Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2006
In the spring of 1851, Melville wrote to his Pittsfield neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne, pretending to review his new novel:
“The House of the Seven Gables: A Romance. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. One vol. 16mo, pp. 344.” . . . This book is like a fine old chamber, abundantly, but still judiciously, furnished. . . . There is old china with rare devices, set out on the carved buffet; there are long and indolent lounges to throw yourself upon; there is an admirable sideboard, plentifully stored with good viands; there is a smell as of old wine in the pantry; and finally, in one corner, there is a dark little black-letter volume in golden clasps, entitled “Hawthorne: A Problem.”
This witty letter develops into Melville's famous characterization of Hawthorne as the tragic hero who “says NO! in thunder, but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes” (186). Melville's opening, however, lingering as it does over the household images the novel inspired, suggests his acute awareness of Hawthorne's private side.