Synopses & Reviews
Hawthorne's famous novel about a cursed house and the family within, reissued on the 150th anniversary of publication.
About the Author
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and made his ambition to be a writer while still a teenager. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where the poet Longfellow was also a student, and spent several years travelling in New England and writing short stories before his best-known novel The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. His writing was not at first financially rewarding and he worked as measurer and surveyor in the Boston and Salem Custom Houses. In 1853 he was sent to Liverpool as American consul and then lived in Italy before returning to the US in 1860, where he died in his sleep four years later.
Reading Group Guide
1. Hawthorne considered this novel to be a romance, which in literary terms refers to a narrative, allegorical treatment of heroic, fantastic, or supernatural events. Do you think this term accurately describes the book? Why or why not?
2. What do you make of the relationship between interior consciousness and external appearance in the novel? How does this conflict, as experienced by each of the central characters, inform the novel? And how does the house serve as a metaphor for this struggle?
3. Discuss the theme of class and social structure in the novel. What do you think Hawthorne intends in his depiction of Hepzibah's and Clifford's slow decline, and the curse on the Pyncheons' house? Are these related in any way? What about the role of the Maules?
4. Is the house a kingdom or a prison? Neither, or both? What is the curse that afflicts the Pyncheons? Discuss.
5. Discuss the role played by Holgrave in the novel. How does his nomadic, rootless existence stand in contrast to the Pyncheons? How does his marriage to Phoebe complicate this?
6. Discuss the scene in which Clifford attempts to join the procession. How does this illuminate the fundamental struggle of the Pyncheon family?