Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
As Miles Coverdale prepares to journey to Blithedale, where he is to join in a project in community living, he is accosted by Old Moodie, a seedy ancient who seems reluctant to state his business. After much mysterious talk about having Coverdale do him a great favor, Old Moodie changes his mind and shuffles off without telling what it was that he wanted. It is April, but Coverdale and his companions arrive at Blithedale in a snowstorm. There they are greeted by a woman called Zenobia, a well-known magazine writer. Zenobia is a beautiful, worldly woman of wealth and position. At all times she wears a rare, exotic flower in her hair. Zenobia spends most of her energy fighting for “woman’s place in the world.”
On the evening of Coverdale’s arrival, another of the principals arrives at Blithedale. He is Hollingsworth, a philanthropist and reformer. In fact, philanthropy is to him a never-ceasing effort to reform and change humanity. He brings with him Priscilla, a simple, poorly dressed, bewildered young girl. Priscilla goes at once to Zenobia and, falling at the proud woman’s feet, never takes her eyes from that haughty face. There is no explanation for such behavior. Hollingsworth knows only that he was approached by Old Moodie and asked to take Priscilla to Blithedale. That is the request Old Moodie tried to make of Coverdale. Such is the community of Blithedale that the inhabitants make the girl welcome in spite of her strange behavior.
It is soon evident to Coverdale that Hollingsworth’s impulse to philanthropy reaches such an extreme that the man is on the way to madness. Hollingsworth is convinced that the universe exists only in order for him to reform all criminals and wayward persons. The dream of his life is to construct a large edifice in which he can collect his criminal brothers and teach them to mend their ways before doom overtakes them. To Coverdale, he is a bore, but it is obvious that both Zenobia and Priscilla are in love with him. Priscilla blossoms as she reaps the benefits of good food and fresh air, and Zenobia views her, with evident but unspoken alarm, as a rival. Hollingsworth seems to consider Priscilla his own special charge, and Coverdale fears the looks of thinly veiled hatred he frequently sees Zenobia cast toward the vulnerable young Priscilla, who is, ironically, devoted to Zenobia. When Old Moodie appears at Blithedale to inquire about Priscilla, Coverdale tries to persuade him to reveal the reason for his interest in the girl. The old man slips away without telling his story.
Shortly after this incident, Professor Westervelt comes to Blithedale to inquire about Zenobia and Priscilla. Coverdale sees Westervelt and Zenobia together and is sure that, even though Zenobia hates him now, she once loved and was made miserable by this evil man. Coverdale knows that all the pain that he sometimes sees in Zenobia’s eyes must surely have come from this man. Coverdale believes also that...
(The entire section is 1207 words.)
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Chapter 1 Summary
Miles Coverdale, a young man, is returning home from an exhibition by the Veiled Lady, a well-known mesmerist of the day, where he had been inquiring of her concerning the success of the Blithedale experiment. Coverdale is approached by an elderly acquaintance, Mr. Moodie. The latter asks Coverdale if he is going to Blithedale the next day. When Coverdale answers in the affirmative, that he is indeed going in the morning, Moodie asks if he would do a favor for him. Coverdale hesitates, uncertain whether he can or should commit much time to such an individual. Moodie himself then hesitates and decides that perhaps it would be best to ask an older man or even a lady who is going to Blithedale. Coverdale suggests a man named Hollingsworth, who is a few years older than himself.
Moodie then asks if Coverdale happens to know a woman named Zenobia. Coverdale states that he does, that she is a resident of Blithedale and that Zenobia is not her real name, but only a cover.
When Coverdale is unable to convince Mr. Moodie to trust him with his confidence, the two make a tentative arrangement to meet in the morning, before Coverdale departs for Blithedale. Yet Mr. Moodie does not appear.
On returning to his apartments, Coverdale settles down and ponders about his decision to join the Blithedale experiment, whether it is the wisest course he could take.
Finally, Coverdale heads for bed, in preparation for his trip the next morning to the Blithedale community.
Chapter 2 Summary
The next day, Coverdale had journeyed to Blithedale. Though it was mid-April and the morning had been warm, a sudden snowstorm blew in, providing a marked contrast to the warm, cozy fire that Coverdale enjoyed in his apartments at the community. In an act that he describes as "heroic," Coverdale decides to venture out into the snowstorm. He is accompanied by three others, including Hollingsworth. The four travel through the town to its environs, enjoying the brisk, stormy weather. Coverdale, however, enjoys it less than the others do.
Coverdale speculates on their experiment to change the world. He seems reluctant to fully commit himself to the philosophy behind Blithedale, yet enjoys the time while it lasts.
On the travelers’ return to their lodgings, they are welcomed by Mrs. Foster, the wife of Silas Foster, who is the real farmer of the community, and has undertaken to teach the inhabitants the art of husbandry. Other residents of Blithedale also appear, most notably two young women, who have a certain of uncertainty as to their place in the community.
As the greetings are concluded, the noted Zenobia enters the parlor. Zenobia is a leading figure of the community, who has taken this name as a pen name for her magazine articles about the philosophy behind the community. She is looked upon, and looks upon herself, as a regal personage, both in Blithedale and in the world at large.
Chapter 3 Summary
As "the first comer," Zenobia welcomes the travelers to Blithedale Farm, having "something appropriate...to say to every individual." She tells Mr. Coverdale that she is a fan of his poetry, and has even committed some of it to heart. Zenobia is undeniably a "remarkably beautiful" woman. The narrator notes that she exudes a sense of sexuality which, "though pure...(is) hardly felt to be quite decorous."
When someone asks how tasks will be assigned on the farm, Zenobia responds that the women will at first take on the domestic duties of the house, but that in time, depending on "individual adaptations," some men may work in the kitchen instead, and some women in the fields. Silas Foster, who works the fields, comes in and comments on the gloomy weather, and his pessimism causes the visitors to doubt for a moment the wisdom of their undertaking. Their courage prevails, however, and Coverdale expresses the joy they take in their purpose, to show "mankind the example of a life governed by other than the false and cruel principles, on which human society has all along been based." Foster, ever the voice of foreboding, comments that "unless the women-folks will undertake to do all the weeding," the farm will never be able to compete with the Boston producers. Coverdale thinks it is "rather odd, that one of the first questions raised, after their separation from the greedy...self-seeking world, should relate to the possibility of getting the advantage" over others.
There is one more member of the group still to arrive: Mr. Hollingsworth, a philanthropist.
Chapter 4 Summary
Huddled before the warmth of the hearth fire that is "somewhat too abundant", the group gathers together, fieldhands, handmaidens, and the visitors to Blithedale. Everyone is friendly, but rather awkward - "it (is) the first practical trial of (their) theories of equal brotherhood and sisterhood". Coverdale, in his mind, questions the motivations of those present, wondering if it had been by necessity rather than by noble choice, if those present "would so quietly have taken (their) places among these good people".
As expected, Hollingsworth soon arrives, but with a mysterious guest, "a slim and unsubstantial girl". Hollingsworth tells the group that he does not know the girl; an old man brought her to him and begged him to bring her with him to Blithedale. Understanding that the girl must have friends here, Hollingsworth obliged.
The girl is pitiable, dressed "in a poor, but decent gown" and with a demeanor that is "depressed and sad". From the moment she enters the room, she has eyes only for Zenobia, who is understandably taken aback. The girl says her name is Priscilla, and will not reveal her surname. Inexplicably pleading, she asks "only that (Zenobia) shelter (her)...that she will let (her) be always near her".
The group is at a loss as to what to do about Priscilla. Finally, Silas Foster very reasonably suggests that they let the girl stay as long as she likes, working and sharing like the rest of the company, and "in a week or two, she'll begin to look like a creature of this world".
Chapter 5 Summary
After the evening meal, the group, except for Silas, gathers in the sitting room. Priscilla sits beside Zenobia, gazing at her with "humble delight", and Coverfield supposes that perhaps she has read some of Zenobia's writings, and has been exceedingly impressed by them. Zenobia is scornful at this idea, and says Priscilla must be "a seamstress from the city" who has come to do her sewing; the reason for her conjecture is that she has noticed "needle marks on the tip of her forefinger...her paleness...and her wretched fragility". Priscilla begins to cry, and Coverfield and Zenobia can only surmise that Zenobia's scornful comments have been overheard. Vexed, Zenobia resolves to be "reasonably kind" to Priscilla, and carresses her hair. This sign of acceptance has "a magical effect" on the little waif, and from that moment, "she melt(s) in quietly amongst (them)...her tenure at Blithedale...thenceforth fixed". Although she appears to be disquieted by the storm, Priscilla proceeds to open her bag and knit a silk purse, which has a hidden aperture that is very difficult to detect.
The group is largely uncommunicative that evening, especially Hollingsworth, who is deep within his own meditations. They do try to decide on a name for their experiment, with "Sunny Glimpse", "Utopia", and "Oasis" suggested and voted down. The members finally agree to keep the name "Blithedale". Later, Silas comes in and advises everyone to go to bed, because they will be rising early in the morning to begin work on the farm.
Chapter 6 Summary
Coverdale awakens in the morning to the sound of Hollingsworth’s prayers coming through the partition. He is struck by the man’s spirituality, yet does not necessarily follow his example.
Coverdale also awakens to a raging fever and is confined to bed for several days. He is cared for by Hollingsworth, whose tender ministrations impress Coverdale with their tenderness. Hollingsworth’s care is beyond that of a woman’s, and Coverdale ponders how men seem to rather attack the sick than to care for them.
Coverdale also continues to be fascinated by Zenobia. She continues to bewitch him, and he fixates on the daily exotic flower in her hair. It symbolizes her personality, and he marvels how it is new each day.
He also speculates as to her past. Had she been married? Something about her suggested it, though he had no solid evidence. She was not young, but neither was she past her prime. His fascination grows to the point where Zenobia recognizes it and acknowledges it. She brushes it off as the idle thoughts of a poet.
Coverdale continues to regain his strength, despite the harsh diet of gruel that is standard fair for the ill. His esteem for Zenobia does not reach to her cooking, which leaves something to be desired. To him it smacks of pine smoke, associated with witchcraft, which might be symbolic of the spell that Coverdale feels she is casting on him.
Chapter 7 Summary
As Coverdale continues to recuperate, he is visited by Priscilla, the newest Blithedale resident. She comes to his sick chamber, bearing a nightcap that she has made especially for him, and a letter for the transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. Coverdale marvels that he had just been thinking of the resemblance between Priscilla and Margaret when the former arrived in his chamber. Priscilla is confused by Coverdale’s remarks, so Coverdale does not pursue the topic.
As Coverdale convalesces, he enters a discussion with Hollingsworth concerning the works of Charles Fourier, a French theorist. Coverdale is amused by Fourier’s impractical suggestions. For example, Coverdale relates that Fourier’s theory is that, when the world’s society shall be transformed, the seas will be turned into lemonade.
Hollingsworth, however, is not so amused. He is disturbed by what he calls Fourier’s foundation of selfishness. Hollingsworth does not approve of a society that is founded upon the root cause of so much evil. While Coverdale sees some similarities between Fourier’s philosophy and Blithedale, Hollingsworth refuses to hear any more on the topic.
Coverdale begins to suspect that Hollingsworth’s tender care during his illness was nothing more than an attempt to proselytize him. Hollingsworth leads Coverdale to believe that they could never be life-long friends unless Coverdale strove with him towards the great object of his life, namely, the spread of his philosophy.
Chapter 8 Summary
As spring advances, the Blithedale community celebrates May Day, albeit belatedly to avoid the remnants of wintry weather. Coverdale is not sure if this was Zenobia’s idea or the wish of the community as a whole. During the festivities, Priscilla epitomizes spring itself, with youthfulness, joy, and effervescence. Coverdale especially notices how she personifies the season, and is tweaked by Zenobia for not putting the sight into poetry. Yet during her cavorting in the fields, she suddenly seems subdued and retreats by herself until Hollingsworth leads her back to the group.
The residents of Blithedale are enjoying working the land, under the supervision of Silas Foster. They are becoming more robust, tanner, healthier, and more in tune with the soil. The community grows with both permanent residents and temporary travelers, who come to Blithedale for a spiritual retreat.
Zenobia chides Coverdale for not putting all this into poetry, but Coverdale points out that one cannot be a poet and a farmer at the same time. Zenobia teases him that he will turn farmer yet, and forsake the pen for the plow. Hollingsworth, joining the conversation, states that he does not believe that Coverdale’s heart is in either, and will never truly succeed in either. Zenobia joins Hollingsworth’s side in the argument. Coverdale concludes that Hollingsworth is rapidly making disciples of the resident women, while he remains hesitant about a commitment to the Blithedale ideal.
Chapter 9 Summary
Coverdale muses on the paradoxical views that he has about Hollingsworth. On the one hand, he esteems him highly and counts him as one of his closest friends. On the other, he has a certain fear of him, distrustful of his motives. He realizes that Hollingsworth is so caught up in his philosophy that he cannot see people except through that lens.
Coverdale also speculates about the nature of Priscilla. She is definitely a free spirit, much loved by other men and women of Blithedale, but completely incapable of managing or accomplishing anything. She is clumsy, irresponsible, flighty, incapable of taking life as seriously as Coverdale thinks it needs to be taken.
As he talks with Priscilla, he determines that she is completely enraptured with Blithedale and its residents. She wants no home and no friends except those associated with Blithedale. Coverdale waxes cynical, contemplating what the real world will offer her outside of the community. But Priscilla merely laughs at Coverdale’s cynicism, and dances off, until Zenobia calls to her for a "little talk."
Rumor begins to develop that Hollingsworth and Zenobia are lovers. They are together frequently, and Coverdale expects that soon they will build a cottage for themselves within the Blithedale community set apart from the others. But Hollingsworth states that, no, he will build it on the hilltop, to make a proclamation to all the world.
Chapter 10 Summary
As Coverdale and Hollingsworth are sharing a lunch under a tree, a visitor appears. While many visitors come to investigate the Blithedale community, most come to participate (in a very limited way and with little success) in the bucolic life. Coverdale states that most people in the surrounding area view Blithedale as a farm run by frolicking free spirits. Little do they know of the strenuous work that the residents are performing as part of their philosophy.
The visitor turns out to be none other than Mr. Moodie, the one-eyed stranger who encountered Coverdale the evening before he came to Blithedale.
Moodie asks after Priscilla, whom it turns out was sent to Hollingsworth by Moodie. Hollingsworth states that she is well and thriving within the community. The thought of "his girl" thriving gives a shocked pleasure to Moodie.
The visitor then asks after Zenobia, seeming to have known her many years ago. He learns that she and Priscilla are close companions. When asked if Zenobia treats Priscilla as a servant, Hollingsworth replies that they are closer to sisters. Moodie seems to have trouble believing this.
Hollingsworth takes Moodie to visit Priscilla, leaving Coverdale to ponder the meaning of the visit. Later, he spies Moodie observing Priscilla playing on the lawn until called by Zenobia in an unusually peremptory fashion. It seems that this is just what Moodie expected.
Chapter 11 Summary
In order to take a break from hard labor, Coverdale decides to take a walking tour in the woods. As he was walking along the path, a stranger hails him, calling him "friend." He resents the title from a stranger. The instant familiarity grates against his understanding of the term.
The unwanted companion is dressed for the city and seems a bit out of place in such a rural setting. Coverdale feels lacking in comparison, as he is dressed as a "country bumpkin," in rough clothes more suited to work than for entertainment or business.
The nattily dressed stranger asks after Zenobia. He seems to have known her intimately at one time, and also knows her real name (which is not given). Coverdale points him in her direction, without offering to escort him to her residence. But the stranger stops him.
He next asks if Coverdale knows a gentleman answering Hollingsworth’s description—rough, well-meaning, boorish, a philanthropic lecturer. Though Coverdale recognizes Hollingsworth by the description, he claims no acquaintance with such a person. But the stranger goes on further, describing Hollingsworth’s personality to a tee. Coverdale is amused and joins the stranger in a laugh at Hollingsworth’s expense.
The stranger introduces himself as Professor Westervelt. Once again, Coverdale points him in the direction of Zenobia, and the stranger departs. Later, Coverdale regrets not continuing the interview, becoming curious as to what exactly the stranger knew.
Chapter 12 Summary
Coverdale has provided for himself a retreat, not belonging to the community as a whole, one where he can go to escape the crowd (despite the intention of the Blithedale philosophy). On one of his rambles, he discovered a bower up in a tree. With a little modification, he arranged a perch of solitude, perfect for contemplation or the writing that he is currently doing.
From his hermitage he spies Hollingsworth, plowing the fields and looking the very picture of a farmer. Coverdale muses that, to Hollingsworth, all people are cattle, to be driven and goaded into the direction in which he desires them to go.
He also sees Priscilla, and once again thinks about warning her about trusting too much to the friendships she has made at Blithedale, especially with Zenobia and Hollingsworth. He fears her heart will inevitably be broken.
One day he overhears the approach of Zenobia and Westervelt in deep conversation. Coverdale speculates that they at one time had an intimate relationship, which has now, on Zenobia’s part, turned to intense dislike. Zenobia is visibly irate, yet Westervelt is calmness itself.
In listening more closely, Coverdale discovers they are discussing Priscilla. Zenobia is feeling stifled by the girl’s admiration. Westervelt counsels her to fling Priscilla go. Zenobia, however, cannot bring herself to do this. But she strenuously wishes to be rid of Westervelt.
Coverdale is perplexed by this conversation, as well as the past relationship between the two.
Chapter 13 Summary
Zenobia tells the tale of "The Silvery Veil."
The story references the Veiled Lady, the mesmerist or medium that was popular a few months previously, and whom Coverdale had gone to see on the evening he met Mr. Moodie prior to departing for Blithedale. One evening a pair of young gentlemen was discussing the possibilities of her identity. One of them, Theodore, vowed he would uncover her identity as a wager. He went to the place of her exhibition and managed to gain access to her withdrawing-room, where she went after each performance. Hiding himself behind a screen, Theodore waited for her entrance. On entering, she floats around the room and then calls Theodore by name.
Emerging from his hiding place, Theodore states his intentions. She gives him two choices. First he could kiss her through the veil, and she would be his partner for life. If he refused to kiss her, he could still lift the veil, but she would be his most evil fate for eternity.
Deciding against the kiss, he lifts the veil. He sees a pale but beautiful face, which instantly disappears and Theodore is left to pine for her forever.
As for the Veiled Lady, she appeared in the midst of a group of visionaries. She became attached to one lady in particular, who is confronted by a dark magician who tells her that she must through the veil in his hand over her head, at which point he would come and take her away. Doing so, the Veiled Lady disappears forever.
Chapter 14 Summary
Sundays are days of rest in the Blithedale community. While some spend the day in traditional worship at one of the local churches, some spend it communing with nature. Such are Coverdale, Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla. They go to a pile of boulder’s called Eliot’s Pulpit, after the story that John Eliot, apostle to the Indians, preached from there.
The talk turns to the rights of women. Zenobia decries how the liberty of her sex has been constantly curtailed. She speculates on what would happen if women were to be given the full range of their liberty, what good they would do, and how humankind would be better. Thinking that Coverdale is laughing at her, she confronts him. Coverdale, however, declares that he agrees with her, that women would be excellent in so many positions where men then held sway.
Hollingsworth, however, states that a woman’s place is by the side of man. He influences Priscilla, who agrees with him, clearly hoping to be the woman at his side. Coverdale despairs that he can attract either one of the women, both being besotted by Hollingsworth, who clearly doesn’t deserve their attentions, in Coverdale’s opinion.
Coverdale notices that Zenobia and Hollingsworth are becoming more and more intimate. He tries to prepare Priscilla. He assures her that Zenobia is still her friend. Priscilla declares Zenobia devoted to her and admits that it is little wonder that Hollingsworth has laid his heart at her feet, seemingly.
Chapter 15 Summary
On a summer’s day, Coverdale and Hollingsworth were repairing a stone fence and enjoying some moments of conversation. Coverdale begins rhapsodizing about the future of Blithedale. He sees a time when the future residents will glorify the "founders," with memorials and tales of wonder.
Hollingsworth dismisses such fancies and reveals that he is not satisfied with the direction that Blithedale is taking. He would have the foundation of the philosophy be of a stricter form, a "rigid and unconquerable idea," as Coverdale calls it, in which the people would be rigidly controlled to rid them of evil.
Coverdale is horrified at the idea, especially when he discovers that Hollingsworth has plans to buy the land on which Blithedale is built and turn the community to one of his own liking. Coverdale strongly urges Hollingsworth to at least discuss it with the community as a whole and give them the opportunity to decide instead of doing it so secretively. Hollingsworth, however, does not trust the judgment of the residents and so will proceed single-handedly, if need be. He pressures Coverdale to join him, saying that on this basis alone can their friendship continue. After some internal struggle about what future course he himself could take to dissuade Hollingsworth from this plan, he absolutely refuses, even at the cost of friendship. Hollingsworth calmly goes back to building the stone wall, as an invisible wall arises between the two men.
Chapter 16 Summary
After his conversation with Hollingsworth, Coverdale becomes restless and dissatisfied with life and Blithedale. He decides to go on a trip to the seashore to restore his health after so much labor, or so he relates to the other residents. Silas Foster sees through this, since Coverdale’s health has visibly improved by his work on the farm.
Yet Coverdale’s dissatisfaction runs deeper, he realizes, than a week’s stay at the beach will assuage. He contemplates going on an adventure, perhaps to the West, or Europe, perhaps down the Nile. Maybe he’ll join a corps of discovery to unknown lands. He wants to go away and, when he returns, see how the ground at Blithedale lies. If it is progressed in its present intentions, he will be content to remain here as a resident. If Hollingsworth has his way and takes over the community, fashioning it after his own strict philosophy, Coverdale will gladly move on.
Coverdale takes some time to say good-bye to his closest friends. He asks Zenobia if she would like him to arrange a series of lectures on women’s rights while he travels. She declines. Women have no rights. Coverdale sees that Hollingsworth has done his work on her. He says good-bye to Priscilla, who in her simplicity thinks nothing will ever change.
Coverdale contemplates saying good-bye to Hollingsworth in recognition of their past friendship. But both pass each other without a word. So Coverdale goes to say good-bye to the pigs.
Chapter 17 Summary
Arriving in town, Coverdale settles into a hotel that is "...situated somewhat aloof from (his) former track in life". Desiring some time for solitude, he has chosen his lodgings so as to avoid running into people he knows. Coverdale discovers that the clamor of the city is a welcome change from the quiet environs of Blithedale Farm where he had spent the summer, the proximity of "the entangled (lives) of many men together" as comforting as "the sighing of the breeze among the birch-trees, that overshadowed Eliot's pulpit". Quite enchanted with his new situation, the narrator spends the first day relaxing and enjoying a novel.
After a while, Coverdale takes a short respite from his reading by looking out the window. He notices, about 40 or 50 yards away, a number of buildings that appear to be spacious, modern, and comfortable. He is told by a waiter who enters his room that the dwellings in question are essentially upscale boarding houses, and that the people who live there "do things in very good style". As he examines the house more closely, Coverdale sees a young man in a dressing gown in an upper window, and two children with a middle-aged gentleman at the window of the floor below. His eye is then caught by a dove on one of the windows, looking "dreary and forlorn".
Chapter 18 Summary
Coverdale had left Blithedale in part to escape the questions tormenting him about his three friends, but once he had gone he began to dream of them, of Hollingsworth and Zenobia kissing passionately while Priscilla looks on in sadness. Coverdale had at first thought that he had lacked humanity in being so concerned with his friends' situation, but now believes that "it was through too much sympathy, rather than too little", that he erred.
As he gazes out the window of his own hotel room at the boarding house across the way, Coverdale notices that the dove he saw the day before is still there. His eye is then caught first by "a girl's figure, in airy drapery", visible in a narrow window next to the drawing-room on the first floor, and then by a second figure which appears in the drawing-room window itself. As fate would have it, they are the figures of Priscilla and Zenobia. Zenobia is dressed not in the shabby clothes she had worn before but in a "fashionable morning-dress". Behind Zenobia, there is a man, whom Coverdale recognizes as Westervelt. Westervelt quickly becomes aware that they are being watched by someone, and recognizes the observer as Coverdale. Westervelt says something to Zenobia, who "signifies her recognition...by a gesture...comprising at once a salutation and dismissal". She then lets down a curtain closing the window from view, while at the same time, Priscilla disappears from the other window as well.
Chapter 19 Summary
Coverdale feels compelled to figure out the reason behind Zenobia's and Priscilla's presence, and their connection with Westervelt. Zenobia is irritated with his "vulgar curiosity", but Coverdale feels his interest is justified by his pure motivations, the "quality of (his) intellect and...heart". It occurs to him that rather than just sit and wonder about what is going on, he might go and visit Zenobia and find out for himself. Accordingly, he goes to Zenobia's drawing-room, and is greeted cordially by Zenobia.
Zenobia is much changed from her days at Blithedale. Whereas on the farm she dressed with simplicity, she is now attired with the finest of clothing and ornaments. Either way, she is beautiful, but Coverdale wonders if she "ever really numbered (herself) with (their) little band of earnest, thoughtful, philanthropic laborers". Zenobia responds that "those ideas have their time and place", but that for her, it is important to have room for other ideas as well. When Coverdale makes an allusion to the single-minded Hollingsworth's weakness in that area, Zenobia leaps to his defense, and Coverdale, rebuked, admires her loyalty.
Coverdale then inquires about Priscilla, and mentions his doubts about the advisability of the young woman spending so much time with a man like Hollingsworth. Zenobia is disturbed by this comment, but reveals that Priscilla is actually present there now, and calls her into the drawing room.
Chapter 20 Summary
Priscilla arrives at Zenobia's drawing room, where Zenobia and Coverdale are waiting. She is wearing a gauzy dress of pure white, which accentuates her ethereal beauty. Coverdale notices this, and Zenobia asks him why, "in such Arcadian freedom of falling in love as (they) have lately enjoyed, it never occurred to (him) to fall in love with Priscilla". She notes that, in the environment of the farm, the discrepancy in their classes should make no difference. Coverdale says there are other reasons he has not fallen in love with Priscilla, and brings up Hollingsworth's name, at which mention Zenobia becomes angry. She berates Coverdale for deferring to Hollingsworth, calling Coverdale's "sense of duty...bigotry, self-conceit...a most irreverent propensity to thrust Providence aside and substitute one's self in its awful place". She holds Coverdale responsible "for any mischief that may follow from (his) interference" with what she considers the the way things should happen.
Coverdale gently asks Priscilla if she came away from Blithedale of her own free will, and she replies that she never has free will. It is Holllingsworth who sent her away, and Coverdale, exasperated, wipes his hands of the situation and prepares to leave. A carriage pulls up, and Zenobia announces that she and Priscilla "have an engagement", the nature of which she will not reveal to Coverdale. Westervelt, whom Coverdale detests, appears to escort the ladies. Coverdale asks Priscilla if she knows where she is going; she does not. He tells her if she does not wish to go he will help her, but she declines, and leaves on the arm of Westervelt, along with Zenobia.
Chapter 21 Summary
Driven by an insatiable curiosity to understand the mystery surrounding Priscilla and Zenobia, Coverdale remembers old Moodie, and his relationship with Priscilla, and determines to seek an interview. Being "tolerably well acquainted with the old man's haunts", he goes to a saloon which he knows the aged gentleman frequents. While awaiting Mr. Moodie's appearance, Coverdale peruses the decor of the saloon, which is "fitted up with a good deal of taste". He notices the "deportment" of his fellow patrons, who, even when slightly inebriated, are still "decorous and thoroughly correct". He muses that the reason men drink is to recapture the feeling of youth for even just 15 minutes.
After a while, when he had just about despaired of finding Moodie there that night, Coverdale recognizes him sitting behind a screen. He is "certainly the wretchedest old ghost in the world", but he remembers Coverdale, and greets him cordially. As he seems disinclined to talk at first, Coverdale offers to share some wine with him, after which Moodie begins to reminisce about his past life. As he speaks, his demeanor seems to change, and he began to take on "a certain exuberance and elaborateness of...manner". His communications refer to his past and a better period in his life, and he relates to Coverdale the astonishing narrative that follows.
Chapter 22 Summary
Twenty five years ago, Moodie, then called Fauntleroy, was "a man of wealth, who married a beautiful woman who gave him a beautiful daughter. His love for them was superficial, his greatest concern being his money, and when his fortune finally "became exhausted", he committed a heinous crime to preserve it "for...only a few breaths more". When Fauntleroy's guilt was exposed, he fled; his wife perished of shame, and his daughter "was left worse than orphaned".
Fauntleroy, now called Moodie, started a new life in New England, "in a squalid street". He married "a forlorn, meek-spirited, feeble young...seamstress", who also gave him a daughter. After a few years, his second wife died, leaving him with this daughter, Priscilla, who was capable of great love. Fauntleroy often told Priscilla tales of her beautiful, "unseen sister" Zenobia, for whom she developed an intense devotion. Priscilla, ever ethereal, was also thought to have the gift of second sight, and a mysterious gentleman whom some believed was a wizard was seeking to establish an association with her.
Zenobia, meanwhile, had grown up to be lovely and imperious. When the Uncle who had raised her died, she informally inherited his money, since her father could not be found. Without revealing his relationship to Zenobia, Moodie summons her into his presence one day, and, impressed by her beauty and ability, decides to remain incognito and allow her to keep her fortune on one condition - that she be kind to his daughter Priscilla (Chapter 22).
Chapter 23 Summary
Stunned by the story revealed to him by Moodie, Coverdale wanders for a time in New England, and chances one day upon an exhibition at a village-hall. The particular exhibition which he attends is "an interview with that celebrated and hitherto inexplicable phenomenon, the Veiled Lady".
To his surprise, Coverdale is reunited with Hollingsworth in the audience. Some strangers are talking about the upcoming performance, citing the amazing power that one human can seem to have over another, until the show begins with the arrival on stage of a "bearded enchanter...in Oriental robes", a "Professor" whom Coverdale recognizes as Westervelt.
The Professor begins his discourse on the "psychological phenomena" in which soul can be linked to soul. At his direction, a figure in white glides onstage, seemingly oblivious to the crowd before her. The Professor explains that, through his art, she is communicating with the spiritual world. He encourages members of the audience to, without touching her, come onstage to try to get her attention. They are unsuccessful; she will only react upon his own behest. Suddenly, much to the Professor's discomfort, the Veiled Lady arises. Hollingsworth has come onstage and beckoned her to come, telling her, "You are safe". The girl is Priscilla, and with a shriek she flees to him, "like one escaping from her deadliest enemy...safe forever" (Chapter 23).
Chapter 24 Summary
Coverdale returns to Blithedale on "the most delightful of all days" He looks forward to seeing his friends, especially Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla, but reflects that it is "both sad and dangerous...to be in too close affinity with the passions, the errors, and the misfortunes, of individuals who (stand) within a circle of their own". Although he is eagerly anticipating returning to his "home", he feels "reluctance...at the idea of presenting (himself) before (his) old associates, without first ascertaining the state in which they (are)", and is filled with a sense of foreboding.
As he approaches the farm, he hears "voices and much laughter proceeding from the interior of the wood". He has come upon a masked ball, and is stunned to see "a concourse of strange figures", including and Indian chief, the goddess Diana, Puritans, Cavaliers, and Revolutionary officers. Disenchanting the scene is Silas Foster, dressed "in his customary blue frock", watching the revelry from a spot nearby. Coverdale is recognized, and pursued by "the whole fantastic rabble". He makes his escape, only to find himself at Eliot's pulpit, where he encounters "Hollingsworth, with Priscilla at his feet, and Zenobia standing before them". Zenobia sardonically addresses Coverdale, telling him that he has come a "half-an-hour too late, and have missed a scene which (he) would have enjoyed".
Chapter 25 Summary
Having come unexpectedly upon Priscilla, Hollingsworth, and Zenobia at the base of Eliot's pulpit, Coverdale senses that they have just had a scene, and that he is an intruder. He tactfully suggests that he will go to the house and see them later, but Zenobia half-laughingly says that she has "been on trial for (her) life" and would like to have her case reheard before him. Coverdale doesn't know what has transpired, but he can see that "Zenobia and Hollingsworth (are) friends no longer".
In Coverdale's presence, Zenobia asks Hollingsworth if he had supposed her to be wealthy, to which he replies in the affirmative. Zenobia reveals that she had thought she was wealthy too, and although she may not be now, had been willing to give her fortune to him with no strings attached so he could achieve his dream. She then asks Hollingsworth if he loves Priscilla, to which he also answers affirmatively. Zenobia then exclaims that his fault is greater in God's eyes, because she is but a woman, "passionate" and "foolish", but he as a man disguises his feelings with self-deception, "stifl(ing) down (his) inmost consciousness...(doing) deadly wrong to (his) own heart".
Hollingsworth, stung, calls to Priscilla to come, but she kneels instead to Zenobia and gasps, "we are sisters". Zenobia knows that indeed they "had one father", and the two make amends. Priscilla then leaves with Hollingsworth, and when they are gone, Zenobia weeps "convulsively", her sobbing having "nothing to do with tears".
Chapter 26 Summary
Coverdale listens to Zenobia's sobs "in unbroken silence." He wants to help her in her grief, but can think of no way to do so. Curiously, his own heart is shaken by the "hardly mitigated torment" that consumes Zenobia.
When she has ceased crying, Zenobia recognizes Coverdale. She quietly tells him not to pity her, because "it is a woman's doom, and (she has) deserved it". She half-seriously urges him to write a ballad about her situation, and tells him the moral of her story will "be distilled into the final stanza, in a drop of bitter honey." Zenobia says that the moral itself will be "that, in the battlefield of life, the downright stroke, that would fall only on a man's steel head-piece, is sure to light on a woman's heart, over which she wears no breastplate".
Zenobia laments that Hollingsworth "has flung away what would have served him better than the poor, pale flower he kept" in choosing Priscilla instead of herself, yet she admits that it was her own fault, all along, because he never sought her. She entreats Coverdale to tell Hollingsworth that he has murdered her, and that she will haunt him, and she tears the flower from her hair and asks him to give it to Priscilla. Zenobia says she is "sick to death of playing at philanthropy and progress", and that their "effort to establish the one true system...was...a foolish dream". When Zenobia leaves, telling Coverdale only that when next he sees her, "her face will be behind the black-veil", Coverdale flings himself on the leaves at the base of Eliot's pulpit, sleeps and dreams, and awakens, trembling.
Chapter 27 Summary
It is close to midnight when Coverdale goes to Hollingsworth's window to solicit his help. He has found Zenobia's "delicate handkerchief, marked with a well-known cypher" by the stream, and is filled with a terrible foreboding. Silas Foster appears, and his help is requested as well. Coverdale is afraid that Zenobia has drowned herself.
Foster is incredulous at the idea that a woman who "has more means than she can use or waste, and lacks nothing to make her comfortable", would do such a thing, but he goes along anyway. The three men find Zenobia's unmistakable French-made shoe on the bank near the water, and taking a hay rake and a hooked pole, troll the water looking for her body. At first, they find only "a monstrous tuft of water-weeds" and "a sunken log", but finally, Hollingsworth's pole strikes "some object at the bottom of the river", and Zenobia's body is found. The discovery is a horrendous spectacle; the body is "the marble image of a death-agony". Zenobia's knees are bent as if in prayer, but her hands are "clenched in immitigable defiance". With the hook Hollingsworth has "wounded the poor thing's breast...close by her heart", just as he did in life.
Coverdale is stunned by the ugliness of her death, and muses that had Zenobia been able to foresee how she would look after being drawn from the water, she would never have "committed the dreadful act". He likens her inability to distinguish between her romantic concepts and raw reality to "the Arcadian affectation that had been visible in all (their) lives" at Blithedale Farm.
Chapter 28 Summary
Zenobia is buried "on the gently sloping hill-side" where it was once supposed that she and Hollingsworth would build their cottage. At her simple funeral, bereft of "frippery of flowers and cheerful emblems", Coverdale encounters Westervelt, who contemptuously views her death as "a foolish thing", that a woman such as Zenobia, who could have had "every prize that could be worth a woman's having", should have died for love. Coverdale is repulsed by Westervelt's cold incapability to harbor "so much as one spiritual idea", but he does agree that it is a waste and a shame "that a woman of Zenobia's diversified capacity should have fancied herself irretrievably defeated...because Love had gone against her". He recognizes that it is "a miserable wrong...that the success or failure of woman's existence should be made to depend wholly on the affections" of men, while men themselves have "such a multitude of other chances".
Coverdale is surprised to see that Priscilla, though grieved, is holding up well, and he understands that it was Hollingsworth all along upon whom she was dependent. Years pass, and Coverdale is irresistably drawn to find out what has happened to the two of them. He discovers that Hollingsworth and Priscilla inhabit "a small cottage", and that Hollingsworth has given up his obsessive quest to reform the world. Haunted by Zenobia's death, he has focused himself on the redemption of "a single murderer" - himself (Chapter 28).
Chapter 29 Summary
In this final chapter, Miles Coverdale looks back on his time at Blithedale from the vantage point of middle age. He had left the farm "within the week after Zenobia's death", and has not had the heart to return. He remembers the idealism of the group, the "beautiful scheme of a noble and unselfish life", and how it looked at first that "it might endure for generations, and be perfected...into the system of a people, and a world". Although the experiment failed, a victim of their "infidelity to its own higher spirit", Coverdale still believes that, in theory, their concept was good, that they "had struck upon what ought to be a truth (which) posterity may dig...up, and profit by".
In the years since Blithedale, Coverdale, who has remained a bachelor, has lived "very much at (his) ease". He has traveled to Europe twice, but given up poetry; he recognizes that his life "lack(s) a purpose", and that he no longer has the inclination to pursue his once deeply heartfelt beliefs. He sardonically indicates his state of lethargy in saying that if, in "this whole chaos of human struggle", if there were a cause worth dying for he would not be afraid to give up his life, if it were not too much trouble.
Coverdale reveals that there is a reason that he lost his passion and now lives an aimless life. He has a secret which he has long concealed - that he, himself, had also been in love - with Priscilla! (Chapter 29).
The evening prior to his departure for Blithedale, Miles Coverdale attends a presentation by a spiritualist featuring the “talents” of The Veiled Lady, a woman who is able to communicate with the dead. Afterward, Coverdale is accosted by an acquaintance named Old Moodie, who asks him a great favor. Coverdale is hesitant; Moodie senses this and decides he will ask someone else. He asks Coverdale if he knows of a woman who calls herself Zenobia. Coverdale replies that he will make her acquaintance the next day when he arrives at Blithedale.
The next morning, Coverdale and three companions travel to Blithedale in an unexpected spring snowstorm. Hollingsworth, another potential inmate of Blithedale, is delayed and will...
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