Friday, July 24, 2009
Hepzibah and the House
The titular edifice is an old house built about two hundred years before the action of the novel begins. By the time story opens, the house is "dilapidated and rusty visaged" (chapter 4). Interestingly, the house is described as having "a human countenance." The "impending brow brow of the second story" gives the house a "meditative look." The long history of the house causes it to resemble "a great human heart, with a life of its own, and full of rich and somber reminiscences" (chapter 1).
Comparatively, Hawthorne uses similar words and phrases when describing the house and Hepzibah. The latter, "our decayed gentlewoman" (chapter 3), has a "rigid and rusty frame" (chapter 2) while clad in a "rusty blacksilk gown" (chapter 15). The former is "a rusty, crazy, creaky, dry-rotted, dingy, dark, and miserable old dungeon." (chapter 17) Hepzibah, the "mildewed piece of aristocracy" (chapter 3), is "decrepit and dusky" (chapter 5) while the house has "dusky windows" (chapter 5) and "dusky gables" (chapter 6). The scowl of Hepzibah can be compared with the "meditative look" of the house.
Hawthorne personifies the house in Hepzibah. She is sixty years old and is isolated from the rest of humanity. Her nearsightedness has given her a scowl that scares people away and causes her to be viewed as bitter. Due to her deep poverty, she is forced to open a cent shop in part of the house, an unsucessful venture. Her lack of beauty and grace is offensive to her sybarite brother Clifford.
Like Hepzibah, the house is old and worn down. It is no longer located in the fashionable part of town and sticks out like a sore thumb, with its "grime and sordidness" (chapter 9) surrounded by newer houses. The atmosphere of the house has a negative affect on cousin Phoebe, who is bright and vivacious upon arrival but, as a result of her stay in the house, "her petals sometimes drooped a little, in consequence of the heavy atmosphere about her" (chapter 9). Both the house and Hepzibah repel association.