The House of the Seven Gables
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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American Authors are slow to make their initial appearance in the 2006 edition of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die book. The first American-authored book is The Last of the Mohicans (Feb. 1826) by James Fenimore Cooper. A cool 16 years later, Edgar Allan Poe published The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), which is a short story. After that it's another decade before Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville join James Fenimore Cooper and Edgar Allan Poe in the canon.
If you look at a Google Ngram of the four Authors: James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, you can learn about their respective popularity/frequency of mention among different time periods. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville emerge together, as is demonstrates in the Ngram comparing the four authors between 1800 and 1855. Initially, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville dwarf James Fenimore Cooper and Edgar Allan Poe. This is likely because Cooper was old and unfashionable, and Poe was unrecognized.
As of 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne is the most frequently mentioned Author among the four, but barely more popular then Herman Melville. If you extend the time line to the present day and look at the respective frequency of mention for the same four authors, it's a much different graph. During the longer time frame, from 1800 to 2010, Nathaniel Hawthorne dominates until 1910, he is eclipsed at that point by Edgar Allan Poe who has a strong lead until the end of World War II, when he is eclipsed by Herman Melville, who benefits from a sharp increase during the 1950s.
This graph reflects the belated recognition of Edgar Allan Poe as a literary genius worth canonizing, and the subsequent canonization. The spike in Herman Melville's frequency of mention is probably caused by the popularity of Moby Dick as a modern/pre-modernist "classic" among the literature departments of American Universities.
The longer period also reflects the decline in popularity of James Fenimore Cooper relative to the other three Authors. The period after 1960 reflects a sharp decline for all four Authors in relative frequency- which probably reflects the addition of more Authors to the literary canon, making these four Authors relatively less important and a smaller portion of the works included.
I agree with everyone else that James Fenimore Cooper is boring. The Sir Walter Scott "historical romance" is a matter for genre fiction now, and doesn't retain a lot of relevance to modern literary style. Of the remaining three Authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne is the most intriguing because of his relative low-profile and number of high quality hits- all written between 1850-1860. I was curt with Hawthorne's, The Blithedale Romance- written in 1852- but I think I was being unfair during that review, and I intend to revise it.
The Wikipedia entry for The House of The Seven Gables calls it a "gothic novel." That is an accurate description. Hawthorne's inclusion of super natural and "cutting edge" social concerns bears some relationship to the blend of interests that feature prominently on say, American Network Television. Kind of a creepy vibe. The House of The Seven Gables is another exhibit in the brief supporting the enduring power of Gothic themed Art. By the publication date of 1851, "Gothic" had been an established literary genre for a century, and Nathaniel Hawthorne was clearly aware of the conventions of literary Gothic-ism.
Importantly though it's an American Gothic set in New England and featuring American characters. Nathaniel Hawthorne was attached to his New England settings, and like The Blithedale Romance, The House of The Seven Gables has references to Mesmerism and Fourierism. (early Communism) Of course, Witchcraft is a central part of the machinery in The House of The Seven Gables. You've never really thought about witches until you've explored Nathaniel Hawthorne's other works.
Nathaniel Hawthorne published three hit novels between 1850 and 1852: The Scarlet Letter, The Blithedale Romance and The House of The Seven Gables. Before that he had been writing short stories for close to two decades. His talent had been recognized by Edgar Allan Poe as early as the 1840s, as Poe wrote in a lengthy review of one of Hawthorne's "Tales" in Godey's Lady Book of 1847.
But it's fair to say that The House of The Seven Gables represents an effort by Hawthorne to "raise his game" and it was largely successful if posterity's long-term recognition is any guide.