Hepzibah Pyncheon of The House of the Seven Gables is "an old maid"
caught between the world of gentility and the world of practicality. Her former
status is dependent upon wealth (which no longer belongs to her) and a legacy
of belonging to a leading family in Salem. Her sojourn into the world of practicality
involves becoming a shopkeeper and earning her own way. Because she is proud
and because she despises her cousin Judge Pyncheon, she refuses charity and
determines to earn the money she and her brother (soon to be released from prison)
will need for basic necessities. Hepzibah Pyncheon plays a significant role
in The House of the Seven Gables in 10 chapters: 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 15,
16, 17, and 20.
In Chapter 2 - "The Little Shop Window," Hepzibah,
after trying with pathetic results to 'beautify' herself drags her tired
body to open the Cente Shoppe. Hepzibah will be breaking 25 years of relative
seclusion in Seven Gables. This traumatic experience forces her to lower
herself to the inferior position of working for needed additional income.
In Chapter 5- "May and November," Hepzibah shows
remnants of a former gentility. On a tour of the "dusky" Seven Gables, Hepzibah
describes to Phoebe some of the darker histories of the house and hints
at a treasure to be found within the house. Full
text of Chapter 5 - "May and November"
In Chapter 7 - "The Guest," childless Hepzibah,
in a timid display of emotions, alternately embraces Phoebe, loses her temper,
and apologizes. However, when Judge Pyncheon arrives to confront Clifford,
Hepzibah guards the entrance of the house like an avenging "dragon." Full
text of Chapter 7 -"The Guest"
In Chapter 15 - "The Scowl and Smile," after
Phoebe has temporarily returned to the country and during four days of gray,
stormy weather, Hepzibah shrinks into passivity, unable to manage the shoppe
or cheer her brother. When Judge Pyncheon again tries to force an interview
with Clifford, Hepzibah rails against his false claims of affection for
his frail cousin. Full
text of Chapter 15 - "The Scowl and Smile"
In Chapter 16 - "Clifford's Chamber," unable
to withstand Judge Pyncheon's will, Hepzibah sets out to fetch Clifford
but delays and delays as she looks out the windows, hoping to make contact
with some friendly soul. She is in despair, believing that the Judge's errand
will destroy her beloved brother. Full
text of Chapter 16 - "Clifford's Chamber"
In Chapter 17 - "The Flight of Two Owls," Clifford
leads his affrighted sister away from the death chamber of Judge Pyncheon.
He guides her to a train in which they seek release and freedom. Clifford's
brief burst of strength dwindles, and he pleas with Hepzibah to resume her
customary role of protecting him.
Full text of Chapter 17 "The Flight of Two Owls"
little bell--to speak in plainer terms--being fastened over the shop-door, was
so contrived as to vibrate by means of a steel spring, and thus convey notice
to the inner regions of the house, when any customer should cross the threshold.
Its ugly and spiteful little din (heard now for the first time, perhaps, since
Hepzibah's periwigged predecessor had retired from trade) at once set every nerve
of her body in responsive and tumultuous vibration. The crisis was upon her! Her
first customer was at the door!" (The House of the Seven Gables, chapter
Hepzibah Pyncheon may have looked like this portrait of Abigail Gerrish.