I’d like to discuss The Blithedale Romance three ways: 1.) As Character Study, 2.) As Nature Study, and 3.) As historical document of Brook Farm.

I’d like to spend a little time each day with the four main characters–but today I want to brainstorm my general impressions.

Coverdale–Cover-up, Under-Cover…hmmm..what a sneaky snark of a narrator, but I just loved him.  The very last chapter where he announces all that time he loved Priscilla, is a great twist of the narrative.  Now, at the end, you must rethink everything he told you about all three–especially Hollingsworth–given his final confession. 

He was brutal to Hollingsworth all through, taking great pleasure in his failed philanthropy and degraded condition, but at least he admits it and finally reveals his bias.

Zenobia–My thoughts–A woman like that wouldn’t have killed herself.  Huh-uh, I don’t buy it.  She would have left, chosen some career-field open only to men, posed as a man, and risen to the top of that field.  I think Hawthorne just had to use that experience he really had with the young girl who drowned herself.  It probably bothered him all those years, and he wanted to include it somewhere, somehow in a novel, but not this novel–it didn’t work for me.  If he was going to do that, he should have killed off Priscilla, she was the more likely of the two, and the one we would have mourned. 

BTW, Zenobia, who was always seemingly standing up for the worth of women, was also their worst critic.  With friends like that, who needs enemies, right?

Priscilla–All throughout I kept thinking and then writing in my margins–Hester, Hester, Pearl, Hester, Hester, Pearl–she seemed the embodiment of the two, if for no other reason, she was a masterful seamstress.  But of course there was much more we can discuss later.  

And what of the fact that both men were in love with her?  What does that say about men?  I think in Hawthorne’s view men love women who love them–worship them–meld into them. 

Hollingsworth–I had so many good laughs at his expense–in large part due to the narrator’s attempt to belittle him and his philanthropy.  But so much of Hollingsworth really is like present day philanthropists and religious people.  Hawthorne comes alive with sarcasm on that topic.

The setting could also be said to be a character–the tree where he sits and eavesdrops, Eliot’s Rock–the farm itself. 

Enough for today, more tomorrow.

But one last question–Has anyone in the wide world read this book?  I never hear anyone discuss it.  I pulled up an old Harper’s review of it from their archives, and it wasn’t well-respected even in its time.  Certainly, the ending did not do it justice….but some of its moments were brilliant, don’t you think?


Pictured Above: Orestes Brownson old and young–could he be Hollingsworth?  And, Margaret Fuller, old and young–could she be Zenobia? 

Currently, I’m reading The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. As you can imagine, my interest in Transcendentalism and the communes which it inspired, have led me here. Fascinating stuff.

Of course, the trick is figuring out how much of the Blithedale Romance is autobiographical, though Hawthorne is clear to say he uses it only as his setting for a fictional story.

Right now I’m on the 9th Chapter–Hollingsworth, Zenobia, Priscilla, but I’d like to detour back to the introduction and wait to finish the entire book before going through it chapter by chapter.

Here is the disclaimer as it reads in Preface:

In the “Blithedale” of this volume many readers will, probably, suspect a faint and not a very faithful shadowing of Brook Farm, in Roxbury, which (now a little more than ten years ago) was occupied and cultivated by a company of socialists. The author does not wish to deny that he had this community in his mind, and that (having had the good fortune, for a time, to be personally connected with it) he has occasionally availed himself of his actual reminiscences, in the hope of giving a more lifelike tint to the fancy-sketch in the following pages. He begs it to be understood, however, that he has considered the institution itself as not less fairly the subject of fictitious handling than the imaginary personages whom he has introduced there. His whole treatment of the affair is altogether incidental to the main purpose of the romance; nor does he put forward the slightest pretentions to illustrate a theory, or elicit a conclusion, favorable or otherwise, in respect to socialism.”

He goes on to say that this is merely a theater for his fiction, that the characters, including the narrator, have “few amiable qualities”, and that if you want to get a real picture of what the lessons and history of Brook Farm were, you would need to consult those who actually created and lived it–Ripley, Channing, Parker, Burton, etc.

Without comparing the novel to his Notebooks, I can’t comment one way or the other on how much is fact and how much is fiction, but I’m already skeptical of much of what I’ve read on the internet.

For example, I’ve read that Zenobia is a rough sketch of Margaret Fuller.   However, the narrator, early on, more clearly connects Priscilla to Margaret Fuller. Here’s a quote from Chapter 7, The Convalescent:

“Priscilla,” I inquired, “did you ever see Miss Margaret Fuller?”
“No,” she answered.
“Because,” said I, “you reminded me of her, just now; and it happens, strangely enough, that this very letter is from her.”
Priscilla, for whatever reason, looked very much discomposed.

But since I’m so early on in the book, and Hawthorne has already hinted at some tragic connection between Zenobia (what a name!) and Priscilla, I am in no position to comment.  If there is some sort of familiar–possibly maternal–connection between the two, I may rethink Zenobia/Fuller.  I’ll revisit this in a couple of days.

Now, Hollingsworth–this is no Emerson! I would compare him to Orestes Brownson, wouldn’t you?  After all, he was the philanthropic wing of Trancendentalism.  And, he had power over the ladies.  I refer to Wikipedia as Wiki-stupida–only because, if you don’t question what you read there, you could find yourself looking pretty stupid.  But it did say there that Sophia Ripley (George Ripley’s wife) was converted to Catholiscism by Orestes–and her husband did not.  

From Wikipedia:  “Influenced in part by Orestes Brownson, she converted to Catholiscism in 1846 and became a dedicated member of the church; her husband never converted.”

On the other hand, Emerson is said to have been a bit of a misogynist–though I haven’t picked that up in his writings at all.   So, more on this toward the end, and if anyone has something to add about these ramblings–who the characters may be, Sophia Ripley and her conversion, or whatever, please add them in the comments.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s letter to his sister, Louisa.

He entered Brook Farm without his fiance–Sophia Peabody (Elizabeth Peabody’s sister)–to see if it would be a suitable place to bring her when they were married. Hawthorne was one of the four trustees in the beginning of the commune.

(Above: Coleridge founder Pantisocracy, Brook Farm, George Ripley (Founder B.F.), Fruitlands, Bronson Alcott (founder F.)

Fruitlands, Brook Farm, and Pantisocracy–all Socialist communes, none successful.

I would guess that the reason these communes didn’t work is the independent nature of those living there.

Alcott, Ripley, Hawthorne, Coleridge–as Emerson says, and I paraphrase, it’s better to be your own system than a satellite. And, none of these men were satellites. Can you run a successful commune with no satellites–several or more moons around a sun? Not hardly. And too many suns in close proximity will burn up with the intensity of their own heat.

No surprise then, that these social experiments–high on ideals, low on realism–did not afford much time for individual creativity and, in the end, were financial failures.

Poor Ripley spent most of his life paying off the debt of Brook Farm, and what’s worse, he lost most of his personal library which was sold to keep them afloat.

I’m reading Hawthorne’s, The Blithedale Romance, and in his introductory he appears to put no fault on their experiment, and neither defends nor berates Socialism.

But reading between the lines…..(to be continued)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison couldn’t be more different in rhyme and meter. As a modern reader, I appreciate the latter more than the former. Stanzas like this:

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

Seem to me to reach too far for a word that “fits” rather than a word that’s true. And, it would seem (and Wordsworth agree) that it doesn’t fit into the Romantic style–or the Transcendental style.

Yet, there is a feeling of Gothic-horror and nature avenged–as in The Raven and Moby Dick–which would be in the Romantic style. When the Mariner shoots the Albatross who has led them out of the ice, he does so for no apparently good reason and suffers eternal consequences. (Is he a Judas figure?)

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!–
Why look’st thou so?’–‘With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.’

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

I also think it’s important to take into account who the Mariner is relating the tale to and for what purpose it is meant–as he is wandering the world cursed to tell it to those in need of it. What warning would a wedding guest take from this tale?

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man?
By him who died on cross, (a parallel to the Christian story?)
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross…..

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.’
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Could it be that this is a nature poem (man abusing nature (albatross), a poem about human relationships (man abusing love or “gifts”–again the albatross), and maybe, more importantly, an echo of the Christ story (Judas figure–Satan figure (Paradise Lost)–and Christ as the albatross?
As a tale of the natural world–men often invent tools and methods that are their undoing–like the nuclear bomb, cars (dependence on oil)–the evils of industrialization–a precursor to Thomas Carlyle’s themes?

Remember, Coleridge is the one who stated the difference between Understanding and Reason–how does he play with those concepts in this poem? Or, does he? Certainly, the men on the ship have varied degrees of Understanding when they try to rationalize the shooting of the albatross with first the lack of wind, then the wind regained, then the lack again. The Mariner himself comes to a greater Understanding of the greater calling of Mankind.

Now, the second poem–seems much more appealing from a Transcendentalist perspective. That it was inspired by Charles Lamb (Essays of Elia)–makes you wonder what inspired such a love–as it does seem a “love” poem.

I appreciate that it doesn’t adhere to the hard rhyme scheme of the first–but uses, what I consider, more masterful technique–embedded rhyme, enjambment, strong, but not heavy-handed or sappy, metaphor.

Could it be this conversational style of poem was inspired by some honest, or higher Truth brought on by maturity, possibly a break in the opium use, or love–or some or all of those things?

Let’s face it–this is Love with a capital “L”–when you love someone so much you bless what they see if it might make them glad.

My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blessed it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory
While thou stood’st gazing

And the highest compliment one could give of another–the last lines of the poem:

my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

That is why I can forgive the Rime of the Ancient Mariner for being so heavy with its burden to rhyme each line religiously and stick to its hard-pressing meter–like the curse of carrying the albatross around his neck–because, in the end, the story of committing a sacred offense–whatever that may be, and everyone of us does at some time–is real Life with a capital “L”–and we’re all trying to get to this:

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all

Which, let’s face it, is the Kantian Golden Rule–our Categorical Imperative.