Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 776
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Miles Coverdale, a young New England poet, the narrator of the story. He is a highly sensitive young man and an eager observer of the persons he meets at Blithedale Farm, an experiment in communal living that he joins for a time. Three of his fellow experimenters particularly attract his attention: Zenobia Fauntleroy, Priscilla Moodie, and a man named Hollingsworth. As an observer of their lives, Miles is intrigued, caught by his interest in them as human souls and, as well, by his love for Priscilla Moodie, a love he never reveals to her.
Hollingsworth, a dark, powerful man who was once a blacksmith. He has fastened himself to a single project in obsessive fashion: He desires to set up a philanthropic institution for the reform of criminals and thus to reduce the amount of evil in the world. This project is Hollingsworth’s ruling passion, and all else in his life must be subservient to it. He joins the experiment at Blithedale Farm because he sees in the farm a place to erect the buildings to house his reformatory and because he sees in Zenobia, a wealthy young woman of the group, a person who can help his project with her money and influence. Unfortunately for Hollingsworth’s project, he falls in love with Priscilla Moodie and thus alienates Zenobia, who is Priscilla’s half sister. Zenobia’s later suicide weighs heavily on Hollingsworth’s conscience, for she left him with a curse. He gives up his idea of reforming other persons until he can assure himself that he is not guilty of crime. His tragedy is that of conscience, for he believes he is responsible for Zenobia’s death; he believes he has driven the girl to suicide and so regards himself as her murderer. With this thought weighing upon him, he can no longer consider trying to reform others guilty of crime. Though he marries Priscilla Moodie, he is a broken man.
Zenobia Fauntleroy, a wealthy young woman from another part of the United States. She is attractive both in personality and in appearance. Her vivid presence is always accentuated by her habit of wearing a flamboyant flower in her hair. She is unhappy with woman’s lot in life, and her mission is to remake society so that she and her fellow women can take what she regards as their rightful places in the affairs of the world. She falls in love with Hollingsworth and offers her fortune to help him in the establishment of his reformatory, as well as her personal aid in the project. As the months pass, however, she learns that Hollingsworth loves her half sister, Priscilla Moodie. Unhappy Zenobia suffers other shocks. She loses all her wealth in a strange way, apparently to her half sister, and learns for the first time the girl’s identity as a relative. These blows unnerve Zenobia, who drowns herself. Her real name is Fauntleroy, although the narrator avoids using any other than her Biblical pseudonym.
Mr. Moodie, an extremely shy and retiring man, a peddler of sorts. He reveals to Miles Coverdale that he was once wealthy and came of good family. He has given up his family name of Faunterloy, however, and assumed that of Moodie. He has been driven from home by crime, and his wealth has passed to his daughter, the Zenobia of the story, inasmuch as he is supposedly dead. In New England he has remarried, and the daughter of that marriage is Priscilla Moodie, actually Zenobia’s half sister. Mr. Moodie puts Priscilla under the protection of Hollingsworth and thus precipitates the tragic chain of events.
Priscilla Moodie, Zenobia’s ethereal half sister, who has supported herself and her father for many years by sewing little articles for her peddler father to sell. Though she enters the story as a poor, shadowy excuse for a girl, she develops a personality through her love for Hollingsworth and his affection for her. After Zenobia’s suicide, Priscilla marries Hollingsworth and becomes his psychological support in his battle against feelings of guilt.
Mr. Westervelt, a fine-appearing but shallow man who is a promoter and rascal. He has a vague connection with Zenobia, as if they had known each other well at one time. Westervelt comes to dominate Zenobia and uses her in an act on the lyceum circuit, in which she figures as the Veiled Lady. He uses her, perhaps under hypnosis, to make people believe that he can forecast the future. His exploitation of the girl ends when she runs to Hollingsworth for protection during a performance.