A Burden of the Past

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When I lived in Ipswich, Massachusetts I made several visits to the Salem house that was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.  And I read the book.  One of those trips included my parents who insisted on climbing up the narrow steps to the upper floor.  Especially my mother was enthralled with the house.

This weekend the Wall Street Journal had a nice article by Kelly Scott Franklin, who teaches literature at Hillsdale College, about Hawthorne’s book.  It begins:

When Herman Melville read “The House of the Seven Gables” in April 1851, he wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne a letter in his ebullient prose. “With great enjoyment we spent almost an hour in each separate gable,” he gushed;”it has robbed us of a day, and made us a present of a whole year of thoughtfulness.”  Melville, who would publish “Mody-Dick” later that year, praised the novel’s mood and Hawthorne’s tragic imagination…

Hawthorne’s “The House of the Seven Gables” is a gothic feast.  An aristocratic New England family in the last stages of collapse; the ancestral curse of a hanged wizard; a decaying mansion and a dreadful crime–it’s got all the fun of a good old-fashioned ghost story.  But it also offers Hawthorne’s beautiful meditation on how we might relate to the past.

….[Hawthorne’s] novel actually dramatizes a conflict still at the heart of American culture, about how we relate to our past.  Should we cling to and preserve the past, or do we need a rupture, a radical clean break with our flawed history forever?

Franklin says:

The accomplishment of the novel lies in this: that Hawthorne rejects both extremes, and dramatizes a solution to this burden of the past.

I am going to read the book again.

The article, probably behind a pay wall.


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