In the House of the Seven Gables (1851) Hawthorne uses portraits to figure the relation between word and image in antebellum America. This relation assumed particular interest following the advent of the dagurreotype in 1839, an event that made portraits more accessible to the middle class, which was also enjoying increased access to books and magazines. Within the novel Hawthorne explores the effects of the proliferation of images in the market by inverting the "natural" attributes of portraits, revealing them to be not static images but rather active agents that extend through time: images that become surrogates for narrative itself. At the same time, the narrative itself. At the same time, the narrative of Seven Gables itself frequently aspires to imitate the still eternity usually associated with the portrait. By thus inverting the traditional attributes of the sister arts, Hawthorne shows that romance can bring visual images to life while also providing a "frame" through which to interpret them. In this way Hawthorne makes an implicit claim for the superiority of fiction over the visual arts. Ultimately, however, this claim for superiority fails as Hawthorne realizes that, in the market, books-no less than portraits-can become static works of art: a stasis necessary in order to maintain "positive contact" with the world.
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