Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

The Murder of Judge Pyncheon: Confusion and Suggestion in the House of the Seven Gables

Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

The Murder of Judge Pyncheon: Confusion and Suggestion in the House of the Seven Gables

Article excerpt

In his recent study of The House of the Seven Gables, William J. Scheick says that Hawthorne's novel presents us with a world structured by skeptical empiricism, a world, that is, which we cannot ultimately come to know. Scheick's provocative discussion of the conclusion of Hawthorne's novel maintaines that:

   [its confusion] participates in the vexation of the identity of the
   genre of romance, which coalesces phenomenal experience and dream
   experience without yielding concrete answers as to just what that
   "really" happen; and this confusion engages the reader in attempts
   to read and interpret that are as frustrating as are similar efforts
   by the characters and the narrator in the romance. (1)

But while Scheick's perspective is instructive, I feel that it is ultimately too skeptical. So I want to reconsider the question of who killed Judge Pyncheon, to show that while the confusion here might seen to function like the confusion of the conclusion, it is ultimately radically different. While the search for the murderer certainly frustrates our attempts to read and interpret, it ultimately teaches us how to read in order to interpret. While this such never yields phenomenal concrete answers as to just what did "'really'" happen, it does yield dream experience that can help us with both the genre of romance, it helps us identify Hawthorne's particular type of romance, best characterized by Hawthorne himself in The House of the Seven Gables "Preface." "When romances do really teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually through a far more subtle process that the ostensible one." (2) Indeed, once we can handle the subtle process of Hawthorne's romance, once our search for the Judge's murderer teaches us to handle the Freudian dream-like suppressions of Hawthorne's narrator and get us beyond the false binary of either one answer or no answers, we will ultimately find that we can come to know consummately challenging coalescence of phenomenal experience and dream experience that is The House of the Seven Gables.

There are two extended investigations of Judge Pychncheon's death as homicide. Alfred H. Marks indicts Clifford saying that, "[n]o murder was ever planned so calculatedly [by Hawthorne] as was Judge Pyncheon's demise in this novel." (3) Clara B. Cox says that "while [Marks's] argument that a second party contributed to the Judge's demise adds a new case against Holgrave. (4) I would say that together Marks and Cox add a new dimension to Scheick's study of confusion in the novel because Clifford and Holgrave both seem to viable suspects. Indeed, both seem even more viable suspects than Marks and Cox make them out to be. Marks, for example, never reminds us that emerging from the scene of the crime, Clifford is exposed as unnatutal and deadly: His face eas prenaturally pale; so deadly white" ... (249). And Marks never even introduces Clifford's suspicious defense of murderers which concludes with both his guilty movement from general to particular ("their deed", not "their deeds") and his transparent fear of being caught by yhe telegraph as he flees on the train.

   [A]nd for these murderers, as you phrase it, who are often excusable
   in the motives of their deed, and the deserve to be ranked among the
   public benefactors, if we consider only its result,--for unfortunate
   individuals like these, I really cannot applaud the enlistment of an
   immaterial and miraculous power in the universal world-hunt at their
   heels! (265)

Cox never reminds us that before Phoebe joins him at the scene of the crime, Holgrave projects his own guilty fears: "The presence of yonder dead threw a great black shadow over everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could reach, a scene of guilt and of retribution more dreadful than the guilt" (306). And while Cox does introduce Clifford's ensuing defense of mesmerism--"Mesmerism, now! …

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