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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 96

alchemy practised upon the principles of color it multiplies and combines shades of gray until they become—if it is not too fanciful to say so—silver and rose, faded green and dull crimson. The House itself, though the brisk daily life of Salem swirls naturally about it, contrives to stand invested in a cloud of omen projected from the dusky interior which has been innocent of sunshine, physical or moral, for two centuries. Ghosts crowd it, the ghosts of extinct grandeurs which have left dim tokens in portraits and furnishings too valuable for the present fortunes of the Pyncheon stock, and yet fiercely cherished by old Hepzibah, whose pride is a token hardly less dim. All the elements of the story center around these dusky chambers: the ancestral curse upon the founder, the treasure hidden in some forgotten cranny, the faded old brother and sister who when they try to escape are drawn irresistibly back, even the “antique and hereditary” flowers in the garden and the almost exanimate poultry whose “queer, rusty, withered aspect” parallels somewhat over-significantly the appearance of their human owners. The groundwork of this narrative is more richly woven than that of The Scarlet Letter, more full of details which Hawthorne had personally observed, but in picture and atmosphere it is no less finely unified.
  The characters and action suffer a little from the perfection of the background. At certain moments they fade into it and grow indistinct, like men speaking out of dark corners in muted voices. When Hepzibah ventures so far from the recesses of the Pyncheon pride as to begin keeping her poor little shop, the light strikes her and she becomes pathetically real, and again when she puts forth



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