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Hawthorne at Salem

Hawthorne - Literature

Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables

The Artist and Alienation: Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables, An Introduction

Material prepared by:
Dr. Melissa Pennell, Department of English 
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of <I><The House of the Seven Gables </I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
 

In The House of the Seven Gables, the character Holgrave inhabits rooms in a distant corner of the house, a situation that reflects his attempts to present himself as an outsider and critic of the status quo. He first appears in Chapter 3 of the novel, but little is revealed about his background or origins, and he seems content to allow the mysteries about his past to go unexplained. He frequently questions the aristocratic sensibility of Hepzibah Pyncheon and expresses his desire to escape the past, its influence and legacy. He professes sympathy with democratic ideals and is rumored to associate with radical figures. Although he claims to have no interest in the past, Holgrave remains unusually pre-occupied with the stories of the inhabitants and history of the Seven Gables. His fascination with these stories as well as his presence in the house cause the reader to wonder what his connections to that history may be. Late in the novel, the reader discovers that Holgrave is a Maule, a descendent of the original owner of the property on which the Seven Gables stands. His need to have lived under an assumed name and to obscure his own past reflects aspects of the alienation that Holgrave feels through much of the novel.

Holgrave presents himself as a jack-of-all-trades, but two of his pursuits reflect his artistic sensibility. He has worked as a daguerrotypist, practicing an early form of photography, and he has written the story of Alice Pyncheon, which he hopes to publish in a magazine. When Jaffrey Pyncheon sits for a portrait, Holgrave finds that he cannot capture a pleasing likeness of him and speculates that Jaffrey is not the man he seems to be in public. His ability to read Jaffrey suggests Holgrave's artistic perception. When Holgrave recites the story of Alice Pyncheon to Phoebe, he also reveals that he has the Maule gift of mesmerism. Hawthorne suggests, however, that Holgrave's ability to mesmerize Phoebe may come from his artistry with words rather than a supernatural power. Holgrave distances himself from his Maule ancestors by not taking advantage of Phoebe while she remains under his influence. His love for her prevents him from doing her harm, but he is aware of the temptation to probe another's heart for its secrets, a theme Hawthorne addressed in many of his works. Some critics feel that Hawthorne projected aspects of himself into Holgrave's character, especially his desire to position himself as an outsider and an observer of others.

The seeming change in Holgrave's character at the end of the novel has troubled many readers. Not only does he reveal himself to be a Maule descendent, but he embraces the ideas about property and status that he had rejected earlier in the novel. Hawthorne has hinted that Holgrave has an attachment to the land through his gardening, but the ideas he expresses late in the novel about building a house that will last strike some readers as artificial. Holgrave also appears ready to abandon his art for the life of a country gentleman-farmer, another change that readers find disturbing. Hawthorne suggests that Phoebe's love has transformed Holgrave, allowing hidden aspects of his self to be acknowledged and drawing him toward wholeness and community. The reader might ask whether Hawthorne suggests that an artist requires a degree of alienation from his or her community to exercise his creative abilities.

Literature Related to Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables

Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of <I><The House of the Seven Gables </I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
 

  • When he first appears in the novel in Chapter Four "The First Customer," Holgrave converses with Hepzibah about the opening of her cent-shop. He attempts to encourage her in her endeavors and expresses his critical views of aristocracy and gentility
     
  • In the chapter "The Pyncheon Garden" Phoebe meets Holgrave. They have a humorous conversation about the Pyncheon chickens, revealing the lighter side of Holgrave's character. He tells her about his efforts in gardening and his work as a daguerreotypist. He claims that a daguerreotype can reveal an individual's secret characterin the way a painter never dares. 
     
  • In the first portion of Chapter 12, "The Daguerreotypist," Hawthorne offers more insight into Holgrave's character, his views of social conditions, and his preference for the future over the past. Holgrave admits his humble origins and lack of formal education. His comments reveal his lack of a fixed and stable place in the social order, suggesting his alienation from middle-class life. His participation in a Fourierist community links him to utopian thinking of the nineteenth century. The narrative suggests, however, that beneath his surface changeability, Holgrave has "never violated the innermost man." 
     
  • Later in Chapter 12, Holgrave admits his interest in the Pyncheons and their past, but does not explain a reason for it. He also remarks upon the difference between his sensibility and Phoebe's. The narrative suggests that Holgrave's idealism is appropriate for a man of his age (22), but leaves the possibility of his acting on his professed beliefs more open-ended.
     
  • Toward the end of Chapter 12, Hawthorne presents the continuing interaction between Holgrave and Phoebe, during which Holgrave declares his rejection of the past and admits that he writes stories for magazines.
     
  • In Chapter 13, Holgrave narrates his story of "Alice Pyncheon," whom he depicts as a proud young woman who is mesmerized and ultimately destroyed by one of the Maules
     
  • At the beginning of Chapter 14, "Phoebe's Good-by," Holgrave discovers that he has mesmerized Phoebe with his words and has her under his power, but the decision he makes reveals that he will not exploit her as his ancestor had Alice.
     
  • During Phoebe's absence from the Seven Gables, Jaffrey invades the house, threatening Hepzibah. When Hepzibah discovers Jaffrey dead in the great chair, she and Clifford flee the house, leaving it eerily silent. Holgrave questions Uncle Venner about this silence at the beginning of Chapter 19, "Alice's Poesies," neither man having any idea what has happened. They comment on the possibility of ghosts and Venner hints at his awareness of Holgrave's love for Phoebe when he mentions Alice's poesies. 
     
  • In Chapter 20, "The Flower of Eden," Phoebe returns to Seven Gables, and she and Holgrave realize that they are alone in the house. Holgrave tells her of Jaffrey's death and of the disappearance of Hepzibah and Clifford. He also informs her of his suspicion that it was Jaffrey who arranged the circumstantial evidence used to convict Clifford. 
     
  • While he and Phoebe are alone, Holgrave professes his love for her and she admits her feelings for him. Holgrave also forecasts his own reversion to a more conservative sensibility, his acceptance of social norms and conventions that he had previously rejected.
     
  • Holgrave confesses that he is a Maule, reclaiming the part of his identity that he has kept hidden. His need to conceal his true self has served as one sign of his alienation in the novel, but his relationship with Phoebe has allowed him to resolve this issue. 
     
  • In the final chapter, "The Departure" Holgrave admits his new conservative leanings, a change of sensibility that surprises Phoebe and has prompted comment from many critics. Holgrave makes no further mention of an artistic or authorial vocation, suggesting that his newfound love and contentment have eased the alienation that aided his artistic pursuits.
      Full text of  The House of the Seven Gables

Images Related to Holgrave and The Artist and Alienation from The House of the Seven Gables

Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of <I><The House of the Seven Gables </I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of 
Holgrave and Phoebe appear as a romantic, almost melodramatic young couple. The cover emphasizes their love story as the dominant feature of Hawthorne's novel.  (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
Holgrave and Phoebe on book cover of Washington Square edition of <I>The House of the Seven Gables</I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on book cover of Washington Square edition of The House of the Seven Gables
This image of Holgrave and Phoebe depicts them as a romantic young couple. None of the problematic aspects of Holgrave’s experience are hinted at in this illustration. (from the collection of Dr. John L. Idol, jr. which now resides in the Peabody Essex Museum)  (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Holgrave from <I>The House of the Seven Gables</I>
Holgrave from The House of the Seven Gables
This illustration from The House of the Seven Gables places Phoebe and Holgrave together in the chicken yard. It emphasizes a pastoral quality in their setting, one that foreshadows their retreat to the country estate at the end of the novel, but that ignores the darkness of Seven Gables.  (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
Book cover of Everyman paperback edition of <I>The House of the Seven Gables</I>
featuring Holgrave and Phoebe
Book cover of Everyman paperback edition of The House of the Seven Gables featuring Holgrave and Phoebe 
For the Everyman edition of The House of the Seven Gables, the illustrator created more stylized images of Holgrave and Phoebe, creating a stronger feeling of distance between them. (from the collection of John L. Idol, Jr. now housed at the Peabody Essex Museum)  (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Last page of Classics Illustrated edition of <I>The House of the Seven Gables</I>
Last page of Classics Illustrated edition of The House of the Seven Gables
In the Classic Comics version of The House of the Seven Gables, Holgrave is transformed into Jonathan Maule, whose goal is to break the curse of the Seven Gables. In this illustration, Holgrave appears older than his twenty-two years might suggest.  (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Depiction of Phoebe's Garden at the House of the Seven Gables by Roy Coombs in <I>Literary Houses - Ten Famous Houses in Fiction</I> edited by Rosalind Ashe (Facts on File, 1982)
Depiction of Phoebe's Garden at the House of the Seven Gables by Roy Coombs in Literary Houses - Ten Famous Houses in Fictionedited by Rosalind Ashe (Facts on File, 1982)
The garden at Seven Gables provides an important escape for Holgrave as well as for Phoebe. This illustration of the garden from Literary Houses—Ten Famous Houses in Fiction presents the Pyncheon garden as a lush and colorful environment.  (courtesy of Facts On File, Inc)
This desk in the “Little Red House” in Lenox is the one at which Hawthorne wrote <I>The House of the Seven Gables</I>.
This desk in the “Little Red House” in Lenox is the one at which Hawthorne wrote The House of the Seven Gables
Holgrave might have sat at a similar desk while he composed his tale of Alice Pyncheon.  (photography by Rich Murphy)

Critical Commentary on Holgrave related to the Artist and Alienation

Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of <I><The House of the Seven Gables </I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
 
As these excerpts from criticism indicate, the interpretation of Holgrave's character has varied widely. Some critics see his character as a reflection of aspects of Hawthorne, while others see sources of his traits in others. His role as an artist defines how many readers interpret his actions and evaluate the implications of the novel's ending.

Multimedia Related to Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables

Lime Kilns
Lime Kilns
 
  • Panorama of the exterior of The House of the Seven Gables Historic site

Websites Related to Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables

Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of <I><The House of the Seven Gables </I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
 

Explore Activities for The Artist and Alienation on Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables

Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of <I><The House of the Seven Gables </I>
Holgrave and Phoebe on Pocket Version of (courtesy of Dr. John L. Idol, Jr.)
 
  1. You have just been hired as an assistant editor at Godey's Lady's Book and your boss has given you a story entitled "Alice Pyncheon" that has been submitted for publication by an unknown author named Holgrave. You must decide whether his story is appropriate for your magazine. You decide to look at some other issues of Godey's to help you decide how to respond to Holgrave's work. Based on what you see in these other issues, what will you tell Holgrave? What suggestions might you make so that his story "fits" your publication? How does his story compare to those that are published in the issues you examine? 
     
  2. As a writer as well as photographer, Holgrave must make notes about what he sees and hears in the house of the seven gables, especially as he encounters the other characters. Hawthorne never allows the reader to see Holgrave's notebook. Pretend that you are Holgrave and write some sample entries for his writer's notebook. You might wish to record his impressions of Phoebe or of Hepzibah or of Clifford. You might also write about how he views the house itself, or what he sees in the garden, or what he thinks of Uncle Venner. You might even want to record some entries that reveal how he feels about himself and the way he has concealed his true identity. Use the selections that appear in the Resources: Related Literature section to provide you with some details for your writing. 
     
  3. Before photography was widely accepted, people thought that it might be "the devil's work" or in some way related to supernatural powers (visit http://www.eyeconart.net/history/photography.htm for further information). Why might this make photography an appropriate art for Holgrave to practice? What does he reveal about photography or daguerreotypes that suggest that the process does have an unexplained power in capturing people's characters as well as their likenesses? To see examples of daguerreotypes visit http://www.photographymuseum.com/sandh1.html for examples of those made in Boston during Hawthorne's day. What might you guess about the people whose portraits you see?