The Blithedale Romance

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Summaries of Chapters 17-24 in The Blithedale Romance

Summary:

Chapters 17-24 of The Blithedale Romance delve into the unraveling of personal relationships and ideals at Blithedale. Coverdale becomes more introspective and critical of the commune's dynamics. Zenobia's tragic story unfolds, revealing her romantic entanglements and ultimate despair. The chapters explore themes of idealism versus reality, personal sacrifice, and the complexities of human emotions.

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What is the summary of Chapter 17 in The Blithedale Romance?

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 17).

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What is the summary of Chapter 18 in The Blithedale Romance?

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 18).

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What is the summary of Chapter 19 in The Blithedale Romance?

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 19).

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What is the summary of Chapter 20 in The Blithedale Romance?

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 20).

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What is the summary of Chapter 21 in The Blithedale Romance?

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 21).

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What is the summary of Chapter 22 in The Blithedale Romance?

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).

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What is the summary of Chapter 23 in The Blithedale Romance?

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).

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What is the summary of Chapter 24 in The Blithedale Romance?

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 24). 

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