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 nature 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.

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