Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Blithedale Romance

This month's reading group will be The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The critical reception of the book was mixed in its day.  Some thought it was an all too obvious critique of Brook Farm, while others simply took it as a romance novel.  Hawthorne and Melivlle were both critical of the Transcendentalists and the Utopian communities that were sprouting like mushrooms throughout Northeast and Midwest America, but from what I read it was more a sardonic pleasure in teasing Emerson and the Unitarians who established Brook Farm.

Hawthorne was actually a founding member of Brook Farm and throughout his life seemed to have struggled with his religious identity.  Modern day critics view the novel as an attempt to reconcile these emotions through his seven key characters.  It is obvious that he drew on his personal experiences in creating this novel, as any novelist would.  It is a story rich in symbolism and offers many interpretations.  We look forward to your comments.


  1. Wow! I did not think we were about to have a discussion on this fantastic book. Am I ever thankful you started this thread.

    Just opening up the first page reminds me of my college days and the idealism we subscribe to back then. Because of it, I just cannot get these words out of my mind:

    Chicago/We Can Change the World
    Graham Nash

    Though your brother's bound and gagged
    And they've chained him to a chair
    Won't you please come to Chicago
    Just to sing
    In a land that's known as freedom
    How can such a thing be fair
    Won't you plaese come to Chicago
    For the help we can bring
    We can change the world -
    Re-arrange the world
    It's dying - to get better
    Politicians sit yourself down,
    There's nothing for you here
    Won't you please come to Chicago
    For a ride
    Don't ask Jack to help you
    Cause he'll turn the other ear
    Won't you please come to Chicago
    Or else join the other side
    We can change the world -
    Re-arrange the world
    It's dying - if you believe in justice
    It's dying - and if you believe in freedom
    It's dying - let a man live it's own life
    It's dying - rules and regulations, who needs them
    Open up the door
    Somehow people must be free
    I hope the day comes soon
    Won't you please come to Chicago
    Show your face
    From the bottom to the ocean
    To the mountains of the moon
    Won't you please come to Chicago
    No one else can take your place
    We can change the world -
    Re-arrange the world
    It's dying - if you believe in justice
    It's dying - and if you believe in freedom
    It's dying - let a man live it's own life
    It's dying - rules and regulations, who needs them
    Open up the door
    We can change the world

  2. George Ripley - founder of Brook Farm:


    Brook Farm today:


    Brook Farm in 1889:


    Original Documents Related to Nathaniel Hawthorne at Brook Farm and The Blithedale Romance:


    Lots of good stuff there.

  3. I'm reading this as a satire on the very idea that we can change the world.

    1. Transcendentalists entered into this utopian community with that ideal in mind. But many left disappointed. Hawthorne was one of them and painted an honest portrayal of its denizens. One question to consider is, did their shortcomings create this negative atmosphere or did the atmosphere mold them into the failures they became? Quite possibly it was both their character flaws and the atmosphere which combined to cause the Utopian community's downfall.

  4. That's the way I took it when I read it sometime back. Curious to see if my impression changes on second reading.

    It will be interesting to bring the Brook Farm experiment into the discussion. One of the more recent books on Brook Farm,


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Just now, while reading the "Until Bedtime" chapter, I got the impression that The Blithedale Romance is Hawthorne's attempt at a Shakespearean "problem comedy."

    1. There is much Shakespearean imagery throughout such as when Coverdale walks thru the forest and encounters the mysterious Professor who tells him,

      "This is your forest of Arden; and you are either the banished Duke ... or melancholy Jacques"

      ~ The Wood Path

      Zenobia was said to be "fond of giving us readings from Shakespeare often with a depth of tragic power ... occasional modes of amusement, in which scarlet shawls ... and miscellaneous trumpery converted our familiar companions into people of a pictorial world".

      And in the confrontation between the Veiled Lady and Theodore, Shakespearean language is used:

      "Thou art here ... Come forth Theodore ... Dost thou hesitate .. to pledge thyself to me ... I am doomed to be thy evil fate ... Thou has made thy choice".

      ~ Zenobia's Legend

      All similar to Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage" or Hamlet's soliloquy in which he says "what a piece of work is man". But the question remains, will it turn out that "all's well that ends well" ? That remains to be seen ....

    2. Oh, I forgot one last Shakespearean reference in the book (and I'm sure there are more):

      Zenobia (who is repeatedly symbolized by flowers) commits suicide by drowning just as Ophelia did in "Hamlet". Ophelia had been collecting flowers, giving them away (as Zenobia did to Priscilla), gave up on having a relationship, lost all reason for living, and jumped to her death into the water.



  7. For this reading I am using the Norton Series volume of "Blithedale". This series was largely inspired by the teachings of the late Professor Rene Wellek who, while greatly prominent in the past, has fallen into obscurity. Prof Wellek of Yale was one who emphasized complete study of a book: every chapter, every paragraph, every subtitle, every sentence, every phrase, every word, even the punctuation was analyzed and discussed. This in order to fully appreciate the worth of a given book.

    In his intro Gintaras writes, " The critical reception of the book was mixed in its day". This is echoed by the editors of the Norton edition who write that the book was not greatly appreciated in its first one hundred years. Gradually, starting in the 1950s it came to be regarded as one of Hawthorne's best, especially during the 1960s when there utopian idealism became a popular topic on college campuses. This illustrates what Prof Wellek taught ~ that such a writing is not merely a book or a story. That the writing is literature - a living thing. One whose message may lay dormant for a prolonged amount of time, only to be awakened (in a sense) after a certain period. Sadly, the once popular utopian idealizations have fallen out of the social picture and this book no longer holds society's imagination as it did. But who knows - perhaps some day such idealization will reemerge!

    And one more great thing about the Norton series is that it contains explanatory notes which are not found in other editions. This makes some the book more understandable and more fun to read. Thus, Prof Wellek's ideas still serve a good purpose!

  8. It seems utopian views have given way to distopian views with so many conservative Christians "prepping" for the Apocalypse, instead of creating "ideal" communities in preparation for the second coming. What a different view back then!

    1. In 1844 and for a years before and thereafter, the Millerites were under the illusion that the world was coming to an end. Many sold all their possessions and went into deep poverty over a baseless myth much like the delusional right wingers of today. Thus, while some tried to make it a better world, others were hell bent on its destruction. All this so much like today.

      As it is written in the Bible, there's nothing new under the sun.

  9. Another book on a Utopian experiment, Fruitlands,


  10. Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station is one of my favorite books and ties in with this as well.

  11. He does discuss Fourier, Owen and their impact on the American socialists.

  12. quoting Gintaras again,

    "rich in symbolism"

    Right from the outset, Hawthorne give symbolic hints as to what the book is about. It begins in an evening with:

    "elderly man of shabby appearance"
    "obscure part of street"

    The words set a dark tone, one of decadence & dissipation. All this on the road to Blithedale - blithe meaning "happy". Thus, one seeks to leave behind an unhappy scene to one of utopian happiness. But soon enough we learn that the journey does not pan out quite as happily as the seeker sought. And this was so true for many others who made the same journey. I will venture to say that this was the same experience for many idealists who ventured to Woodstock and to utopian villages in the 60s and 70s.

    How times have changed [NOT!].

    1. I'm about half way through the book and noticed how certain pastoral, spectral, and atavistic symbols were used to describe the characters such as,

      Zenobia = flowers

      Hollingsworth = tiger

      Priscilla = butterfly, sprite, bubbling brook, apparition, bird

      Old Moodie = rat

      Westervelt = of "dog kennel ... [eyes] of the Devil"

      Ironically, Zenobia is portrayed as such a strong willed woman but her symbol is a delicate flower whose life is marked by fleeting beauty. Perhaps not so strangely, she meets an unhappy fate so that despite her strength and beauty, she was more vulnerable than appears at first.

  13. I think times have changed considerably. I think the Utopianism that one saw resurrected to some degree in the 60s and early 70s has given way to deep cynicism and a decidedly dystopian view of the future. You can still find a few "New Age" havens in the Southwest, but they get little attention today. Instead, you see National Geographic's "Doomsday Preppers."

    You look at conservative religious communities today and you see them preparing for the worst. Many firmly believe in a hell fire and brimstone rapture that will literally consume the world and only their particular sect will be lifted from this nightmare to float toward heaven.

    The Transcendentilists, who created Brook Farm and Fruitlands, were of a decidedly different character, as were earlier "Utopian" religious communities like the Shakers and Harmonists, who believed in creating a vision of a "perfect world."

    1. It is quite obvious, however, that Hawthorne does not view those Transcendentalists in the same way that you do. This "perfect world" is doomed by human nature's imperfections.

  14. Yes, Hawthorne has a cynical view. He makes it pretty clear from the outset, as Coverdale chortles to himself over these persons assuming the labor of the common man and sizes up Zenobia like a ripe fruit. But, Brook Farm and Fruitlands were two of many such experimental socialist farms. Most failed, but the Shakers continued well into the 19th century before new state adoption laws spelled their doom.

    1. I don't know if I would agree that it's cynicism. After all, how many experiments aiming at social perfection have succeeded?

  15. One could argue that it is the process not the result that matters.

    1. And I think as we move through the novel we will see that the process can't be separated from the participants, especially the Hollingworths of the world.

      This book is reminding me in some ways of Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist which I think highly of.

  16. ~ “No summer ever came back, and no two summers ever were alike. Times change, and people change; and if our hearts do not change as readily, so much the worse for us.” ~

    So much expectation for Blythedale's recruits - ah, but so little reward and fulfillment.

    In reading the book, somehow Hawthorne has me drawn into it as if I was a character in it. I can just see the other's faces, here their words, sympathize when they are in grief, or smile with them as they are smiling. When he describes walking through the pastoral setting, I can both see and hear the birds chirping as well as the rustling of the leaves and blades of grass.

    Makes me wish I was a poet with a TARDIS so that I could go back in time to see some of what happened there!

  17. Narrator Coverdale's start to the pilgrimage to Blythedale is less than auspicious - after a night in which he lubricates himself with sherry (a favorite of mine when I used to drink back in the day), he journeys to his new Mecca in what appears to be a snow storm. Ironically, it is Spring time when flowers and trees are supposed to be blossoming. He passes "decayed trees", "withered leaves", and burned out logs and trudges through the 'bleak little world of New England'. This foretells much of the book's theme and irony.

    1. Darn - meant to post just a little more when my PC went into lockdown.

      Upon entering Blithedale (correct spelling) the narrator encounters the "good, comfortable" wife and "stout" farmer Foster. These folks were tasked with the duty of teaching the pilgrims all about farming in the edenic paradise that was to be the socialist farm. I liked how Foster was described as "lank, stalwart, uncouth, and grisly-bearded" as that makes him very easy to envision. Obviously he was no philosophy major but was keen enough to quickly size up the recruits and to do so wisely: "you'll be wishing yourselves back to town". As he uttered those words, the outdoors suddenly looked gloomy. Throughput the book (I'm now 2/3's of the way into it) he is the one character who remains practical. "Grim" Silas never even reads the newspapers.

      But the Yankee farmer is quick tempered as well. He was seen "in a very gruff voice, threatening to rivet three horse-shoes round Priscilla's neck and chain her to a post" for causing an accident. But the two made their peace and he proceeded with the farming lessons.

      Neighboring farmers were said to be of "pure envy and malice". They made up stories about the pilgrims none of which were flattering as they obviously wanted the communal enterprise to fail. All this reminds me of William Bradford's early writing about Yankee pilgrims in the 1600s who tried communal farming but failed. In his "Of Plymouth Plantation" he concluded "seeing all men have corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them". Farming, hunting, government, maritime, religion - all OK. But not communal farming or any form of socialist utopianism.

      Evidently, nothing really changed very much from Bradford's to Hawthorne's or to our own time.

  18. Find myself greatly enjoying the book as well. Hawthorne does a beautiful job of painting the scenes so it is very easy to envision them, and gives wonderful peeks into each of the characters.

    You get the feeling this "Romance" is doomed from the start with the spring snow. Great introduction of Hollingsworth and the waif he brings with him. Zenobia not quite sure what to make of her.

  19. When Coverdale gets sick from exerting himself in the cold Spring day, he takes homeopathic medicine to relieve his condition:


    I've tried some of these medicines in the past for my medical hassles and found them to be largely useless. The only exception being a remedy for seasonal allergies, one made from belladonna which is a poison. To this day I have never found anything better for seasonal allergies.

    Transcendentalists were known to prefer homeopathic remedies rather than allopathic medicine. I remember reading a book by Thoreau on the subject as he was a big believer in it. Sadly, he relied on these largely spurious remedies when he became ill and died at the young age of 42.

    Two months ago when I got pneumonia I tried some home remedies and they didn't work at all. Luckily there's a clinic nearby, got a prescription, and used real medicine for the condition. Felt a lot better after resorting to it. I wish Thoreau had done the same as he would likely have lived longer and the world attained much more knowledge from him.

  20. That was an interesting chapter on Coverdale and Hollingsworth and Zenobia. I too caught the homeopathy reference. Actually, homeopathic medicines work for me. Every cold and flu season I stock up on Oscillococcinum.

    It was interesting the friendship that develops between he and his Hollingsworth and his tempered love for Zenobia, largely over her questionable culinary skills when it comes to soup. But, her heart was in the right place.

    1. Still another pseudoscience that appears throughout Blithedale is mesmerism which was a crazed during the 1840s.

      In fact the book begins and ends on that subject: on page 1 Coverdale attends a staging of the Veiled Lady who was a "phenonmenon in the mesmeric line ... an old humbug ... of skillfully contrived ... preternatural conquests." At a staging of yet another mesmeric presentation it was said that, "At the bidding of one of these wizards, the maiden ... character was but soft wax in his hands ... It is unutterable ... the individual soul was virtually annihilated .. debased ... the soul of man is descending to a lower point" because of mesmerism and other forms of cultism. And just after that "Professor Westervelt" victimizes the Veiled Lady and humiliates her in front of an audience. It turned out that she was Priscilla who had been "strangely betrayed".

      Throughout the book, Coverdale was preoccupied with Zenobia. But in the end he admits,

      "I-I myself-was in love-with-PRISCILLA!"

      Priscilla who now appears to have married Hollingsworth and is no longer attainable. So why love her? Probably because she represents a purity of heart and character which embodies New England ideals. These being what Coverdale initially sought when he ventured to Blithedale and all in marked contrast to the cultish socialist theorists, charlatanism of some of the characters, and the phoniness of mesmerism. I do not know for sure if this is what is symbolized by that confession at the end. But one may speculate.

  21. I am a little over half way through the book and am beginning to think of it as a thesis novel.


  22. Coverdale was a poet. But to me, the real poet is Hawthorne who uses language like no other in painting a picture of a scene. In the initial quest to attain Paradise or Mecca, a forewarning was illustrated:

    ''there was a look of GLOOM, as the twilight fell silently and SADLY ... The storm ... was DREARY ... cold desolate PHANTOMS that HAUNT the mind ... to warn us [to go] back ..."

    But the pilgrims were determined and they encouraged each other in conversation: "our courage did not quail ... we left the rusty iron frame of society behind us ... we broke through many hindrances ... we stepped down from the pulpit ... we threw off indolence ... we gave up everything attained for the sake of showing mankind the example of a life governed by false and cruel principles ... we divorced ourselves from Pride ... we were lessening man's burthen of toil ... we sought profit by mutual aid ... {not} selfish competition ... we proposed earnest toil ... for the advancement of our race."

    It sounds so much like the New Testament. The apostles and their early followers wandered endlessly to promote the church and its supposed blessings upon mankind. They gave up all they had for the good of the church and would not let anything block their quest. But in the end things did not quite turn out well for those who faced the Roman authorities, the crucifixion, or the lion's den. Same for the pilgrims in Blithedale. For the one factor that destroyed the community was selfishness: "Self! Self! Self!" cried Zenobia to Hollingsworth. "You have embodied yourself in a project ... (but) are a better masquerader than witches ... your disguise is self deception ... you did a deadly wrong."

    Coverdale later reflects on all this when he muses, "Philanthropy, when adopted as a profession ... is perilous to the individual ... It ruins the heart ... it is a by-way to the pit! {of Hell}." In his afterword he makes a brief return to Blithedale and discovers that it has largely been abandoned with only a handful of idealistic stragglers remaining. He recalls the early aims of the pilgrims and how such ideas did not pan out. "As regards human progress ... let them believe in it who can, and aid it if they choose." Thus, he concludes with a sort of Shakespearean "leave them to Heaven" outlook.

    1. I've been noting passages I like as well. In the chapter "Leave-Takings" there is this about his stay at Blithedale:

      "I was beginning to lose the sense of what kind of world it was, among innumerable schemes of what it might or ought to be. . . . No sagacious man will long retain his sagacity, if he live exclusively among reformers and progressive people, without periodically returning into the settled system of things, to correct himself by a new observation from that old stand-point."

      And then there's his peroration on pigs at the end of that chapter. Top notch!

    2. Good quote. And the lines which preceded it are just as striking:

      "In truth, it was dizzy work, amid such fermentation of opinions as was going on in the general brain of the Community. It was a kind of BEDLAM ..."

  23. {Off Topic}

    Henrietta Lacks formally recognised as source of HeLa research cells

    Descendants of woman whose cells were the first cultivated in a laboratory welcome National Institutes of Health announcement


    Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951 – her tumour cells have been an invaluable resource for researchers. Photo: Courtesy of the Henrietta Lacks Foundation

    For decades, scientists have used the cells of a woman who died young to conduct research that has prolonged innumerable lives. Now, for the first time, her contribution is to be formally recognised.

    The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on Wednesday that genetic research based on cells taken from Henrietta Lacks, known as HeLa cells, would include acknowledgement in published form of the woman and her life. The change in protocol, which strictly applies only to NIH grant recipients but which all researchers are encouraged to adopt, was welcomed by descendants of Lacks, who died in 1951. The move could also lead the way to better privacy measures for research participants and better data-sharing among scientists.

    "We are happy, we are very happy, that from this point on, publications involving the HeLa genome will recognize Henrietta Lacks," granddaughter Jeri Lacks-Whye said

    ... more ...

  24. ~ Hollingsworth = tiger ~

    As I noted above, Hollingsworth was equated with a tiger in Coverdale's (actually, Hawthorne's) symbolism. I wonder if devil (one among several in the story) wasn't a more suitable designation. Come to think of it, cultist may have been more apropos. Jim Jones, L Ron Hubbard, and Melville's "The Confidence Man" came to mind when I thought about him.

    Before he enters Blithedale, Zenobia speaks of his great commitment to reform and wonders whether his efforts are not signs of too much of a personal and rather unwise sacrifice (meaning that perhaps his efforts and time could be spent more constructively). When Coverdale gets sick due to the prolonged walk in the cold weather, Hollingsworth nurses him in a rather paternal manner. He gave "more than brotherly assistance ... happy is the man who has such a friend beside him ... the reflection of God's love".

    When Coverdale praises Fourier and his ideology, Hollingsworth views it skeptically and says that it is "selfish", an "unpardonable sin", one contrived by the Devil himself. Hmmmm. The Devil you say ??? Coverdale drops the subject but remains convinced that he is still "endowed with a great spirit of benevolence ... to be the source of much disinterested good as Providence often allows ... a closer friend that you could ever be." But perhaps he is too locked into a single minded purpose.

    Then, Coverdale reflects "in my private opinion ... Hollingsworth was going mad" because of his single mindedness - his reform institution being his "castle in the air": "Unlike all other ghosts, his spirit haunted an edifice ... yet to come into existence".

    He feels he is "stung by the fangs of an adder" - this serpentine symbolism, again, more reflective of a devil rather than a tiger. This is when Coverdale starts to suspect that Hollingsworth's nursing and proximity was a scheme to get him to become a convert into his utopian shenanigans.

    ... more ...

    1. Part II

      Hollingsworth protests that in the pursuit of his ideal, he "has always been in earnest" while Coverdale was not. The latter muses "I have loved Hollingsworth ... but there was a stern and dreadful peculiarity in this man." That such single mindedness is harmful to people like him and to others. "They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience ... they consecrate themselves high priest ... false deity ... a Devil's contrivance, a philanthropic man".

      A sentence that particularly caught my attention was this: Blithedale "was widely different from conventional society ... it seemed to authorize any individual, of either sex, to fall in love with any other regardless of what would have been judged suitable and prudent". {Note: I do not recall reading any critic commenting on the seeming omnisexuality of the attendants there.} Cloverdale is concerned that Hollingsworth may take sexual advantage of Priscilla and he was not willing to allow that to happen. But he keeps the avenues of communication open.

      Both speculate as to who among the Blithedale disciples is going to die first. Coverdale wanders off in order to find respite from the tensions at the commune. He then determines that the entire effort in a "waste". Hollingsworth presses him and tries vainly to get him to pledge to join in the latter's reformation effort. "Be with me or be against me!" But he refuses to pledge.

      That is when Coverdale leaves Blithedale.


      In going over these lines I just cannot help but think of Jim Jones and L Ron Hubbard. How incredibly perceptive of Hawthorne to write with such depth of knowledge about these cultists. I have read in the past that Hollingsworth was modeled after Emerson. In more recent times it has been written that Emerson was only of several people. That others included Bronson Alcott, perhaps Brigham Young, some Millerites, teetotalers, and some fire-and-brimstone preachers of that day. Clearly, Hawthorne was attacking socialists, idealists, do-goody reformers, and religious hypocrites as well.

      ... more ...

    2. Hog farmer Silas Foster is the one practically minded character throughout the book and correctly predicts, "Here ends the reformation of the world, as far as Miles Coverdale has a hand in it." He leaves because Blithedale is ''faded, sunburnt, arid, blighted" and because of the falling out with Hollingsworth.

      When in town, Coverdale reflects on the normalcy of the urban environs. The alley cat, the flying birds, the buildings, the working people are very natural-of-order to him. He used the term "solidity" to describe this scene while describing Blithedale as "sordid". "I bless God for all these people" and this urban 'nature'.

      But then he's in for a shock --- Coverdale, Zenobia, and Priscilla all appear just across the street. Evidently, Blithedale was not the Elysium Fields to them. Zenobia fell in love with Hollingsworth! But soon this affair would end and with tragic consequences as the Devil Incarnate sought to exploit her wealth in order to finance his reformist scheme. But her wealth was lost as explained by Old Moodie. And here is where Hollingsworth's true evil manifests itself. He betrays Zenobia with tragic consequences. He is likened to a Salem magistrate who has the power of life and death [Judge Hathorne?]. His actions leave a mark of death on his forehead (666 came to mind when I read this). He departs with Priscillia in his arms and Zenobia left to her unhappy fate.

      In a final conversation with Coverdale, Zenobia speaks of an impending disaster but asks that nothing be done to Hollingsworth as she would "haunt" him forever. The do-goody reformer became a murderer as he later admits. But Coverdale forgives him. He reflects on Blithedale, the good intentions that went sour, and says "I'm in love with Priscilla". How strange that the despite all the evil Hollingsworth committed he walked off with the grandest prize in the entire story!

      How incredibly ironic!!!!!!

    3. Speaking of reformers, Coverdale alludes to "Eliot's Rock" which was supposedly a place where a Puritan minister preached to local Algonquins two centuries earlier:


      While there is plenty of evidence to prove he existed and engaged in that activity, there is no record of him preaching near the utopian community at Brook Farm.

      In the chapter "Eliot's Pulpit", Hollingsworth uses the rock formation as a pulpit to 'preach' to Coverdale, Zenobia, and Priscilla. He even threw himself on the ground like a fire-and-brimstone preacher to make a point about his views [I am reminded of Father Mapple in 'The Sermon' in Melville's "Moby Dick" who ends his sermon while on the ground]. The narrator says he was greatly "moved" by these preachments. But it is here that sentiments start to change as Zenobia's views on men tend to be less benign and Priscilla starts to lean towards Hollingsworth.

      Coverdale tells us he is open minded when it comes to preachers and says "that task belongs to women. God meant it for her. He has endowed her with the religious sentiment in its utmost depth and purity". A very enlightened view for his time. Interestingly, Zenobia (the feminist) contradicts that and says "I am sure I do not wish it were true". An amazing turnabout, I thought.

      Hollingsworth chimes in on this subject as well. He says women "the most admirable handiwork of God ... the echo of God's voice". But men and women cannot exist without one another as it brings out the worse in them. This brings out a strange reaction from Zenobia who, for the moment, loves Hollingsworth. For some reason which is unclear, she does not employ or assert her feminist beliefs. Was it out of love for Hollingsworth? Or was it lack of principle, or perhaps character weakness? The narrator describes her as being in a state of "agitation". As the sun descends, it makes her cast a long "magnified" shadow which makes him "tremulous". Clearly she is in decline and there are portents which signal things to come as Priscilla follows along hidden in the shadows.

      Eliot's Rock ~ when Puritan preachers came to Algonquin lands they preached of a loving God who sacrificed his only begotten son to bring life to humanity. But Christianity brought death and near extinction to Native Americans.

      Eliiot's Rock ~ where Hollingsworth's ideals started to create Zenobia's decline and ultimate death.

      Coincidence ???

    4. One last note on reformers, here is Emerson's famous essay on NEW ENGLAND REFORMERS:


      "Men are conservatives when they are least vigorous, or when they are most luxurious. They are conservatives after dinner, or before taking their rest; when they are sick, or aged: in the morning, or when their intellect or their conscience has been aroused; when they hear music, or when they read poetry, they are radicals."

      This is certainly an essay to be read before reading "Blithedale". Rather long, but very telling.

  25. Was hoping to finish the book before vacation but didn't quite make it. I have been enjoying the book and the comments and will pick it up again when I return. Reading it on-line. Too bad I don't have a Kindle.

    It seems Hawthorne is offering a set of conceptions of the idealized communal state. Another early socialist and naturalist writer was Robert Owen who tried to resurrect New Harmony but failed for many of the same reasons as Blithedale.

    1. ~ failed ~

      The Norton edition which I am using contains Irving Howe's famous essay "Hawthorne: Pastoral and Politics". I tried to find the essay and post it here but couldn't get a link. While Howe (a former socialist) does a reasonably good analysis of the characters and the role of the Puritan heritage in the storyline, he calls the book a "great failure". He acknowledges that the communes of the 19th century failed and discusses how Hawthorne's book illustrates that. But he gets too hung up on his view that Hawthorne is making too much of a personal statement - that he is fessing up to being a personal failure in life because of all his deficiencies. And he wrongly says that the book lacks coherence. I thought Howe went too far in his criticism. But he did seem to influence some people back in those days so that Hawthorne's other writings were read and highly praised while this one was somewhat ignored. I wonder if Howe's leftist leanings may not have been frustrated by Hawthorne's writing and by the historical truth that such idealism lacked realism and practicality.

      For years I listened to Irving Howe on NYC's socialist radio station WEVD-FM (named for Eugene Debs) and liked much of what he had to say. I even met him at the University of Minnesota's Hillel Center. But he missed the mark in his analysis of "Blithedale". Still, it's worth a look.

  26. ~ masquerades ~

    The first sentence in Blithedale reveals that the narrator attended a presentation of a "Veiled" Lady. The narrator is identified as "COVER"dale. He is accosted by an old man wearing an eye patch who stands behind a gate to hide his identity. Nothing is quite as it seems in the book but each plays a significant role in it.

    Late in the book there is an amusing segment in which Coverdale stumbles upon some Dionysian revelers led by an "Indian" whose actual identity is hidden behind war paint. He is attracted by their unimpeded devilish music and dancing [unlike the scene in Hawthorne's "The Maypole of Merrymount"] as "he is always ready to dance to the devil's tune". They playfully chase him but he escapes. As he leaves, the merriment appears to sound like mournfulness and he trips over what had been a farm settlement now defunct. Yet, somehow he feels as if the spirits of the long dead farmer and family are still alive.

    Thereafter he meets his fellow commune members at Eliot's Pulpit.

    1. This segment with the revelers took place after Coverdale partook of some "deepest purple ... of intoxicating quality" grapes. Perhaps he imagined the entire scenario (?).

      Throughout the book, Coverdale displays a great fondness for wine. He starts his venture to Blithedale by drinking a bottle as I mentioned earlier. When he leaves the commune and enters a hotel, the first thing he orders is a sherry cobbler. He notices that all around the hotel are grape-vines with trellises which "promised the richness of Malta or Madeira in their ripened juice."

      Wine is also used in symbolically to denote Priscilla's meekness: she "has never known what its like to live in free air and so it intoxicates her as if she were sipping wine."

      But wine has it darker side as when Hollingsworth's evil is revealed - his "philantrophy ...ruins the heart; the rich juices of which God never meant should be pressed violently out, and distilled into alcoholic liquor, by an unnatural process; but should render life sweet".

      Very interesting symbolism employed by Coverdale which actually makes him look like a good poet, despite his modesty about his writings.

    2. Speaking of the spirits, Old Moodie was given to drink and he may well be the person who ultimately caused the outcome of the story:

      "He was an elderly man, dressed rather shabbily, yet decently enough, in a gray frock-coat, faded towards a brown hue, and wore a broad-brimmed white hat, of the fashion of several years gone by. His hair was perfect silver, without a dark thread in the whole of it; his nose, though it had a scarlet tip, by no means indicated the jollity of which a red nose is the generally admitted symbol. He was a subdued, undemonstrative old man, who would doubtless drink a glass of liquor, now and then, and probably,more than was good for him; not, however, with a purpose of undue exhilaration, but in the hope of bringing his spirits up to the ordinary level of the world's cheerfulness. Drawing nearer, there was a shy look about him, as if he were ashamed of his poverty, or, at any rate, for some reason or other, would rather have us glance at him sidelong than take a full-front view. He had a queer appearance of hiding himself behind the patch of his left eye. "

      We learn that this mysterious person who is dressed in shabby clothes, and wears an eye patch on either eye is the actual father of Zenobia and Priscilla (he had 2 different wives). He had been in a scandal and caused great embarrassment to his family. The old man "for past years, had been a little out of his right mind whispered Hollingsworth". Because of this he was ostracized by them and lived alone. Evidently, he wanted Zenobia to look after Priscilla but she failed to do so. He calls the older sister's behavior "deplorable". For this reason OM (who had been known as Fauntleroy) disinherited her and gave the inheritance to Priscilla.

      You have to wonder if OM whose natural hangout was Parker's Tavern suffered from Delirium Tremens. His dissolution, with his unwise decision which had such dire consequences, likely represents an example of old Yankee or Puritan decay. Along with this decadence came the death of an ideal in the form of the "New Jerusalem" as reflected in the doomed Blithedale community.

  27. Speak of the Devil and here he comes ...

    Professor Westervelt fills this role quite readily as he is a charlatan who engages in theatric hypnosis. His victim is the fragile Priscilla both at the beginning of the book and in its crucial climax. But so is everyone else as it eventually leads to the downfall of the community.

    "Every human being, when given over to the Devil, is sure to have the wizard mark upon him ... I found that his smile ... was the Devil's signet on the Professor ... his eyes sparkled as if the Devil were peeping out of him." But the charlatan is very defensive about his actions. He argues with Cloverdale about Zenobia's her heart, her suicide, and says "had she hearkened to my counsels" she would have lived. I'm not entirely clear was to what those ideas were as he wooed her without success. Coverdale said that he had a satanic philosophy of "cold and dead materialism ... a sepulchral vault - a new world emerging bringing the air of corruption".

    Again, interesting symbolism as throughout the book the cold is symbol for death while fire symbolized life.

    1. ~ fire and ice ~

      "artistically contrasted light and shade"

      Ch 1 ends at the hearth at home

      Ch 2 begins with the "cheery blaze" of the hearth at Blithedale - "Paradise anew"

      Ch 3 as the women cooked the men brought in fire wood

      Ch 4 the kitchen hearth had a large "blaze" which made Zenobia look like Pandora "fresh from Vulcan's work shop"

      Foster (definitely not a poet but highly prophetic) said "the blaze of the brush wood will only last a minute longer" which symbolized what was to come. Coverdale said there was a "furnace in my heart but my head was yet shivering".

      While the fires symbolized hope and expectation, the cold had less cheerful meaning:

      The pilgrims walked during a late season storm which was portentous and made Coverdale awfully sick. When Priscilla is introduced Zenobia calls her a "shadowy snow maiden" - a shadow, indeed! Coverdale asks, "how cold an Arcadia [Paradise] was this which contrasted with his "hot house warmth of a town residence". Zenobia describes Hollingsworth as having "a heart of ice". When she leaves Coverdale her hand is described as "very cold ... as a veritable piece of snow ... death like".

      Thus, fire symbolized warmth and life. The cold portended and symbolized death.

  28. ~ feminism ~

    A movement that had its origin in that era starting with the Seneca Falls conference of 1848. While many intellectuals of that era welcomed this "revolutionary" movement, others (especially the majority of people at that time) did not. The reason being that Christianity and the Bible were the biggest influences upon people's lives. Both taught that women were to be subservient to men. In fact in the New Testament Christian women are commanded to call their husbands "Master" as Sarah did to her husband Abraham {1 Peter 3:5-6}.

    In Blithedale, Zenobia is in marked contrast to her sister Priscilla. Zenobia is a feminist (though not fully so) while Priscilla is clearly one to fit the role of ideal woman of that era. Coverdale said that he felt women should be preachers and even political leaders. Zenobia wasn't quite sure that she would be fully in accord with that. Yet, the parallels between her and feminist Margaret Fuller could not be more obvious (Fuller also died through drowning). While she is out spoken, Priscilla submissively follows her and Hollingsworth and quietly sews like a docile domestic lace maker. Zenobia deviates from what society views as ideal by her refusal to look after her sister an treating her like a slave. She is disowned and loses her fortune which was especially painful to her as she was a materialist [she grew up privileged]. Priscilla [who grew up poor] remains submissive and receives the inheritance previously intended for her older sister. She submits and prospers after marrying a man equated with the Devil.

    Mrs Foster [the farmer's wife] is one who knows her role in life. She lives in perfect comfort by the hearth and prospers. This is how 19th century America viewed the proper role for women.

  29. "cover"dale

    Hmmm - interesting name.

    Mr COVERdale walks "miles" in search of a new Utopia. One he does not find. Instead of being the Spring [symbolizing birth] of a new life, it turns out to be an Autumn [decline which ultimately leads to a cold death for Zenobia] for him and others.

    What exactly was he "covering" up for? Hard to say. But the story begins with his fascination for a veiled lady who turns out to be Priscilla. The book ends with his confession that he was "in love with Priscilla". Maybe I'm thinking too much but there are a number of references to voyeurism through out the book and I wonder if there isn't something there between his activity and sexual desires.

    Ouch, maybe I shouldn't say too much more about that ...

    When he is nursed by Zenobia he makes this prophetic comment: "The mystery of your life ... you will never tell me ... I see nothing now ... unless it be the face of a sprite laughing at me from the bottom of a deep well" and describes the scene as a "riddle". When she croaks herself, Professor Westervelt (who evidently knew her well) said she had no reason for doing so - "She was the last woman in the world to whom death could have been necessary". Coverdale points out that Zenobia had been considering joining a nunnery - again, a reference to Shakesperean imagery (remember the line from Hamlet "get thee to a nunnery - why wouldest thou be a breeder of sinners?"). Was there another possible reason why she did such a terrible thing? This, indeed, turned out to be quite a riddle and we never get an answer for that.

    "cover" ups and riddles - lots of those all throughout the book

    1. If Coverdale were alive today, this is how he would have ventured out to Blithedale:


      He would have had these sentiments on his mind:

      Whenever I need to leave it all behind
      Or feel the need to get away
      I find a quiet place, far from the human race
      Out in the country

      Before the breathin' air is gone
      Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
      Out where the rivers like to run
      I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'

      Whenever I feel them closing in on me
      Or need a bit of room to move
      When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
      Out in the country

      Before the breathin' air is gone
      Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
      Out where the rivers like to run
      I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'

      Before the breathin' air is gone
      Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
      Out where the rivers like to run
      I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'

      Before the breathin' air is gone
      Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime
      Out where the rivers like to run
      I stand alone and take back somethin' worth rememberin'

      Before the breathin' air is gone
      Before the sun is just a bright spot in the nighttime...

      I stand alone...

      So many of us thought we were going to change the world for the better. Alas it wasn't to be. Somebody up in the Great Beyond must hate us, I suppose.

  30. {Off Topic}


    ''Ages of Revolution: How Old Were They on July 4, 1776?''

    •Andrew Jackson, 9
    •Thomas Young, 12
    •Deborah Sampson, 15
    •James Armistead, 15
    •Joseph Plumb Martin, 15
    •Peter Salem, 16*
    •Peggy Shippen, 16
    •Marquis de Lafayette, 18
    •James Monroe, 18
    •Henry Lee III, 20
    •Gilbert Stuart, 20
    •John Trumbull, 20
    •Aaron Burr, 20
    •John Marshall, 20
    •Nathan Hale, 21
    •Banastre Tarleton, 21
    •Alexander Hamilton, 21*
    •Benjamin Tallmadge, 22
    •Robert Townsend, 22
    •George Rodgers Clark, 23
    •David Humphreys, 23
    •Gouveneur Morris, 24
    •Betsy Ross, 24
    •William Washington, 24
    •James Madison, 25
    •Henry Knox, 25
    •John Andre, 26
    •Thomas Lynch, Jr., 26^
    •Edward Rutledge, 26^
    •Abraham Woodhull, 26
    •Isaiah Thomas, 27
    •George Walton, 27*^
    •John Paul Jones, 28
    •Bernardo de Galvez, 29
    •Thomas Heyward, Jr., 29^
    •Robert R. Livingston, 29
    •John Jay, 30
    •Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 30
    •Benjamin Rush, 30^
    •Abigail Adams, 31
    •John Barry, 31
    •Elbridge Gerry, 31^
    •Casimir Pulaski, 31
    •Anthony Wayne, 31
    •Joseph Brant, 33
    •Nathanael Greene, 33
    •Thomas Jefferson, 33^
    •Thomas Stone, 33*^
    •William Hooper, 34^
    •Arthur Middleton, 34^
    •James Wilson, 34*^
    •Benedict Arnold, 35
    •Samuel Chase, 35^
    •Thomas Knowlton, 35
    •William Paca, 35^
    •John Penn, 35^
    •Hercules Mulligan, 36
    •Andrew Pickens, 36
    •Haym Solomon, 36
    •John Sullivan, 36
    •George Clymer, 37^
    •Charles Cornwallis, 37

    Lots of young people on that awesome listing.

  31. I returned the book to the library today as its lending period was limited and could not be extended. So rather than post analytical notes, I'll post a question:

    Who or what was the ultimate cause of Zenobia's death?

    When I read the book half an eternity ago the simple answer was, unrequited love killed her.

    But is it as simple as that?

    Other issues may have been factors:

    The fact that she realized Hollingsworth was more interested in her perceived wealth (for his selfish purposes) than in her.

    Was it that she had been so privileged all her life but is now forced to fend for herself because she no longer had wealth?

    Was it her father Old Moodie/Fauntleroy who killed her through that disinheritance?

    Was it Priscilla who failed to act like a loving sister by at least sharing that wealth?

    Was it Westervelt who exploited Priscilla thereby compelling both Coverdale and Moodie to stand up for her thereby leaving Zenobia vulnerable?

    Was it the failings of her feminist ideology- meaning that instead of empowering it weakened her - bearing in mind that she was not sure women were qualified to be preachers or leaders. Perhaps it was her failure to fully adopt feminist principles (??).

    Was it her admitted female vanity?

    Did her unfulfilled dream of utopia cause it?

    Or perhaps it was Coverdale who failed to become the white-knight-on-a-charger that so many male literary figures become in mythical stories? Zenobia and Coverdale appear to discuss why the latter fails to love her and she replies, "there is a fate in these things". A fate that could have been averted had he fallen in love with her and came to her emotional rescue.

    Perhaps it was a combination of all these things.

  32. This is a curious book. I wonder how reliable Coverdale is as narrator. He seems conflicted throughout the book, but the question remains: was he so conflicted during the time he spent at Blithedale or did he only become so after the fact?

    1. ~ conflicted ~

      A guy who has gone through "miles", is introspective, terribly self-absorbed, seeking to bring about changes in this world, in search of a utopia, terribly indecisive about his views of Hollingsworth and his ideals, in denial over his feelings for Priscilla and then confesses to his love for her ... I would venture to guess he was conflicted before venturing thereto.

      It seems the experience appeared to make him a wiser person. When he wrote the narration 12 years after his tenure at Blithedale, live and learn appeared to be the ultimate outcome for him. Experience can be quite a teacher.

  33. At the present moment I am reading via audio book:

    The Forgotten Founding Father
    Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture


    I would like to have more comments on Blithedale and hope Gintaras and Arvds among others may post a few thoughts on this wonderful book.

  34. Sorry, Trippler. I've been busy with other commitments. From all the comments, sounds like I missed a good book. I really like Hawthorne and have never read this one.

    1. Trust me, the book makes for very quick reading. Unlike me you can likely finish it in just a handful of reading sessions. And yes, it is a great book!


  35. Enjoyed your comments, trip, and will post more thoughts. Just got back into town yesterday. Twelve days of wonderful warm sun and sea in the Greek islands -- Kos, Santorini and Paros. Not much reading done. What I did read was from Zissimos Lorenzatos Aegean Notebooks,


    1. Glad you liked my comments & that your vacation was lots of fun.

      Never read Zissimos Lorenzatos but I understand he was always highly regarded in Greece. Perhaps some day I'll read one or two.