Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.)