CliffsNotes on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables

CliffsNotes on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables

CliffsNotes on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables

CliffsNotes on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables


The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background. The latest generation of titles in this series also feature glossaries and visual elements that complement the classic, familiar format.

CliffsNotes on The House of Seven Gables helps you explore this tale of a family curse and inherited sin. Once wealthy and now in a state of constant degeneration, both the Maule family and their grand mansion fall to the forces of society and mystery. They can escape from the bondage which the past imposes, but how?

This concise supplement to Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables, helps you understand the overall structure of the novel, actions and motivations of the characters, and the social and cultural perspectives of the author. Features that help you study include

  • Chapter-by-chapter summaries and commentaries
  • A chronology of the author's life offers insight into his writing style
  • Descriptive character analyses
  • Critical essays on the Preface to the novel and on Hawthorne's use of symbols
  • A review section that tests your knowledge, and suggested essay topics

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When Hawthorne defined his purpose as a writer of “romances,” his first care was to distinguish the romance from the novel. After we finish reading his definition of a novel, as opposed to a romance, we get the feeling that Hawthorne was groping toward a conception of fiction that was more unique than he realized. Others before him, from Henry Fielding on, had wondered where to place fiction among the several kinds of literature, but Hawthorne’s emphasis on fiction as an art form, his insistence that it be tested by laws appropriate to its mode of existence rather than to its accuracy as a document, clearly establishes a sound critical principle for distinguishing the novel from a romance. Other critics such as Henry James, who wrote a critical book on Hawthorne, elaborates upon the distinction, but, here, Hawthorne’s choice of an analogy is particularly relevant to his argument. But most important of all to Hawthorne’s distinction between a romance and a novel is his life-long insistence that the kind of truth which he wanted to portray was the “truth of the human heart,” and that the best way to portray this was by using the strategy of indirection. The “truth” which he hoped to conceive is of a different order from the truth conveyed by ordinary didactic fiction, by philosophy, or by the symbolism of the exact sciences. It is a truth that can be expressed only in the images of the imagination, and as Hawthorne himself thought, this truth cannot be “grasped” except in such images. The most striking way in which Hawthorne’s work foreshadows all modern fiction lies in the mythic and poetic aspects of his novel.

When, in the Preface to The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne made his now famous distinction between the novel and the romance, he was not at all intending to assign “truth” to the novel and mere “fantasy,” or escapist dreaming, to the romance. He was distinguishing between “fact” (which the novel deals with) and “truth” (which is the traditional province of the romance), and at the same time he was suggesting an orientation in which “fact” is external and “truth” internal. So far as he was defending, implicitly, the validity of his own. practice as a romancer, he was implying the word “mere” before the word “fact.” (He was ambivalent about this, as he so often was on other matters, to be sure. He thought that Emerson was too idealistic, and he greatly admired the“beef and ale” realism of Anthony . . .

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