1. 1.The Acts of Reading in The House of the Seven Gables

1.The Acts of Reading in The House of the Seven Gables

吉田 恭子 慶応大学


This presentation will explore how multi-layered acts of reading help describe the moral and aesthetic intricacy in The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The modes of reading and interpretation presented in the text dictate how to read the text itself and reflect the author’s wishes about how his romance, and romances in general, should be read by his ideal reader. In short, Seven Gables is a romance about how we should read romance.

In order to distinguish a romance from a novel, Hawthorne suggests in his seminal preface that the reading of a romance demands a mental activity different from the one of a novel. “A high truth,” according to Hawthorne, is moral and possibly “adds an artistic glory” to a work of fiction, which manifests itself through a “subtile process” that is “fairly, finely, and skillfully wrought out” by the mutual act between the author and his attentive reader.

Like the author and the reader, the preface and the following narrative are complementary to each other. The preface defines the nature of the following narrative, but furthermore, the narrative self-reflectively demonstrates the preferred way of reading romance by providing both successful and unsatisfactory examples of reading acts on multiple levels. First, the book includes several metaphors central to the technique of the penetrative romance reading: mesmerism, mirror, light and shade, daguerreotypy and portraiture, to name a few. Secondly, Hawthorne and the reader are not the only participants of the reading activity in Seven Gables; the characters’ reading of each other constitutes a network of mutual interpretations, thus providing the reader with an extra level of reading material - a tapestry of the interpersonal relationships or an epitome of society, and a meta-narrative commentary about the act of reading itself.

The presentation will discuss a few such examples from the book. An often quoted example is Clifford’s reading of Phoebe, in a manner that clearly reflects the idea of romance presented in the preface. Another remarkable case is Judge Pyncheon whom the narrator subtly yet strategically excludes from the circle of readers so as to illustrate his moral failure.