Published by Penguin Classics on 1852
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Source: Purchased: print book
A superb depiction of a utopian community that cannot survive the individual passions of its members. In language that is suggestive and often erotic, Nathaniel Hawthorne tells a tale of failed possibilities and multiple personal betrayals as he explores the contrasts between what his characters espouse and what they actually experience in an 'ideal' community. A theme of unrealized sexual possibilities serves as a counterpoint to the other failures at Blithedale: class and sex distinctions are not eradicated, and communal work on the farm proves personally unrewarding and economically disastrous. Based in part on Hawthorne's own experiences at Brook Farm, an experimental socialist community, The Blithedale Romance is especially timely in light of renewed interest in self-sufficient and other cooperative societies.
The only other Hawthorne I have read is The Scarlet Letter. In choosing the books to read for this little project, I decided to rely in large part on randomness and serendipity.
The basis of this book was Hawthorne’s time at Brook Farm, a communal living experiment conducted in the 1840’s by several well-known American intellectuals, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller. The experiment was largely a failure in real life, and it was very definitely a failure in fiction.
The main conflict in this book comes from the relationship between the narrator, Miles Coverdale, and three other characters: Zenobia, a young woman of fiery beauty, Priscilla, more delicate than Zenobia, and Hollingsworth. Told from the perspective of Coverdale, we basically have a love triangle between Hollingsworth and Zenobia/Priscilla. Coverdale himself is apparently not romantically attractive to either of the young women.
In time honored fashion, Hawthorne spends most of his time talking about the romantic travails of his characters and very little time actually talking about the process of growing food or surviving in a socialist utopia. It’s all rather silly, really, with altogether too much swooning, weeping, and manly chest thumping.
So, overall, it’s not a difficult read, but it also wasn’t, to me, a particularly compelling one. I’m no fan of wilting flowers in fiction, and Priscilla was wispy and girlish, and spent an excessive amount of time fainting. Zenobia was slightly more interesting, although the absurdity of her pulling an Ophelia in her distress over losing the guy is just really a total fail in my view.
I think I’m probably done with Hawthorne.