Thursday, February 25, 2016

Reading New England: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom to know when it ought to be resisted, and when to be obeyed."--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance

This month, for Reading New England (taking place at Emerald City Book Review), I chose as my fiction selection Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of life set against the backdrop of transcendentalism and Utopia in Massachusetts, The Blithedale Romance, originally published in 1852. 

There are many elements at work in this book that make it difficult to describe what it is. The story's narrator, Miles Coverdale, leaves his life of comfort and joins the group at Blithedale Farm to live the Utopian life. At the farm, he meets crusty Silas Foster and his wife. Silas appears to be the only one who has any knowledge of farming. Coverdale also encounters the strong willed Zenobia whose money is being used to fund the operation. Beautiful and exotic, she wears a different flower in her hair every day. Then there is Hollingsworth, a philanthropist, who brings to mind a Bronson Alcott type of person. He arrives on a cold wintry night with the frail but beautiful and naive young woman, Priscilla. 

While the goings on at Blithedale Farm would have been enough, Hawthorne introduces a subplot involving the ghostly story of the Veiled Lady and her disappearance. Then there is the character of Professor Westervelt whom Hawthorne likens to Satan. All the references to the devil made me wonder if that is indeed his identity. Westervelt has a mysterious attachment to Zenobia and Priscilla. 

Miles Coverdale proves to be somewhat of an unreliable narrator. He's telling his story years after his experiences at the farm, and in parts of The Blithedale Romance, he seems overly sentimental and sometimes speaks of the story in dreamlike tones. He's also a bit of a voyeur, whether it's his preferred hiding place among the trees to observe the goings on at Blithedale Farm, or whether he's back in the city, looking out the window of his hotel room to observe Zenobia, Priscilla and Westervelt who happen to be at the house next door. 

The novel seems rambling at times. I was a bit more interested in the Utopian society than reading about the Veiled Lady. And then there is the zinger at the end of the story where Coverdale chooses to reveal his most precious secret in the last line of the novel. 

Having read The House of the Seven Gables, I wouldn't say that The Blithedale Romance compares to that novel. I'd been wondering about the The Blithedale Romance and am glad I finally read it. I'd recommend The Blithedale Romance to those readers who really enjoy the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

What is your favorite work by Nathaniel Hawthorne? Have you read The Blithedale Romance?


3 comments:

  1. I read this book years ago; I didn't think it was as good as House of Seven Gables either, but I still liked it. It gave me the impression that Hawthorne didn't think Utopian societies lived up to their name. Right now, I'm reading The Wolves of Andover for my book "set in Massachusetts". So far it's good, but not a favorite. Maybe I should have reread a Hawthorne novel instead. :)

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  2. I think I read this, but it was a long time ago! I'd love to read it again even though it seems rather strange and not entirely well-planned. As a work of art The Scarlet Letter is probably Hawthorne's greatest, along with The House of the Seven Gables, but this sounds like an interesting curiosity.

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  3. I loved The Blithedale Romance for all the fun it pokes at the transcendentalists (like Zenobia supposedly being based on Margaret Fuller). It's a novel I'd also like to re-read...perhaps I will for this challenge. I had dreaded reading The Scarlet Letter but remember being pleasantly surprised by it. Also love Hawthorne's short stories and his travel journals.

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