- Representing Representation: Body as Figure, Frame, and Text in The House of the Seven Gables
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 47, Number 4, Winter 1991
- pp. 1-26
- View Citation
- Additional Information
CHARLES CAMPBELL Representing Representation: Body as Figure, Frame, and Text in The House of the Seven Gables The house of the SEVEN gables is a metaphor become a novel. Using Max Black's terms, the frame of this metaphor is the house; the focus is, primarily, the human body: "The aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also of the long lapse of mortal life . . . that [has] passed within" (5). Its "timbers were oozy, as with the moisture of a human heart" (27); it has an "impending brow" (28), a "skeleton-frame" (136), a "throat" (224), a "battered visage" (81), and "an inner heart" (294). "This heavy-hearted old mansion" (219) is capable of sighing (15) and shivering (224), suffers "the rustiness and infirmity of age" (20), and has a memory "full of rich and somber reminiscences" (27). However, as the traces on its "exterior face" (294) indicate, the house is the body as text: its traces could "form a narrative" (5), fill a . . . folio volume" (6). Inside, "the old structure of our story" (27), "the old house of our narrative" (144) has "walls . . . lugubriously frescoed" with "traditions" (83); walking its "foot-worn passages" recalls "stories, . . . passages of family history" (240). Moreover, the human body may be seen as a text in the same terms, as is the case with Clifford's "furrows—with their record of infinite sorrow, so deeply written across his brow, and so compressed, as with a futile effort to crowd in all the tale" (138). In its complexity, the metaphor of house/body/text becomes a symbol , a symbol of narrative representation—a symbol aware of its "critiArizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 4, Winter 1991 Copyright © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 0004-1610 Charles Campbell cal function, and the object of its criticism is language itself" (Barthes, Criticism 72). The House is a symbolic investigation of narrative language in its attempt to do what Holgrave does in reciting 'Alice Pyncheon " to Phoebe, to bring "the figure . . . bodily before" the reader's "perception" (211). Form is a problem in this text, one which emerges as a problem of the body, beginning with Hepzibah's "gaunt, sallow, rusty-jointed" frame, which is inappropriate for a tragic "history of retribution " (41). The metaphorical identity of body and house in The House of the Seiten Gables functions as a means of examining the representation of reality by narrative language, a reflexive symbolics best understood by focusing attention on the language that designates the human body in the novel. "Figure" is the word most often used in the text to refer to the human body. "Frame" is the next most frequent usage. This essay seeks to examine the operation of these two words, the play of these signifiers, in the text of The House of the Seven Gables. THE FAILURE OF FORM One theme of The House of the Seven Gables concerns guilt and the assigning of guilt to others. As Shoshana Felman discovers in her reading of the readings of The Turn of the Screw (141-247), critical analysis may re-enact the problems of a text rather than elucidate them. Thus critics of The House have related to it judgmentally, and much critical comment has concluded by calling it a failure.1 The ending of the novel is the most frequent cause of complaint: it is "warped" (Abele 67), "split up" (Bewley 445), "inadequate" (Baym 598), "unsatisfactory" (Johnson 76), "trite and inadequate to the gnarled history" (Carton 217), "admittedly disappointing" (Gray 94), and offers no "resolution to the issues of the novel" (De Salvo 96). AU in all, critics contend, the "happy story book ending" (Bewley 448) is inconsistent with the somber issues and radical hopes raised by the story and with its stated moral.2 In sum, these critical accusations aver that the novel is not properly framed; its beginning and ending do not match and so fail to organize and define the issues and expectations raised in the body of the text. Since the house itself is called a "framework" and contains the many frames of...