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The House of Seven Gables (1851)


This novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1851. It succeeded The Scarlet Letter. As with Hawthorne's own family, the Pyncheon family in the novel suffered from an inherited sin related to witchcraft. Judge Pyncheon, the family elder, is possessed with the idea of purchasing Matthew Maule's property that has a sweet-water spring on it. Maule refuses to sell the property.

Pyncheon determined to buy his neighbor's property has Maule accused of witchcraft; and after being convicted is sentenced to be hanged. Prior to his execution Maule curses Pyncheon, "Pyncheon, God will give you blood to drink and quench your greed for eternity."

After Maule's burial Pyncheon proceeds purchasing the land on which he builds the House of Seven Gables. To celebrate the occasion he invites friends to a housewarming dinner. The Judge never enjoys the dinner as preceding it his friends find him dead slumped in a chair where he suffered a massive throat hemorrhage.

Afterwards the Pyncheon family suffers a social decline until Phoebe later marries a Maule descendant causing the house and property to return to its rightful ownership.

Hawthorne researched his characters: Judge Pyncheon was based on the Reverend Wentworth Upham a minister and mayor of Salem. He wrote the Lectures on Witchcraft (1831) and History of Witchcraft and Salem Village (1867). Both books revealed the malevolence and inaccurate views that he held toward witchcraft but nevertheless established him as an authority on the trials.

The Maule name was derived from Thomas Maule, a merchant living in Salem during the time of the witch trials. Maule was severely criticized not for his religion of a Quaker, but for being out spoken against the Puritan attitude of the time. Maule's own extant writings and historical records prove that his writings attacked the Puritans for executing witches, to the point that Maule himself was tried for seditious libel (but acquitted) after he took the position that it is wrong to execute people for witchcraft (except in cases of murder), and questioned the reliability of the alleged confessions of people accused of being witches.

Maule set forth his views toward witches and their trials in his Truth Maintained and Set Forth (1695), which was his exposition of the Quaker's views of that time. This work claimed that the Puritans were anti-Christian and were trying the witches on "spectral evidence," which was based on testimony of teenaged girls and other witnesses to supernatural incidents that might be products of delusions. His work, which did not cause Maule trouble till the witch mania died down, was later viewed as an attack upon the Salem government itself. Maule, however, was not convicted because his defense was that the work could not actually be connected to him since anyone could have placed his name on the title page; an example, according to him, of "spectral evidence" similar to that which was used against witches. When viewing the personality of Thomas Maule and his actions it is not hard to speculate as to the reason why Hawthorne based his character of Matthew Maule, a man wrongly accused, on him.

An interesting historical note about the House of Seven Gables, which Hawthorne's house is presently called, that remained in its original location near Salem harbor until 1958, then it was moved on the harbor. It was opened to the public in 1959 and remains one of Salem's top tourist attractions.

(An expression of gratitude is extended to James Maule for his assistance in revising this article.)

A.G.H.


Sources:

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, New York: Facts On File, 1989, p. 153

Review of Better That 100 Witches Should Live by Eric Longley (http://www.epinions.com/content_62053518980)

Better That 100 Witches Should Live (http://www.jembook.com/)