The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9

Chapter Seven:

The Guest: Phoebe awoke and found Hepzibah already in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. She and Phoebe prepare food, despite Hepzibah's lack of a natural inclination for cookery. While they prepare food, there is a constant tremor in Hepzibah's frame, a powerful agitation that seemed an ecstasy of delight, but Hepzibah also shrank into sorrow at times. Hepzibah tells Phoebe that Clifford is coming, and that he will need the great joy that Phoebe can provide. That night, Clifford arrives at the house. He approaches it with the gait of a man who can barely walk. Hepzibah leads him into the house by the hand, and when Clifford sees Phoebe he becomes more cheerful. Phoebe realizes that this must be the person in Hepzibah's miniature. Clifford notices Hepzibah's furrowed brow and wonders whether she is angry at him, but when he hears her voice he realizes that she has nothing but love for him. To Hepzibah Clifford seemed to be by his nature a Sybarite. He had a love and a need for the beautiful, and having been jailed for so long, he rejoiced at any opportunity for beauty, such as visage of Phoebe. Clifford panics upon seeing the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, and begs Hepzibah to cover it. He suggests to Hepzibah that they not live in the dismal house, but go to Europe. When Clifford learns that Hepzibah has opened a shop, he bursts into tears. He finally falls asleep in his chair. While he sleeps, Hepzibah peruses his face, but soon feels guilty for doing so.


The beginning of this chapter establishes the routine within the House of the Seven Gables before Clifford's reappearance. Phoebe has made herself an integral part of the house, while even Hepzibah forces herself into the routine of a working woman, even though cooking and running a shop are against her nature. However, upon Clifford's impending arrival, Hepzibah becomes agitated, for she has waited for the moment for years and now fears that Clifford will be repulsed by her aged scowl and the state of disarray within the House of the Seven Gables.

Hawthorne portrays Clifford as a man who barely exists, much like Hepzibah. He no longer is part of society and has no possessions. He returns to the House of the Seven Gables, which was to be his inheritance, as a guest, as the title of the chapter notes. When he approaches the door, it seems like he does not have the physical strength to walk, and his speech is perfunctory and ill-defined, as if he were merely going through the motions of interaction with Hepzibah and Phoebe. Just as poverty has taken its toll on Hepzibah, decades in prison have reduced Clifford to a fragile state. Yet Clifford demonstrates this fragility through extremes of emotion. While Hepzibah is now dulled by experience, Clifford can only have experiences that are great pains or great pleasures. Even a cup of coffee causes Clifford to enter a state of hysterical pleasure. Clifford responds most intensely to beauty, whether in a vase of flowers or in his cousin Phoebe. Hawthorne demonstrates the other extremes of emotion that Clifford feels when he sees the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon. The portrait induces a feeling of near physical pain, and he demands to have it hidden. This aversion to the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon also serves as a reminder of the Pyncheon past. Before he was sent to prison, it was Clifford who best realized the sins of Colonel Pyncheon and who attempted to make amends to the descendants of Matthew Maule. This therefore sets the stage for a confrontation between Clifford, who wishes to make reparations for the family's checkered history, and other Pyncheons who represent Colonel Pyncheon's point of view.

Chapter Eight:

The Pyncheon of To-Day: The little boy who had bought gingerbread from Hepzibah on the first day returns on an errand for his mother. This little urchin was the very emblem of Father Time, in his all-devouring appetite for gingerbread men and things and because he looked almost as youthful as if he had just been made. The boy, whose name is Ned Higgins, asks for his mother how Old Maid Pyncheon's brother is doing. Phoebe tells him nothing. Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon enters the store and introduces himself to Phoebe. Judge Jaffrey attempts to kiss her (he appears to have no malicious intent) but Phoebe draws back from him. His face hardens at her refusal, and Phoebe realizes that this is the stern man in Holgrave's daguerreotype. Phoebe, seeing the Colonel Pyncheon in his descendant the Judge, wonders whether the weaknesses and defects of the Colonel and his crime had been passed down through the generations. Yet Judge Pyncheon almost immediately less stern, and even compliments her. Phoebe finds important comparisons between rumors about Colonel Pyncheon and facts about the Judge. Phoebe tells Judge Pyncheon that a poor, gentle, childlike man (Clifford) has arrived at the house. Judge Pyncheon realizes that Phoebe knows little of Clifford's history. Phoebe wants to fetch Hepzibah, but Judge Pyncheon is determined to go in the house himself unannounced. He does so and finds Hepzibah, her scowl greater than ever. Judge Pyncheon tells Hepzibah that Clifford belongs to all of them and that he knows how much Clifford requires with his delicate taste and love of the beautiful. He offers to take Clifford off of Hepzibah's hands, but Hepzibah claims that leaving the house would never suit Clifford. Judge Pyncheon demands to see Clifford. Judge Pyncheon appears to be an intimidating man, but he has a resolute sense of purpose and errs mostly in energetically pressing his deeds of kindness on others. When the Judge leaves, Hepzibah grows deadly white and laments her condition to Phoebe. When Phoebe claims that Judge Pyncheon does not have a wicked purpose, Hepzibah says that he has a heart of iron.


Judge Pyncheon is certainly a sinister figure in The House of the Seven Gables, but in this encounter with Phoebe he moves from threatening to more ambiguous to even perhaps benign. Jaffrey is most threatening when he attempts to appear friendly, for it is here where he lays most bare his threatening character and seemingly malevolent intentions. When he smiles at Phoebe to soften his imposing appearance, this smile appears insincere, the attempt of a man to produce an appearance of cordiality where none exists. Phoebe instinctually draws away from the Judge when he approaches to kiss her. This kiss should appear as the most offensive action that the Judge undertakes toward Phoebe, presumptuous and inappropriate, yet it is here that Hawthorne presents the Judge at his most sympathetic. He explicitly states that this was an action of "acknowledged kindred and natural affection," essentially excusing the Judge for this action. The proud man even appears absurd; it is this embarrassment that makes him for the first time a recognizable human. In response to the kiss, the Judge subverts both Phoebe's and the reader's expectations. He becomes stern once more, but soon becomes amiable.

When Jaffrey first appears offended by Phoebe's refusal to kiss him, he manifests those qualities of Colonel Pyncheon. Phoebe recognizes that the daguerreotype that she mistook for Colonel Pyncheon in modern dress was actually Judge Pyncheon, creating another link between the two generations. This connection between Judge Pyncheon and the Colonel leads Hawthorne to develop the idea of recurring familial qualities. He finds that the connection between the two men implies that weaknesses and moral diseases can be passed from one generation to another. Judge Pyncheon therefore represents the sins of his ancestor, a claim that Hawthorne bolsters with his extended list of qualities that Judge Pyncheon and Colonel Pyncheon share.

The suspicion that Phoebe shows of Judge Pyncheon when she refuses to kiss him soon becomes justifiable when he demands to see Clifford. Although he claims to have an affection for his cousin, his insistence that he must see Clifford becomes threatening. Although he does not yet explain the reason for this aversion, Hawthorne establishes that Hepzibah and Clifford fear the Judge.

Hawthorne often refers to Jaffrey as an "honorable" or "excellent man," bestowing positive characteristics on the Judge. However, these qualities do not refer to the Judge's personal qualities, but rather the perception that the public has of Judge Pyncheon. The praise that Hawthorne lavishes on Judge Pyncheon relates only to external perceptions and reputation, rather than to the actual qualities of the man.

Chapter Nine:

Clifford and Phoebe: For years Hepzibah had looked forward to the point at which she now found herself. She had asked for nothing but the opportunity to devote herself to the brother she so loved. She adored giving attention to Clifford, but she also troubled Clifford through innumerable Œsins of emphasis.' The worst burden that she faced from Clifford was his distaste for her appearance. She was a grief to Clifford and she knew it. Phoebe did not quite know the effect that she had on Clifford. For Clifford, Phoebe was the only representative of womankind, yet this sentiment was chaste. He read Phoebe as he would a simple story; she was not an actual fact for him, but the interpretation of all that he had lacked. Phoebe gave him an affectionate regard because he needed so much love and seemed to have received so little.


At the beginning of this chapter, Hawthorne returns the focus of the novel to Hepzibah Pyncheon, whose story had been displaced by the arrivals of Phoebe and Clifford. The return of Clifford had been the only event in Hepzibah's life that she anticipated; with his arrival, Hepzibah actually becomes more bereft, for she now has lost any real hope for the future. She now must toil as a shopkeeper indefinitely. She cannot even please her brother, for her dreaded scowl makes her appearance distasteful for a man so obsessed with beauty. Even those small gestures that she makes for Clifford are met with indifference, such as bringing him reading. As part of a larger household, Hepzibah becomes even more marginalized from the rest of society.

Since Clifford has such a distaste for his sister's appearance, Phoebe becomes the person with whom Clifford spends the most time. Just as she brought life back to the House of the Seven Gables, Phoebe restores Clifford, who responds to her beauty and innocence. Clifford comes to depend on Phoebe, who cannot leave the House of the Seven Gables without Clifford becoming anxious and upset. This is no burden on Phoebe, who remains unaware of her cousin's dependence upon her, but still places her in an uncomfortable situation. Clifford ceases to view Phoebe as an actual person, viewing her instead as a symbol and exemplar of femininity.

The relationship between Clifford, Phoebe and Hepzibah demonstrates Clifford's fragile and essentially superficial character. He is in most respects a child who responds only to simplistic pleasures and pains. Phoebe even serves as Clifford's "guardian" and "playmate," reinforcing the His treatment of both Phoebe and Hepzibah is not commendable, for he depends too greatly on Phoebe while not responding to Hepzibah's desire to aid him, but the only repercussion from this is that Hepzibah remains as dejected as she was before his arrival. Hawthorne thus illustrates the dynamic between the three characters as a means to show how ill-prepared Clifford is to deal with the rest of society, which foreshadows the later problems that Clifford will have in dealing with others outside of his narrow familial arrangement.