Monday, January 16, 2012

Beach Tale: A House that Inspired a Novel

This is a tale about a house by the sea.  A young writer visited often with to pass the time with his cousin, Susannah Ingersoll.  Susannah was the daughter of a wealthy sea captain who lived with her family in a sprawling mansion right on the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean.  The cousins spent many a lively evening in the dining room of said mansion.  Since water was usually unsafe at this period of time (mid 1800s), spirits were often consumed for health’s sake, but it is not clear if said writer ever over-indulged.  But while sitting in that house, something triggered the writer’s imagination, and he went on to write a dark romance, one met with critical acclaim, and one that has stood the test of time.
The novel was first printed in 1851.  The setting was Salem Massachusetts.  The writer was Nathanial Hawthorne, and the book, The House of Seven Gables.   
If you haven’t read it, or in the event you have forgotten, here is the opening paragraph: 

House of Seven Gables, Salem, MA
"Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm."

     Over the holidays, my DH and I journeyed up the coast and paid a visit to the house.  The structure’s age, history and charisma inspired me, too, (although not on the scale of an epic novel.)  I thought a brief blog post about some of the houses’ secrets would be something a little out of the ordinary.  So here we go.
  • The house of seven gables was built in 1668 by Capt. John Turner, but had only two gables at that time.
  • Additions to the house throughout the 1600s brought the total gables to seven. 
  • The Ingersolls (who had purchased it after three generations of Turner ownership) remodeled the house extensively, removing many of the gables (or roof points.)    
  • The house that Nathanial Hawthorne visited only had four gables, but something about seven on one house tickled the writer’s imagination, so that’s what he wrote about. 
  • The house was remodeled again in 1908-1910 in order to turn the house into a museum as a tribute to the famous literary novel.  At this time, the seven gables restored, in order to turn th. 
  • In order to resemble the house depicted in the story, the Cent Shop (set up by main character Hephzibah Pyncheon), which was not a part of the original structure, was added off the back.  (This may be the first case of life imitating art.) 
  • The stairway around the fireplace from which Clifford (Hephzibah’s brother, recently returned from prison after serving time for killing a man) moves about the house at night was not part of the original structure, either.  Documents uncovered in the past few years indicate it had been added as part of a renovation at in the early 1900s.  (The tour includes a climb up the narrow, twisting stairs to an attic space.  It’s pretty cool!)
  • A movie based on the book was made in 1940, however Hephzibah (Margaret Lindsay) and Clifford (Vincent Price—originally cast with Bob Cummings but illness prevent him from fulfilling his commitment) were lovers rather than brothers and sisters.  (Hollywood knows, best, huh?) 
  • A remake of the movie was made in 1967. 
  • According to my research, despite the home standing in a condition that is true to the time period of the novel, neither movie was filmed on location.
  • Inspired by the book, James Mitchell built his own “vision” of a house with seven gables in Mayo, Florida, in the 1880s.  It still stands today.  
If you ever find yourself in Salem, Massachusetts (perhaps doing research for the famous Salem Witch Trials) take the time to tour The House of Seven Gables.  Maybe it will tickle your imagination, too! 


Patricia said...

Loved your story about the house and the seven gables. So cool.

Jolyse Barnett said...

Thanks for your research. I'm a huge fan of Hawthorne's domestic realism. I will definitely put this museum on our to-do list. :)