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"Old Esther Dudley"/Introductory Page

Introduction to "Old Esther Dudley"

Materials prepared by:

Cathy Eaton, Department of English
New Hampshire Technical Institute, Concord, NH

Melissa Pennell, Department of English
U. of MA Lowell; Lowell, MA

Mirror like Esther Dudley’s
Mirror like Esther Dudley’s (courtesy of The Beverly Historical Society)
Old Esther Dudley, the title character of Hawthorne's story "Old Esther Dudley," represents one type of female character that Hawthorne developed, an older woman who serves as a legacy and relic of the past. She is proud of her once aristocratic connections, eccentric in her behavior, and gifted with what seem magical abilities to call forth the "presence" of those long gone. She has great affection for children, who do not mind her eccentricities, and often treats them to gingerbread. Old Esther refuses to leave the Province House when the British retreat during the American Revolution, sure that a Royal Governor will return. She sees maintaining the Province House intact and ready for use as her sacred charge. She remains faithful to this charge until her dying day, the day that Governor John Hancock arrives to open the building for the new republic.

In her manner, appearance, and view of the past, Esther anticipates the character of Hepzibah Pyncheon, who plays a major role in Hawthorne's novel The House of the Seven Gables. Both women draw their sense of self in part from their relationship to a house in which they have resided for years. Their ability to preserve the house as they anticipate the return of its rightful resident gives each woman a feeling of pride and of obligation. For Esther Dudley, the figure who arrives at the house is not the man she expects, and she dies believing she has welcomed a traitor. Esther becomes a symbol of a displaced past. Hepzibah is more fortunate, in that her long imprisoned brother Clifford does return to House of the Seven Gables, but his arrival initially does not bring the happiness that Hepzibah anticipated.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11428/

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