The marvelous queer interiors of the house of the seven gables

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“Marvelous” The House of the Seven Gables is obsessed with law. In his preface, setting out the distinction between novels and romances, Hawthorne associates the former with realism, in which imagination, denied the possibility of fanciful transformation, becomes enslaved to “the probable and ordinary course of man's existence.” Romance, on the contrary, need not “rigidly subject itself to laws,” but, demonstrating “a very minute feeling” for “the possible,” is able “to mingle the Marvelous” (ii: 1) with the probable events of everyday life. “Law” functions here for Hawthorne on several levels. Most immediately, he means “convention,” the things “normal” people expect to happen in a “typical” day, life lived, not as a possibility for invention, but within the comfort of predictable pattern. Yet Hawthorne also attaches convention to more recognizable legal constructs, such as contracts: the preface itself takes on a contractual tone, establishing the terms that, if readers agree to them, will enable the romance to be understood and enjoyed. Hawthorne also invokes the legal protection of property, “by laying up a street that infringes upon nobody's private rights, and appropriating a lot of land which had no visible owner, and building a house of materials long in use for constructing castles in the air” (ii: 3). In the preface, then, Hawthorne attaches the juridical functions of law (the contractual protection of property rights) to the conventions of everyday life (the predictable life-patterns carried out, presumably, within the privately owned home), both laws represented in the plot by the officious, grasping, and literal-minded lawyer, Jaffrey Pyncheon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to
Subtitle of host publicationNathaniel Hawthorne
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780511999635
ISBN (Print)052180745x, 9780521807456
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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