The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It is ages since I read this book, in fact I had just begun reading it when we were told by a surveyor that our old house was in need of damp preservation work, all unsuspected by us – I swear those damp meters are far too sensitive! It was a fraught time and on reflection I should probably have given up on this book at that time and started on something jollier. I’m just going to write about some of my memories of it from way back. I think this one was one of my Classics Club Spin books, but life and house moving got in the way.

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne was first published in 1851 and I imagine that it might have been required reading for some American students in schools, and that can be a real off-putter. I know that I’ve read at least one blogger who hated it but I went from thinking – this is dragging a bit and not as good as The Scarlet Letter to deciding that actually I was enjoying it and I ended up thinking that it is better than The Scarlet Letter, despite the fact that it was nothing like I expected it to be. The Scarlet Letter is really a fairly straightforward and old tale but there’s a lot more to this one.

I’m drawn to books which feature houses, especially if the house has been written with as much character and presence as any of the human characters. The house in this book certainly has presence but not in a good way. It’s full of dry and wet rot, the roof is covered with moss and it even has weeds, or should I say – flowers in the wrong place – growing out of the front gable roof. It’s dark and depressing and an unhealthy place to be, and its owner is a scowling old lady who doesn’t want anything to do with anyone.

That’s not the sort of attitude to have if you want to start up a small business, poor Miss Hepzibah Pyncheon has sunk so low (by her estimation) that she is forced to open a cent shop in her front parlour. It’s not going to be a success as she really thinks that she’s above everyone else, she’s living in the past and remembering when her family was one to be reckoned with in the community. The Pyncheon family is much reduced in size and the only other family member still living in the neighbourhood is Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, a wealthy, greedy man who wore out his poor wife in less than four years – “she got her death-blow in the honeymoon and never smiled again.”. Really the mind boggles!!

Hepzibah’s brother Clifford has just been released from prison where he has been for 30 years, convicted of a crime which he didn’t commit and it’s not long before Jaffrey begins to hound him for information on where some fabled family riches are secreted.

The whole book is lifted by the arrival of Phoebe, a young cousin who luckily has none of the Pyncheon family characteristics, she’s a sunny, happy soul and quickly becomes popular in the neighbourhood, helping to make the shop successful and there’s romance in the air too.

I enjoyed this one and I think I might even reread it sometime in the distant future, when I can concentrate on it more and don’t have builders clambering around in my own house. The setting is of course Massachusetts.

You can see images here of the original house with seven gables in Salem, MA and read about it here. I’d love to visit it but it’s just too far for me to contemplate the journey.

April’s Classics Challenge at November’s Autumn

This month I read The Scarlet Letter and the April prompt is about book covers. Unfortunately I can’t find an image of the edition which I read, but it wasn’t a great cover anyway. It just had a few Puritan men on it.

There are absolutely loads of book covers for The Scarlet Letter, these are a few of the ones which I think are quite good although I’m not so keen on the letter A in amongst the trees on the first one. The Manga version is more of an illustration of the books contents and in a modern sort of way I quite like it.

I think the cover designers have been a bit lazy over the years though and most of them are opting for the obvious letter A. Having said that I think my favourite version here is the Penguin cover as it seems a bit more restrained and classical than the others.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I bought this book twenty years ago, intending to read it then but I’ve just got around to it, I don’t do many things fast. It’s one of those books which always seem to be being mentioned which is why I wanted to read it as I had only a vague idea of what it was about. I’m sure everybody else has read it. The book was first published in 1850 and has been described as a romantic mystery. It is set in 17th century New England.

Hester Prynne is a young married woman whose husband has been absent for many years so when she gives birth to a daughter the powers that be in the American Puritan town in which she lives, decide that she must wear a scarlet letter on her breast as a punishment for the rest of her life. The letter is A for adulterer and Hester could have been condemned to death but instead she has to stand on a wooden platform/scaffold for three hours with her baby daughter, Pearl.

Hester’s misfortune doesn’t get her down and she shows great character in coping with the situation and refusing to divulge the name of Pearl’s father. As she is a talented needlewoman she embroiders her letter A in gold thread, using fancy stitches which gain the admiration of the women of the town.

The mystery is, who is Pearl’s father and is he amongst the observers.

I can’t say I really enjoyed this book because it was obvious who the father was and I was so annoyed that he was such a hypocrite and just left Hester to struggle on on her own. The fact that he had a bit of a guilty conscience didn’t go anywhere close to him redeeming himself. To my way of thinking he was more than a wee bit of a swine.

Poor Hester was not good at choosing men. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth turns up in town just in time to see the spectacle of Hester being shamed but they keep quite about their relationship and when Roger realises who has been ‘keeping company’ with Hester he sets about befriending the culprit with the intention of dosing him up with herbal ‘medicines’.

Anyway, there wouldn’t have been a story if Hester had been a good judge of men and I must admit that I feel a sense of satisfaction that I’ve read it at last. The Scarlet Letter was on my list of 55 classic books to be read within five years or so at A Room of One’s Own.

A Classics Challenge

November's Autumn

I had absolutely no intention of ever doing any more challenges but when I saw this classics one which is being hosted by Katherine Cox at November’s Autumn I decided to join in because it will fit in with my reading for 2012 anyway. It’s more of a bloghop really, with the action going on on the 4th of the month – which should be fun!

So my list of seven classic books to be read in 2012 is:

1. The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

2. The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope

3. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

4. Summer by Edith Wharton

5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

6. The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

7. The Pirate by Sir Walter Scott

I haven’t read any of these books before but they’ve been hanging around the house for years, patiently waiting to be read so this challenge is really going to encourage me to get stuck into them at last. It’ll be interesting to see what the other people involved in the challenge are planning on reading too.

Thanks Katherine, for organising it all.