The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 14

Summary: As he has been reading his manuscript to Phoebe, Holgrave has been engaging in the same mystic gesticulations over her that Matthew Maule, in the story, engages in over Alice. And they seem to have much the same effect on Phoebe as Maules did on Alice. Holgrave, however, stops short of exercising complete influence over Phoebe; out of respect, we are told, for her individuality, he “breaks the spell” (whether figuratively and/or literally, readers are not yet certain). Phoebe tells Holgrave that she will be returning to her home for a few days before coming back to the House of the Seven Gables to take up permanent residence. Holgrave wonders how her absence will affect Hepzibah and particularly Clifford: “I should not wonder if he were to crumble away, some morning, after you are gone, and nothing be seen more of him, except a heap of dust.” He says he feels that the conclusion, the “fifth act,” to the long historical drama-indeed, tragedy-of the Pyncheon family is drawing near.
Two days later, Phoebe makes tearful good-byes to Hepzibah and Clifford. She also takes her leave of Uncle Venner, who compares her to an angel and urges her to return as soon as possible for her two relatives sakes.
Analysis: Holgrave here provides Hawthorne an opportunity to comment on the act of storytelling when he remarks that he views life, not as a full participant, but as an observer. Readers can wonder if Hawthorne himself heard complaints like those of Phoebes: “You talk as if this old house were a theatre.” On a deeper level, however, Holgraves similarity to Matthew Maule is disturbing. As the narrator (now again Hawthornes narrative persona) remarks, “[T]here is no temptation so great as the opportunity of acquiring empire over the human spirit.” This language of temptation naturally again evokes memories of Eden and the Fall. Is Hawthorne perhaps casting Holgrave as the serpent to Phoebes Eve, and possibly even to Cliffords Adam, as they have been established in previous chapters? Readers do not know at this point, but they can profitably reflect on the Hepzibahs observation that Phoebe is no longer quite as innocent as she was when she arrived: “Then, [your] smile chose to shine out-now, you choose it should. There has been too much weight on your spirits.” Coupled with Cliffords comment on Phoebes maturation from girl to woman, readers can feel fairly certain that some “fall” from grace and innocence is already in motion.