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In the final years of the seventeenth century in a small New England town, the venerable Colonel Pyncheon decides to erect a ponderously oak-framed and spacious family mansion. It occupies the spot where Matthew Maule, `an obscure man', had lived in
a log hut, until his execution for witchcraft. From the scaffold, Maule points his finger at the presiding Colonel and cries `God will give him blood to drink!' The fate of Colonel Pyncheon exerts a heavy influence on his descendants in the crumbling
mansion for the next century and a half. Hawthorne called his novel a `Romance', drawing on the Gothic tradition which embraced and exploited the thrills of the supernatural. Unlike The Scarlet Letter, with its unrelentingly dark view of human natur
e and guilt, Hawthorne sought to write `a more natural and healthy product of my mind', a story which would show guilt to be a trick of the imagination. The tension between fantasy and a new realism underpins the novel's descriptive virtuosity.