The House of the Seven Gables

Publication history and response

The House of the Seven Gables was Hawthorne's follow-up to his highly successful novel The Scarlet Letter. He began writing it while living in Lenox, Massachusetts in August 1850. By October, he had chosen the title and it was advertised as forthcoming, though the author complained of his slow progress a month later: "I write diligently, but not so rapidly as I hoped... I find the book requires more care and thought than the 'Scarlet Letter'".[3] He hoped the book would be complete by November but would not push himself to commit to a deadline. As he forewarned, "I must not pull up my cabbage by the roots, by way of hastening its growth."[4] By mid-January 1851, he wrote to his publisher James Thomas Fields that the book was nearly finished, "only I am hammering away a little on the roof, and doing a few odd jobs that were left incomplete."[5] He sent the finished manuscript to Fields by the end of the month.[6] His wife Sophia Hawthorne reported to her mother on January 27 that he had read her the ending the night before: "There is unspeakable grace and beauty in the conclusion, throwing back upon the sterner tragedy of the commencement an ethereal light, and a dear home-loveliness and satisfaction."[7]

The House of the Seven Gables was released in the second week of April 1851.[8] Two printings were issued in the first month, a third in May, and a fourth in September 1851, totaling 6,710 copies in its first year (slightly more than The Scarlet Letter in its first year). Hawthorne earned 15% in royalties from the $1.00 cover price.[9] After its publication, Hawthorne said, "It sold finely and seems to have pleased a good many people".[10]

Hawthorne's friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called it "a weird, wild book, like all he writes."[8] Fanny Kemble reported that the book caused a sensation in England equal to Jane Eyre.[11] English critic Henry Chorley also noted that, with The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, "few will dispute [Hawthorne's] claim to rank amongst the most original and complete novelists that have appeared in modern times."[12] Some did not agree. "The book is an affliction", claimed fellow author Catharine Maria Sedgwick. "It affects one like a passage through the wards of an insane asylum."[13] A review in the Christian Examiner complained the book was "more complex, the characterization more exaggerated, and the artistic execution less perfect" than the author's previous novel.[2] Even so, Boston critic Edwin Percy Whipple simply called it his "greatest work".[12] Hawthorne's friend Herman Melville praised the book for its dark themes in a letter to the author:

There is a certain tragic phase of humanity which, in our opinion, was never more powerfuly embodied than by Hawthorne. We mean the tragicalness of human thought in its own unbiased, native, and profounder workings. We think that into no recorded mind has the intense feeling of the visible truth ever entered more deeply than into this man's.[2]

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