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The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel…
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The Blithedale Romance (1852)

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
I find Hawthorne tedious at the best of times. This was no exception.

So, there’s this utopian get together called Blithedale and it all starts off wonderfully with everyone pulling together in the fields in some kind of kibbutz by day and listening to stirring speeches by night. But the narrator, Coverdale, seems to have his doubts right from the start and, sure enough, the wheels begin to come off as the members discover that everything would be perfect if it wasn’t for one factor: them.

The rest of the novel then kind of disintegrates as Coverdale leaves the place and then, somehow in the midst of a teeming city, seems to stumble upon key characters from the community. They appear to be involved in some kind of mystical stage show which Coverdale watches. All of sudden, we’re back in the forest where the community seems to have regrouped for some reason and the novel kind of peters out from there.

Along the way, we have various “conversations” which the author uses for some Rand-ish opportunism as he waxes forth on various opinionated views from community to women’s rights, etc. It all seems a bit contrived.

This is a shame because, as the novel began and I realised what Hawthorne was constructing, I was really looking forward to a utopian ideal self-destructing and revealing various elements of the human condition that cause us to taint everything we attempt. This didn’t materialise however. Instead, Hawthorne seems to have decided it best to introduce a plot which is convoluted at best and contains twists that the reader isn’t really bothered about when they are finally revealed.

Stick to The Scarlet Letter if you’ve never read a Hawthorne. ( )
  arukiyomi | Jun 7, 2015 |
I was tempted to give this four stars. If three and a half feels ungenerous, it's because the prose so often gleams with wonderful imagery and ideas. Unless you are completely out of step with 19th century literature, I think it's impossible to read this and not see Hawthorne as a first rate writer. Yet I can't think I'll read this again or hold this up as the epitome of his art, and I think that it doesn't quite all cohere for me.

Blithedale is the name of a commune in which this story takes place. But it's only backdrop, not really the subject, and that disappointed me. Why bother having that as your setting if it's not tightly woven into your plot and theme? It's supposedly based on Hawthorne's own experiences on Brook Farm, a utopian commune. I've read that Hawthorne was suspicious of utopianism, and one would think that was fed by his own experiences, but I felt it got short shrift here. Yes, I can see aspects of the novel that are critical. Coverdale, the first person narrator, has all these puffed-up aspirations that seem to drain away once he meets anyone with dirt on his hands--let alone gets his own hands dirty. Hollingsworth is a portrait of the dangerous monomaniac you meet among a lot of those with utopian schemes. And then there's Zenobia. What a waste of a character. She's the patron of the place, a feminist before her time easily toppled over by love of a not very worthy man. In the end it's all a just a love triangle that I can't really see tying well into a theme about the impossibility of the perfectibility of man. (Of course the point might have been the imperfectness of women, and the impossibility of feminism, but you can't expect me to give Hawthorne points for that.) The ending to me seemed melodramatic and the last line made me roll my eyes. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Sep 1, 2013 |
After reading “The Scarlet Letter” years ago in school, and now “The House of Seven Gables” and “The Blithedale Romance” in relatively close conjunction, there seems to be a common theme running throughout much of Hawthorne’s longer fiction: namely, the deep and abiding mistrust in ideas of utopia, progress or perfectibility, especially of the human kind. Hawthorne came from a long line of Puritans, one of whom even presided over some of the Salem witch trials. Now writing on the cusp of the Civil War, he feels the renewed need for the kind of pragmatic skepticism which, one generation later, an entire generation of American philosophers will call for.

Coverdale, the naïve narrator in search of an agrarian source of truth, discovers Blithedale (the name itself should set off bells of suspicion), a community built around the ideals of Fourier, the utopian French social theorist. Fourier thought that life could be optimized through a kind of rationalistic social engineering, the basic living unit of which he called the “phalanstere.” The hilarious (hilarious in that subtle, dowdy, Puritan way that was uniquely Hawthorne’s) part is that, once everyone in Blithedale is introduced into the mix, tensions, different ideas, passions, and ideologies start to bubble to the surface showing just what a pipedream Fourier’s utopia really is. Hawthorne’s point seems to be that holding rationality primary over contingency and human emotion is shortsighted and silly. Not only is Blithedale a folly, but the very idea of a utopia is a sheer impossibility. I’m sure that Hawthorne would have us remember the clever lesson from Thomas More’s “Utopia” – that it means, quite literally, “no place.”

I’ll forego a lot of the plot details because I read this several months ago, and wouldn’t be able to do them justice without re-reading it. What I have unpacked here is just what jumped out at me the most. There is a strange woman named Zenobia who always wears a fresh flower in her hair, who turns out being the half-sister of a Blithedale foundling named Priscilla. The novel culminates in a set of philosophical disagreements between Coverdale and Hollingsworth, the ironically patriarchal figure whose presence hangs over Blithedale. I found the plot somewhat contrived and unrealistic, even for Hawthorne, but still very much worthwhile.

The action is based on Hawthorne’s experiences at Brook Farm, a well-known utopian community in its own right, where he spent most of 1841, largely in an effort to save money for his marriage. He would marry Sophia Peabody (of the famous Peabody sisters) in July of the next year. ( )
1 vote kant1066 | May 24, 2012 |
I really enjoyed it. I'm also glad that I'm reading it for a class because I'll be able to discuss it with the teacher. I almost feel that because I *did* enjoy it, I read it wrong : ) I *really* enjoyed the way in which the story was written! It was very good : ) ( )
  Adrianne_p | Dec 5, 2011 |
My favorite Hawthorne. A roman a clef about Brook Farm, the failed Transcendental communal experiment. ( )
  aulsmith | Nov 15, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nathaniel Hawthorneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kolodny, AnnetteIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The evening before my departure for Blithedale, I was returning to my bachelor-apartments, after attending the wonderful exhibition of the Veiled Lady, when an elderly-man of rather shabby appearance met me in an obscure part of the street.
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Book description
Novel about utopian community in nineteenth century Massachusetts, inspired by George Ripley's Brook Farm community
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140390286, Paperback)

Renowned 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne writes fully in his own time, not haunting his characters with the American past as in his more famous works THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES and THE SCARLET LETTER. Published in 1852, THE BLITHEDALE ROMANCE remains a captivating work about politics, love, the supernatural, and idealism, written with Hawthorne's sharp wit and deep intelligence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:12 -0400)

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A depiction of a utopian community that can not survive the individual passions of its members.

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