Hepzibah has lived alone in the House of the Seven Gables for thirty years, isolated "until her very brain was impregnated with the dry-rot of its timbers." She is a sixty-year-old spinster who cannot leave the house. Even during her brief flight with her brother Clifford, the house haunts her vision: As the train passes through "miles of varied scenery . . . there was no scene for her" but the house; "This one old house was everywhere. It transported its great, lumbering bulk and set itself down on whatever spot she glanced at."
Poor Hepzibah's dark, near-sighted scowl is the counterpart of the dark-browed house itself, and her scowl is both the cause and the effect of her isolation from society. Frail, gray-haired, and garbed in black rusty silk dresses, Hepzibah is sustained by "fantasies of the old time" and by a strong, passionate love for her brother. It is for his sake that she reopens the dusty little cent-shop, although her thoughts and fantasies reveal how she dreads it. Unlike Clifford, however, she does not live completely in a dream world; she is aware, sometimes painfully, of her isolation.
Hepzibah and Judge Jaffrey are ironic mirror images of each other, for she is dark without, and he is dark within. It is a tragic irony that Hepzibah's heart is soft and loving — if envious — while the outwardly genial Judge is hard as a rock.