The House of the Seven Gables: Novel Summary: Chapter 13

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Chapter 13

Summary: Holgrave's story is of carpenter Matthew Maule, grandson of the first Matthew Maule. Maule is summoned to the House of the Seven Gables by its then master, Gervayse Pyncheon. Gervayse was living in the House when Colonel Pyncheon died, supposedly as a result of the curse the former Matthew Maule had placed on the Pyncheon family. Gervayse now tells Matthew that some document relating to the Pyncheon's family claim on the eastern lands was left out in the open in the room in which Matthew's father had once argued with the Colonel about the rightful ownership of the plot on which the House stands. Gervayse insinuates that Matthew's father stole this important document, a document that would definitively settle the claim in the Pyncheons' favor. Gervayse wants Matthew to help him find this document (whether by natural or supernatural means is a question not clearly resolved). Matthew agrees, but only on the condition that he be allowed to see Gervayse's daughter, Alice (the owner of the harpsichord that Hepzibah almost played for Clifford, as readers will recall). He claims that Alice will somehow help him locate the document. When she is summoned, Alice treats Matthew with cool pride. Alice is seated at Matthew's request, and Matthew proceeds to gaze at her and make mysterious gestures over her, "as if directing downward a slow, ponderous, and invisible weight upon the maiden." When Matthew is finished, Alice seems almost a different person: distant, removed, unreachable, dulled. Matthew claims, in fact, that Alice belongs to him: "She is mine! Mine, by the right of the strongest spirit!" He proceeds to try and find the document through Alice, using her as "a kind of telescopic medium" to ascertain its location. He either does not or will not, however; he tells Gervayse, "The custody of this secret, that would so enrich [Colonel Pyncheon's] heirs, makes part of your grandfather's retribution." At these words, Gervayse makes the strange gurgling noise in his throat (a trait he shares with Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon) that recalls the elder Matthew Maule's curse: "So, you have old Maule's blood to drink!" The younger Matthew Maule releases Alice from his mesmeric-like hold over her-but she is not quite freed of his influence: "A will, most unlike her own, constrained her to do its grotesque and fantastic bidding"-laughing, dancing, weeping-at any time. One night, Maule, from a distance, summons Alice into the street in order to wait upon his new bride, the daughter of a common laborer. After she does, Alice is released from the enchantment; she stumbles home in inclement weather and contracts a fatal sickness. Matthew Maule follows her funeral procession in anguish, for he had "meant to humble Alice, not to kill her."
 
Analysis: In this grim chapter, of which Holgrave is (in the narrative context) the author, Hawthorne reintroduces the supernatural. Young Matthew Maule is said to have the same ability that his grandfather had, the "strange power of getting into people's dreams," and his eerie gesticulations over Alice, whom he uses as a psychic medium, certainly have a supernatural effect over her. After Matthew's strange ministrations, Alice reminds readers of no one so much as Clifford Pyncheon: she, like her descendant, is a spirit inclined toward the beautiful who is nonetheless separated from others by "a sense of remote, dim, unattainable distance."
 
This insertion of Holgrave's manuscript into the main body of the narrative raises the issue of narrative reliability. How much does Holgrave regard his account as fiction, and how much, if at all, as fact? He denies giving the various superstitions and legends he reports much credence (as Hawthorne's own narrative persona does from the opening chapter of the novel)-and yet he reports them. For what purpose? The unreliability of Holgrave as a narrator creates doubts about his character for readers. Like Phoebe, we are left to wonder what his true intentions toward the Pyncheon family are.

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