas and the Sibyl admittance into Hades. Uncle Venner observes the posies that remained in the angle between the two front gables, traditionally known as Alice's Posies. Tradition held that Alice brought the seeds for these flowers from Italy. Uncle Venner goes to the house to inquire about Hepzibah, for he wonders why there was not the pan of scraps for his pig that Hepzibah usually sets out. Holgrave greets Uncle Venner. The two of them wonder where Clifford and Hepzibah are, and Uncle Venner presumes that Jaffrey took them into the country. Mrs. Gubbins, an old maid, comes to the shop to complain about how Hepzibah didn't have it open that day. The little boy Ned complains that he can't get gingerbread. Other people wonder why Judge Pyncheon's affairs were not in order. Various people attempt to communicate with the inhabitants of the mansion. The butcher visits the house to make a delivery and looks in the house; he sees the legs of Judge Pyncheon from the door. The Italian boy plays his music in front of the house, expecting to have Clifford watch him. The Italian boy finds Judge Pyncheon's schedule near the door, which he had likely lost the day before. The various townsfolk decide to go to the city marshal, and say that there was always something sinister in Hepzibah's scowl. Not more than a half hour later Phoebe returns to the House of the Seven Gables. Ned Higgins tells her that there is something sinister in the house, but she goes inside with some apprehension.


Hawthorne approaches the situations that the Pyncheon family faces from a number of perspectives; in this chapter, he views the Pyncheons from the eyes of the disabled Uncle Venner. Each of the characters selects certain aspects of the Pyncheon family tradition: Jaffrey focused on the lost eastern territory, while Holgrave dwells upon the lurid details of Matthew Maule and the Colonel. Uncle Venner views the Pyncheons from an entirely different perspective; he sees the family history as mythology, as shown by the reference to Aeneas, and remembers the positive stories about Alice Pyncheon. However, most of the townspeople view the Pyncheons in instrumental terms. Even Uncle Venner wonders why Hepzibah has not left scraps for his pig. The other townsfolk have more harsh complaints. Ned Higgins wants only gingerbread from Hepzibah, while Mrs. Gubbins complains that she cannot get good service from Hepzibah. This illustrates the different perspective that the town takes of Hepzibah and Clifford. They live within a commercial, market-oriented society, while Hepzibah and Clifford belong to an altogether different tradition in which dynastic norms apply.

Phoebe's return to the house is an unexpected yet propitious event. Her return seems to lack a strong motivation; she comes back from the country without any particular reason, just as she left without any concrete motive. However, her return to the house signals an impending sense of closure, as she prepares to face the family legacy.

Chapter Twenty:

The Flower of Eden: Holgrave, looking paler than ordinary, grasps Phoebe's hand. He smiles at her with genuine warmth. He tells her that they are alone in the house: a terrible event has occurred. He shows her a daguerreotype of Judge Pyncheon. He had taken it within the last hour. He tells her that the Judge is dead and the others have vanished. He admits that there are hereditary reasons that connect him strangely with that man's fate and tells her that he has not opened the doors to call in witnesses because it is better for Clifford and Hepzibah. Holgrave believes that Judge Pyncheon could not have come unfairly to his end: there is a physical predisposition among the Pyncheons to die in this way. However, Clifford's uncle died in the same manner thirty years ago, and Clifford would automatically come under suspicion again. His escape further distorts the matter. Holgrave feels some joy at that moment, for he realizes that he loves Phoebe and declares his love for her. There is a knock at the door; Clifford and Hepzibah have returned home. Clifford appears to be the stronger of the two. He says that he thought immediately of Phoebe when he saw Alice's Posies in bloom. He says that the flower of Eden has bloomed likewise in the old house.


Holgrave's behavior toward Phoebe is completely out of character, a romantic overture toward a character to whom he has shown little interest. They fit together primarily because they are the only young characters in the novel. Even the timing of the proposal is strange at best; The pairing of the two characters is a symbolic union, representing a rejuvenation within the House of the Seven Gables and a move to the future instead of the constant obsession with the past.

Holgrave explains more about what happened to the Judge. The death of Jaffrey is caused by the same physical affliction that caused the death of Clifford's uncle. It was this death for which Clifford was blamed and sentenced to prison. Since it is now clear that Clifford did not murder either Judge Pyncheon or his uncle, the one question that remains is whether he will be implicated in this second death. His return to the house with Hepzibah allows this question to be settled.

Chapter Twenty-One:

The Departure: The sudden death of Judge Pyncheon created a sensation that did not immediately subside. Among the talk of how excellent the judge was lingers a hidden stream of private talk that would shock all decency to speak aloud. Judge Pyncheon was in his youth a wild and brutish man. When he was searching through his uncle's clothes many years before, the old man found him and was startled. He had a stroke and died immediately. Jaffrey found his uncle's will, which favored Clifford, and destroyed it, leaving an older will in his favor. Jaffrey made it appear as if Clifford committed murder. That was Jaffrey's inward criminality. Soon after Jaffrey's death, news arrives that his son died over in Europe. By this misfortune Clifford and Hepzibah became rich. The shock of Judge Pyncheon's death had an invigorating effect on Clifford; the Judge had been a weight on Clifford's psyche. Soon after receiving their inheritance, Clifford, Hepzibah and Phoebe move into the Judge's mansion. Holgrave wonders why the Judge built a house of wood instead of stone, for then he could have passed this house down among the generations. Phoebe remarks how much Holgrave's character has changed. Holgrave finds a recess in the wall behind the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon in which the map and deed to the eastern land has been hidden. Holgrave admits that he knew this because he is actually a Maule, the descendant of the old wizard. Clifford invites Uncle Venner to join them in the Judge's country house. As the Pyncheons leave, two men remark how Hepzibah opened a cent shop and seemingly became rich from it.


Hawthorne does not redeem Judge Pyncheon in his death; rather, he frames Jaffrey as an irredeemable villain whose death is a blessing for the other Pyncheons. It was he who framed Clifford for murder, when in fact the uncle died of natural causes. His death, as well as the death of his son in Europe, becomes a blessing for the remaining Pyncheons, who profit from his demise. Hawthorne even explicitly states that Judge Pyncheon was the weight upon Clifford's psyche that prevented him from living normally. The final destruction of Judge Pyncheon's reputation permits a resuscitation of Clifford's, as he is apparently not blamed for the judge's murder and even granted Jaffrey's property as his closest remaining heir.

Holgrave completely abandons his progressive sociopolitical ideas for a more traditional value system, thus giving up his most distinguishing characteristic. Significantly, he does this when he gains the status and privilege that he once opposed. The views that he once espoused were not strongly held as ideals, but rather as a tactic; he opposed status because it worked against him, then accepts the benefits of the Pyncheon family name once he becomes one.

The events of the final chapter, particularly the intended marriage between Holgrave and Phoebe, absolve the Pyncheon family of its accumulated sins. Since Holgrave is actually a descendant of Matthew Maule, his union with Phoebe brings the two families together harmoniously. As the new heir to the Pyncheon fortune with Phoebe, Holgrave thus will receive the land that his ancestors rightly deserved. By finding the deed and map, the remaining Pyncheons end the family tradition of seeking this legendary fortune for sinister ends.

The ending of The House of the Seven Gables is a case of pure fantasy in the romantic tradition. Not only does it dish out the appropriate rewards to each of the characters, it does so to an absurd extreme. Clifford and Hepzibah do not just escape poverty. They move into their wealthy cousin's mansion and find the deed to the vast eastern property for which generations of Pyncheons have searched. Hawthorne even forces a marriage into the plot in order to complete the requirements of the genre. However, he ends the novel with a sly critique on the romantic form. The two men who remark on Hepzibah's newfound fortune think that she came about it through the modern method of hard work and industry. Rather, the Pyncheons' wealth comes from a more traditional, perhaps even outdated mode, of accumulation. Even when the Pyncheons are redeemed, they still belong to an obsolete romantic tradition.