The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorn was the book from my first Classics Club book spin. I was supposed to have it finished by January 5. I started it the last week of December, and didn’t finish until January 13. It wasn’t even that long, and I wasn’t reading anything else to distract me. I just found it terribly dull.
I had such high hopes for this book, since I didn’t dislike The Scarlet Letter, and my favorite English professor had told me this was the Hawthorne he taught in his American literature classes (I now half-suspect this was simply to convince students that British literature is more fun than American).
Top Reasons This Book Was Disappointing:
- The author kept apologizing for his boring characters and plot. Page-space would have been better spent if he’d focused less on apology and more on actually making them interesting.
- Hawthorn’s limited-omniscient narrator spent one. entire. chapter talking to a corpse. We all knew the character was dead, but the narrative voice just kept calling for him to rise up and get on with his schedule. Only one paragraph of this entire chapter was relevant to the plot.
- The ending was happy. Usually I like happy endings, but when I’ve been miserable for the entire book, I expect at least a few characters to be miserable as well.
The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic romance originally published in 1851, and set around the same time. It was the novel Hawthorne published after The Scarlet Letter, and never quite equaled its predecessor’s popularity. It was still plenty popular, though, and I found someone online comparing its reception in America to the UK’s reaction to Jane Eyre, which was published just 4 years earlier (and is a much better book, in case you were wondering).
I felt like this story wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to be. Sometimes it felt like a moral tale, sometimes like a supernatural story, sometimes like a revenge narrative, sometimes a class satire. But the moral is never really a clear part of the story, the apparently “supernatural” is meticulously explained, revenge just sort of happens by chance, and the class satire is only marginally more effective. Obviously it works for some readers, but not for this one.
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